The last time Royal Troon played host to the Open it was one of the greatest upsets in golfing history. Neil Tappin takes a look at how unknown Todd Hamilton won The Open...
How unknown Todd Hamilton won The Open
The last time the Open travelled to Royal Troon it provided one of the biggest shocks in its 150-year history. Todd Hamilton, a 38 year-old Texan who had plied his trade largely in Japan, held off a star-studied field that included Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.
Hamilton started with a round of 71 and then made successive 67s to take the lead heading into the final round. Nobody expected him to still be there at the end. Here is how Golf Monthly’s Bill Elliott reported this incredible Sunday in July 2004 and how unknow Todd Hamilton won The Open…
Whatever was thrown at him, Hamilton absorbed it. He was for much of the day a golfer lost in his own special place. He was on a mission and it was hugely impressive to see him unveil a hitherto unexpected capacity to soak up the pressure and then march forward.
Els punched into Hamilton’s inexperience as much as he could. He fashioned an unlikely par at the 11th hole after driving into a bush, his ball hanging some three feet off the ground. He holed a telling birdie putt on the 17th and then split the final fairway like a surgeon showing off to a bunch of medical students. Which was pretty impressive considering the big man fought a block to the right for much of the late afternoon.
The last effort very nearly worked of course. Hamilton nervously screwing his own ball wide and right and into some serious clag from which he even more nervously sprayed it deep into the left side rough.
Els, meanwhile, drilled his approach to within 10 feet of the flagstick. When Hamilton bogeyed, Els had a putt to win. It was the weakest putt he hit all day.
It meant play-off, four holes of stroke play over holes 1,2, 17 and 18. When Els pulled out his driver on the first extra tee, Hamilton selected an iron. The man from Westlake was sticking to his careful gameplan. The one his mum had earlier approved, the one that had taken him into this fantastic position in The Open.
It meant he played these four holes in par, a stroke better than Ernie who tried to force birdies and only encouraged heartbreak. It meant Todd Hamilton was left with a two foot putt to win and it was only as the ball dropped that the mask slipped as well, the fatigue flooding into his face, the disbelieving joy watering into his rather small eyes.
He told us how he had learned how to win by playing so long and so successfully in Japan, that he served his time and knew he was ready for something. He is right. And he is wrong.
I suspect that what he learned more than anything from his 11-year stint in the Far East was how to be stoic, how to remain calm.
Like many others I felt that on Sunday Hamilton would be lost in translation, that one of the elite class instead would impose themselves on this week.
They tried but they failed. And they failed because on the most important week of his working life a very decent pro found inside himself the seed of greatness and nurtured it. They failed because at this Open a golfer discovered that there is a core to the destiny thing, that if a man dreams enough then he may make them come true.
Whatever else Todd Hamilton now does, he is indisputably a worthy Open Champion.