Todd Hamilton Interview - British Open
BY iseekgolf.com | European PGA Tour | 2004 British Open | Final Round | 20 Jul 2004
Q: Ladies and gentlemen, The Open Champion, Todd Hamilton. It was a tough day. How do you feel now that you are The Open Champion?
Todd Hamilton: It’s a very special feeling. I think right now I’m more tired than I am excited. I’m sure the excited part will kick in here once I leave the golf course and am able to spend some time with my family. But obviously it was a great day for me. I think the fans got treated to some wonderful golf, if they stuck it out to the very end.
Ernie struggled a little bit toward the start of the incoming nine, but as a true champion does, he fought back, made a bunch of birdies on a tough nine holes of golf. I was very fortunate to be the one sitting here right now. I think it could have been a number of three or four guys that could be here talking to you. As luck would have it, I’m the one you have to talk to.
Q: Maybe you could take us through the 18th hole. The first go-round you bogeyed it and had to come back and then shot to really win it for you in the playoff?
Todd Hamilton: Yeah, I hit a 2-iron off the tee in regulation, usually a very good club for me. I hit a lot of good shots with that. I got it going a little left-to-right and with a strong wind it went quite a ways to the right. It looked like the lie was decent and I could somehow bounce it up on the green, but a lot of times, even though the lie looks like it’s nice, the grass is so lush, it’s really a heavy grass and it grabs the club, which is what happened to me and shot it straight left. I thought I hit a pretty good pitch shot. Obviously you don’t want to dump it in that bunker, I had to go over a portion of that bunker. I was trying to get it up over the hole and make a chance for a putt. Unfortunately I didn’t make it and we had to go extra holes. But it was truly a great experience for me today.
Q: Can you just talk about your nerves all day, how you harnessed your emotions? And also comparing your nerves on the 72nd hole and I guess the 76th hole, were you less nervous, more nervous?
Todd Hamilton: To be honest with you, and this is no lie, I felt very calm the whole day. It reminded me a lot of how I felt in the final round of the Honda Classic, which I won back in March. Sometimes I get in situations where you should be biting all your fingernails off. I’m usually kind of a nervous guy, especially if I haven’t been playing very well, which I hadn’t coming to this tournament. But sometimes I get out there and it almost seems fun. And I think today seemed like it was fun for me. I’d never been in a position like that, at least in a tournament as grand as this, and to be out there for the first time in a position like that and feel very calm was kind of an oddity. But as I said, I felt very calm the whole day, believe it or not.
Q: Was there any thought to chipping on 18 and where did you learn to judge putts like that from off the green?
Todd Hamilton: The last hole of the playoff?
Todd Hamilton: I’ve always been blessed with a pretty good hand/eye coordination. I feel that my penmanship is nice and neat, people can read it. I don’t know how that translates to golf. But my hands have always been very good to me, whether it be chipping or putting. I hit a lot of those shots in the practice round, not from 30 yards off the green, though. But that club that I use, a hybrid club, it takes the place of my 3-wood. And I use it a lot off the tee and around the greens when you’re able to bump-and-run shots, such as the one on the last hole. It’s a very versatile club. It’s about a 14 degree loft, so it’s basically a 1-iron, which is great to chip-and-run shots with. It is difficult to judge that far off the green, judge the distance. But the fairways are cut so tight and they’re nice and firm, so it’s basically a green, maybe the grass is just a little bit higher.
Q: What’s it called, is it called anything, the club?
Todd Hamilton: It’s made by a company called Sonar Tech.
Q: Who is going to be more famous, you or Norma Jean, the elephant?
Todd Hamilton: I hope me.
Q: How do they react to you back home?
Todd Hamilton: If my dad hasn’t had a heart attack, he’s probably getting flooded with phone calls from neighbors and friends around the area. I wish he could have been here with me. My family was fortunate enough to be here, and they were also at the Honda Classic in March when I won the Honda tournament. Maybe they should travel every week.
Q: How come your dad can’t make it?
Todd Hamilton: I don’t know. You know, I never even thought to ask him if he’d like to come over. To be honest, I don’t know if he could sit on a plane for, what was it, seven or eight hours for us. He’s pretty jittery.
Q: The players, both today and over the previous rounds, came unstuck in bunkers. You spoke about your game plan of going over or staying short of them. Was avoiding the sand traps important to you today?
Todd Hamilton: Yes, it was, especially with the wind. A lot of crosswind, right-to-left, especially in the outward nine. And with the fairways as firm as they are, with the little lumps and mounds on them, it’s very difficult to judge what kind of bounce you’re going to get. Because of that you’ve got to pay a lot of importance — pay a lot of attention to being way short or being past.
I know a lot of times where the pins were on the front nine, if they were right and it’s a short hole, sometimes the play was to take driver and hit it as far left as you could to have an angle on the flag being at the right-hand side. But I think — I’m not sure, I think I was only in maybe two or three bunkers the whole week. And my bunker game is not the best, so that was very fortunate.
Q: Your game plan was conservative today. Was there ever a time during the round that you thought I’ve got to be more aggressive? You were laying back quite a bit sometimes.
Todd Hamilton: Not really. The best part of my game is the chipping and especially the putting, so I just tend to play to my strengths. So if I could get myself in position to hit a shot on the green, whether it be five feet or 30 feet, I felt that I was going to do well today. It seemed like the wind was blowing a little bit harder when we started than it had the previous three days. And I knew it was going to be a difficult test, especially with some of the pin positions. I felt that if I could get to 10-under par that was going to be a pretty good target to shoot at.
Q: We’ve talked to you over the last couple of days about your travels and the difficulties and all that. Were there ever times when you said — you came close to saying, the heck with this, this isn’t worth it, and what did keep you going?
Todd Hamilton: There was a time back in, I believe, late ’91, early ’92, I was playing the Asian Tour. I didn’t know it at the time, but the people that backed me financially, two people in particular were going to put together some money to allow me to go play the Asian Tour one more time. I don’t know why this happened, but I ended up winning the Order of Merit in 1992 on the Asian circuit, which allowed me a one-year exemption to play the Japanese Tour.
But prior to that there was no reason that anything like that — that you would guess anything like that would ever happen. My golfing wasn’t as consistent the way it should have been or as I hoped it had been, and I thought about not playing golf. The flip side of that is, I don’t know how to do too much other than play golf. So that’s probably the reason why I stuck it out.
I went over there to the Asian Tour in 1992 with not really any expectations, and it’s probably a good thing that I did not know that that was the last bit of money that the backers were going to put in. So it seems like probably a fairy tale, and to me it really is.
Q: How much have you thought about the Ryder Cup before this week, and will you think about it now?
Todd Hamilton: To be honest, I haven’t thought anything about it. I hadn’t played well for a couple of months, two or three months. I don’t even look at the standings. I know Tiger is usually top and all the other normal guys that are on the team are always up there. I don’t even know what the standings are. Hopefully this bit of magic that I will have today will continue.
Q: Ernie mentioned this when he was here, that there is this community of people who make their living playing golf outside of North America. What is that community like, and what does this win mean for people who play golf in Asia and South America and all these other places?
Todd Hamilton: I’ve always felt that if you can win golf tournaments, whether it be a junior club championship, ladies club championship, THE PLAYERS Championship in the States, I don’t know if they still have it here, the Benson and Hedges here in Europe or the Japan Open, I’ve always felt that if you go through the trials and tribulations throughout a four-day tournament and win a golf tournament, that can only benefit you in the long run. Definitely very good for your mental outlook. I hope that it sparks me being a rookie on the PGA TOUR, I hope it sparks them on to good things.
I know we had another rookie this year win in the States, Zach Johnson, who came off the Nationwide Tour, killed them in the Nationwide Tour last year, won the tournament in Atlanta. So I hope our victories we’ve had can spur guys, whether they’re rookies on the PGA TOUR, guys on the Canadian Tour, guys on the Hooters Tour or the Challenge Tour here in Europe. If they look at us and see, if that guy can do it, who’s that guy, I should be able to do that. I think that’s good for the game of golf.
Q: Can you just reflect a little bit, even though it’s so sudden, on the journey that you’ve taken and the kind of story that you’ve written for yourself this week, and really for golf to a degree, and how much this will change your life?
Todd Hamilton: Not just this week’s story, but I think my pro career, not to be conceited or anything, but I think it’s a pretty neat story. I struggled playing on the Asian Tour for five years starting in 19 — I believe ’88 was my first year. I had a little bit of success over those five years. As I mentioned earlier, I won the Order of Merit in 1992, which allowed me to play golf in Japan.
When I got to Japan, I had success early on. It was new, exciting, lucrative for me, and I was enjoying myself. And then I went through a stretch, 3, 4, 5 years where I didn’t do as well as I should have done, considering the way I had played when I first got there. Last year I won four times on the Japanese Tour, which kind of, like this week, you never would have thought something like that was going to happen. I used that confidence that I gained last year and that allowed me to get my PGA TOUR card, which to me was a very special goal that I wanted to attain. I had tried — over 17 years I had tried 8 times to do that, tried five times right out of college, then while I was playing in Japan, I didn’t try for I think it was ten years, and tried the previous three years. For me to qualify for the PGA TOUR and get my Tour card was like winning The Open Championship and allowed me a place to play, a place that I’ve always dreamt of playing.
I didn’t know how I’d fair. I’d played some events before, two events in the States before, but I’d never had my Tour card. I was never a full member. So the last year and a half has really — has just come out of the blue. I knew I was a decent golfer. I knew I tried hard. I knew I worked hard. Sometimes I think what kept me back — two things, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and a lot of times I felt like tournaments like this, if I happened to get into them, I didn’t really feel that I belonged. So maybe all that can change now.
Q: Can you fathom how much this is going to change your life, now that you don’t have to worry about your PGA TOUR card?
Todd Hamilton: Right now I have no idea what’s in store for me. I’m sure I won’t get much sleep over the next two, three, seven days, who knows. But I mentioned earlier sometimes these problems are good to have, it’s like paying taxes. It’s a good problem to have.
Q: How many times would you guess over the course of four rounds did you use that hybrid club around the greens? And somebody characterized you as something of a range rat, is that an accurate description?
Todd Hamilton: To answer the first part of your question, at least three times each round I used that for chipping purposes. I probably used it another two, three times off the tee boxes, so maybe five times every day I used that club, whether it be off the tee or chipping.
The second part of your question, as far as being a range rat is probably very true. As a kid I enjoyed playing golf, and I still do. I don’t remember what age I was, but a nine-hole course I grew up on I played 7 rounds in one day, I almost played a whole tournament in one day.
I enjoy playing golf. I think a lot of the time that I spent in Japan, the TV in Japan is really not that good, so it was useless for me to go back to the hotel and try to watch TV, so I would just stay at the golf course until it got close to dark, whether it be chipping, putting, hitting balls, I would do it. I enjoy playing golf, sometimes to a fault. I tend to play too much golf. When I take weeks off to go home, I have a lot of friends that like to play golf that are decent golfers that drag me out. So to a fault maybe I play too much golf. But it beats working, that’s for sure.
Q: It seemed like your caddy was in your ear all day keeping you loose. Can you talk about your relationship with him? How long have you guys been together?
Todd Hamilton: It’s a funny story about that. I had a caddy that caddied in Japan probably the last two, maybe three years. We’ve been trying to get him a Visa, he’s from Canada, and we’ve been trying to get him a Visa to get him in the United States. We’ve been having trouble. I met my caddy Ron Levin — I met him in Muirfield in 1992. I qualified by winning the Asian Order of Merit, I qualified for playing The Open Championship there. He had met a girl that was working at a bed and breakfast that we were staying at.
I think they maybe had a couple of drinks or had dinner or something. He casually mentioned to her that he was over, I believe he was caddying for D.A. Weibring at the time. D.A. didn’t get through the qualifying, so he was going to try to stay over and pick up a bag. He mentioned to the girl that was working at the bed and breakfast where we were staying. She mentioned to him there’s a golfer that’s staying at our place that’s looking for a caddy. I was told to look for him in the parking lot. I didn’t have very much success. We kept in touch over 12 years. We’re both hockey fans, we e-mailed back and forth. My team just beat your team or your team beat my team, whatever.
So I saw him out earlier this year and I told him the situation. I said you’re more than welcome to caddy for me if you’d like for the rest of the year. He said sure, no problem. So he was very instrumental in not only today’s round in the finish of today but the whole tournament. He really kept me calm. I believe he caddied here last time the tournament was here at Royal Troon. And he’s been around the block. He’s only 34 years old but he’s been caddying for 17 years, whether it be the Senior Tour or Champions Tour, PGA TOUR, LPGA Tour, he’s caddied everywhere. He knew what today was all about. If I could saw that Claret Jug in half and give him half I’d gladly do it.
Q: Did you establish a residence in Japan or did you commute? How many miles do you figure you have traveled back and forth?
Todd Hamilton: I did not have a residence over there. I usually traveled anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks, I would go over there for. I went for as little as one week one time, which was silly, I don’t know why I did that. Four to six weeks was a good amount of time for me. I didn’t really have a residence. I had a hotel in Tokyo, that after the rounds were over or after the tournaments were over I would spend a lot of time in. But as far as having a place to hang my hat that I could call mine, I didn’t have one. I would usually go — I would make five, maybe six trips a year back and forth to Japan. I’m not sure what the mileage is, but I know I slept a lot of times on an airplane. I think it was 13 and a half, 14 hour flight going over.
Q: How long has McKinney, Texas, been your home?
Todd Hamilton: I’ve lived there for about 11 years.
Q: After four victories in Japan, how is your popularity there?
Todd Hamilton: I think last year, I mentioned earlier I had success over the 12 years — early on in the 12 years I played there, struggled a little bit and last year regained some confidence and some momentum in Japan. I think they enjoyed having me over there. I felt that there were a lot of foreign players, foreign meaning Australian, U.S., we had a guy from Colombia, a guy from the Philippines. I felt that us playing over there maybe raised the Japanese players’ games a little bit. I know we’ve got a couple of guys, Shigeki Maruyama, Hidemichi Tanaka, that are very good players that did well in Japan.
I played with Shigeki the first time he won a tournament in Japan and he was elated. And I knew good things were in store for him. I played with Tanaka as an amateur in the tournament in his hometown and he beat the pants off me. I knew they were good players. I felt that if they could expand their horizons of Japan, get some experience, try to qualify for different Tours, I felt they would do very well, and I’m glad that they have.
Q: When Ernie Els was over the 18th and had the putt to win, did you think he was going to knock it down or not?
Todd Hamilton: Half and half (laughter). I felt that I’d played really well for four days. I hope it didn’t come down to a bad tee shot on the last hole in regulation to mess everything up. I think had he made it I still would have been very happy. I would have been disappointed. But if you could have told me at the start of the week, Todd, we’ll give you second place, you don’t even have to bother showing up, I would have probably said okay (laughter). But Ernie is a true champion. He fought to the very end. He struggled early on the back nine, made some birdies coming in and I’m sure he’ll win a lot more Open Championships.
Source – The Open