Brown: Ben Curtis might make surprise charge at the Memorial Tournament
Former British Open champion Ben Curtis feels at home at Muirfield Village. (Halleran/Getty Images)
By Clifton Brown, PGATOUR.COM columnist
Keep an eye on Ben Curtis at the Memorial Tournament this week.
Curtis is a long shot, not expected to challenge the likes of Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy. But historically, that’s when Curtis can be most dangerous.
Almost 10 years ago at the 2003 British Open, Curtis shocked the world by winning golf’s oldest major championship. Curtis was a little-known PGA TOUR rookie, ranked 396th in the world. He had never won a tournament, or even finished in the top 10.
Ben Curtis winning the British Open seemed as unlikely as Jason Dufner winning a footrace against Usain Bolt. But Curtis captured the Claret Jug -- the first and by far most memorable of his four career victories.
"I think about all the tournaments I’ve played since then, maybe 200, and it seems like a long time ago," Curtis said Tuesday during a telephone interview. "I’ve been through a lot in my career since then, ups and downs. But that was one of my peak moments, along with being on the winning Ryder Cup team in 2008."
However, winning the Memorial would also have special meaning for Curtis, who celebrated his 36th birthday Sunday. He grew up in Ostrander, Ohio, about 25 miles from Muirfield Village Golf Club were the Memorial is played. As a child, Curtis used to watch the Memorial as a fan. Now he’s trying to win the tournament in front of friends and family who have drained Curtis of his ticket allotment this week.
"For me, it’s probably the most tiring week of the year because of everything that goes on," said Curtis, living now in Kent, Ohio. "I’m mentally and physically drained by the end of the week. I’ll get as many tickets as they allow me to get. It’s just a great week for me with family and friends. The Masters kind of starts off the golf season in most places, but around here, the Memorial kind of kicks things off."
A victory, or even a strong showing at the Memorial, would raise the possibility of another long shot for Curtis -- playing in this year’s Presidents Cup. Muirfield Village will host the Presidents Cup in October, and how cool would it be for Curtis to play for his country, in his native Ohio? Even in 2003, when Curtis won the British Open, he did not make the Presidents Cup team. Curtis knows his play must improve dramatically to have any chance of playing for the U.S. team in October.
"I’ve had some success at Memorial, some good finishes, and some poor finishes mixed in,’’ Curtis said. "If I’m driving well and putting well, that course suits me very well.
"In 2008 when I made the Ryder Cup team, I didn’t get hot until May. For the next three months I played extremely well. You never know when it’s going to come. It’s a funny game."
Life was very fun for Curtis after winning the British. He was a guest on the David Letterman Show. He visited President George W. Bush at the White House. Pretty heady stuff, but in the 10 years that have followed, Curtis is also proud that success never went to his head. He and his wife, Candace, have two children, ages 6 and 5, and they live a quiet, comfortable life.
"We’ve grown together, we’re very humble and down to earth," Curtis said. "Our lifestyle is great, but we live modestly. We try to save for the future. We know the money won’t be coming in like it is forever. Our kids are just now realizing what I do, but we try not to showcase it and push it on them too much. We live within our means and enjoy life."
This year has been a struggle for Curtis so far, with six missed cuts in 12 starts, and no top-10 finishes. Wildness off the tee has been the main problem.
"I’m driving it very poorly," Curtis said. "Everything else seems to be fine. If I can get it off the tee in the right position, I feel that I’ll be fine, instead of hacking it out of trees and trying to make shots out of nothing. That’s been the killer this year. When you only hit the fairway six or seven times, that’s a huge difference from hitting it 10 or 11 times. But I’m not going to add any more pressure. If I start doing that, then I’ll play poorly."
However, when Curtis plays well enough to taste victory, he has displayed the poise to finish the deal.
"When I get in contention, I kind of thrive on it," Curtis said.
If it happens again at the Memorial, don’t count Curtis out. He may not have won lately. But he has not forgotten how.
Clifton Brown is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.