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British Open champ Curtis dealing with changes

Jason StahlBy Jason Stahl,
Contributor

Ben CurtisOSTRANDER, Ohio - Change, as they say, is inevitable -- especially when you win the British Open.

Just ask Ohio native Ben Curtis, who, by virtue of winning the British Open last July, went from a relative unknown rookie on the PGA Tour just trying to make enough money to retain his card for next season to an international superstar.

Curtis knew his life was going to change, too. A quote of his on Europeantour.com reads: "My life is going to change but I'm looking forward to it. A lot of great challenges lie ahead of me."

So let's list some of the changes that have happened in his life since his big win, things that ironically also could be listed as challenges: 1) wealth ($1,112,720 for the British Open alone) 2) marriage 3) expectations.

Clue in on expectations. Hey, he's a "major winner" now. Fans see him step up to the tee in any tournament now and expect him to be in the hunt for the title on Sunday. Unreasonable? Yes. But such is the mantle major winners must bear.

A review of his performance since the British Open reveals that he's been playing much like he was before he gained celebrity status: so-so. He finished in a tie for 61st place in the first tournament he played after the British, the Buick Open, then followed it up by missing the cut at the PGA Championship. His next five tournament finishes were: T30th, cut, T16th, T70th, T66th.

Ben CurtisBen's father, Bob, isn't really surprised by his son's erratic play.

"He hasn't been consistent enough, and I think that has to do with his schedule and the travel he has to do now," Bob says. "Instead of being able to practice, he has to do other things like make appearances at various places, play in pro-ams, and meet with his agent a lot more."

"There is a lot of pressure, but I don't think it affects him," he adds. "He has played well, but then he'll have a round of 73, 74, or 75 that kills him. A round like that costs you five shots out on the PGA Tour because 69 is like par to those guys. When he went out to the world match play in London, he was able to practice and he did fine."

Curtis' schedule won't get any easier anytime soon. Over the next two months, he'll be playing in the Target World Challenge in California hosted by Tiger Woods, the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taiheiyo Masters in Japan and the Grand Slam in Hawaii. Dad says there's no doubt Ben's a wanted man.

Ben Curtis"He gets in to premiere events now," Bob Curtis says. "Pretty much anything he wants to get in, he can. He was invited to the Trophy Lancomme and the tournament in Japan. He's had a couple tournaments where they've paid him an appearance fee."

While Curtis has gained many fans overseas (the Brits call him "our Open champion," and Dad thinks they might know him better over there than people do in the United States), the largest fan base in the States might be in Ostrander, Ohio. That's the home of the course he grew up on, Mill Creek Golf Club, which his grandparents own and where his father is superintendent. Needless to say, it's become a little busier since Ben won the British.

"We've had people from as far as Switzerland come here to play," says Mill Creek general manager Jeanne Bash. "People who come to Columbus on business make sure to stop by all the time. Everybody wants to play the course that Ben grew up on."

Bash estimates merchandise sales are five times greater than what they are normally. They ordered T-shirts that said, "Home of Ben Curtis, 2003 British Open champion," and, on the same day the shipment arrived, they had to order two more grosses to keep up with demand. As far as revenues from greens fees go, Bash said it's hard to say whether it has been affected.

"We had horrible weather this year, so golf is down for the year," Bash says. "We lost six weeks in spring, plus some time in July and Labor Day Weekend. But as competitive as the golf course business is right now, it's nice to be known as Ben's home."

And it's nice to have the Claret Jug for awhile. Curtis gave it to the club to put on temporary display, and the response was incredible.

"We called the local newspapers to tell them about it, and the response from that advertising was unbelievable," says Bash. "You wouldn't believe the number of fathers who brought their sons and daughters to see the Jug and hold it and take pictures."

Curtis' win has given so much notoriety to Mill Creek that the local Dublin Chamber of Commerce is giving it an award for bringing international fame to the area.

So Curtis has done a decent job of handling the expectations and life at home. But what about the Benjamins? While his wallet is heavier these days, Curtis can hardly be called flamboyant by his recent purchases. Dad says that the biggest purchase Ben made was a house, and that was before he won the British Open. He did buy his wife a Mercedes convertible as a wedding gift, and paid for his folks to come see him play in London.

It's safe to say Curtis' schedule will be quite full next year. Although nothing has been finalized just yet, one thing's for sure, says Dad. "He'll be playing in all the majors." Augusta, here he comes.

Jason Stahl currently works for Medquest Communications in Cleveland, Ohio, as Editorial Manager. Prior to joining Medquest, he spent five years with Advanstar Communications as Managing Editor of Landscape Management, a trade magazine covering the professional landscaping business. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1989 and John Carroll University in 1993.

 
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