The Open: 2004 winner Hamilton aiming to call shots

Todd Hamilton. Picture: Getty
Todd Hamilton. Picture: Getty
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THERE are, possibly, two main reasons to remember Todd Hamilton. One is as the unlikely winner of the 2004 Open when the man from Illinois really put the big into his schoolboy town of Biggsville by beating Ernie Els in a play-off for the title.

The other is for introducing many club golfers to the benefits of the hybrid club used with such distinction at Royal Troon.

Even by his own admission, the last nine years have been humdrum.

So humdrum that it is arguable a fair percentage of golfing enthusiasts will associate the man known for four days as “Todd in the hole” more with the rescue club that has become an indispensable part of their weaponry.

Until yesterday, that is.

Re-visiting Muirfield where, in 1992, he finished so far down the field in his only previous association with the course that his total earnings were a relatively meagre £600, Hamilton suddenly came up trumps again with a two-under-par 69 to lead the tournament for a couple of hours.

“I definitely thought when I won in 2004 my golfing career would have been better than it was,” admitted Hamilton. “Looking back, I did a lot of good things in places people wouldn’t know existed – I just couldn’t do it on the European and US tours.

“In fact, during the last nine years, there have been days when I didn’t want to play.”

Just the occasional day, mind you.

“Usually when guys take time off they don’t play for a week. If I don’t play for two or three days I get angry. I just have to get out there and play.

“I’ll play with anybody as long as they play fast. They can shoot 90 and that’s okay.

“I just enjoy golf and one of my driving forces is to be able to show my two boys, who are really fair weather players and more into hockey, that I can play good golf.”

That reference to going off the beaten track surely includes Japan where he signed off as the leading all-time money winner with career earnings of 630 million yen.

There was nothing out of the way about Muirfield on the first day of the Open yesterday, though, as the crowds poured in and once more Hamilton began to be recognised in a way that doesn’t happen on more familiar territory.

Paying tribute to the way golf sits comfortably at the heart of Scottish sporting culture, Hamilton said: “It’s funny, I think I get recognised more over here than in my own country, which is kind of an oddity.

“For example, I was sitting outside a fish and chip shop in North Berwick when the owner, who’s called Deano, looked at me and said, ‘you play golf, don’t you?’

“He then came over and wiped the table for me.”

There was also the occasion after Hamilton’s win when the family from whom he had rented a house for the week decided to cancel plans to sell.

“They decided to keep the house – maybe they thought they would get a few more pounds!” he laughed.

Scottish links seem to bring out the best in Hamilton for, astonishingly, his opening round was the first time he’d broken 70 in a major since Royal Troon in 2004.

“I started off playing three events in the Middle East on the European Tour and made all the cuts. I thought it was going to be a pretty good year. I haven’t played very well since.

“In between a lot of good things and a lot of bad things, there has been mediocre stuff.

“This game is a lot about confidence, any sport is really.

“I played with a new driver which was supposed to be for next year and I had a new putter. I didn’t know what to expect. I hit a few drives early and made a few putts and that kind of settled me down. Confidence builds over a round and I made a good putt on nine to shoot even par.

“I remember when I won back in 2004 in the first round on the 18th hole, I made the same length of putt – 25 feet – to stay even.

“For some reason, to be even instead of one over at the turn makes a difference. One shot is really nothing but it meant a lot to me on nine.”

Another key moment came on 18 when Hamilton twice visited bunkers before draining a “seven or eight footer” for par.

“It was not the sort of putt you would want to win on final day but not too bad on first day,” said Hamilton.

If it does come down to putting for glory, Hamilton feels previous Open experience and his age – he’ll be 48 in October – can count heavily in his favour.

“I’ve travelled the world, played golf in different conditions against good competition and having it done it before – along with age – that can help.”

And don’t forget the trademark hybrid club, of course.

“Most people use it to replace a 2, 3 or 4 iron.

“I use a 17 degree, bent to 14 degrees as a 3 wood. I also carry a 2-iron.

“Even though it was a rescue style club, I used it as a 3-wood and I don’t think a lot of people realised that.”