Sunday, July 20
Party just starting in OhioOSTRANDER, Ohio -- A crowd formed around the clubhouse TV set at the golf course Bill Black built. And when Thomas Bjorn's putt slid to a stop inches short of the 18th hole at Royal St. George's, a celebration began. Black's grandson, Ben Curtis, a 500-1 underdog, had just won the British Open. The PGA Tour rookie's parents, Bob and Janice Curtis, embraced with tears in their eyes Sunday as they watched their son thank his family and receive the famed claret jug that goes to the tournament winner. ''There was no way in the world I thought he would get there,'' Bob Curtis said. ''I thought he would compete, make the cut maybe, get some good rounds in and experience what goes on in a championship. But to win it? No way.'' Curtis' mother said she was confident her son would do well, but didn't expect he'd win. ''It's just hard to believe,'' she said. ''I need to wake up.'' Curtis was expected to return Monday at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. His coach from Kent State, Herb Page, said three weeks ago he helped Curtis strengthen his putting. ''Ben was a champion when he came here, he was a better champion when he left,'' Page said after the victory. ''And now he's the ultimate champion.'' About 70 people came to the Mill Creek Golf Club in this central Ohio town of 450 people about 25 miles north of Columbus to join the Curtis family and watch the final holes of the tournament in Sandwich, England. There's a collection in the clubhouse of memorabilia dedicated to Ben, and his father hopes to add another trophy -- at least temporarily. ''Maybe he'll drop off the Claret Jug sometime and let us borrow it,'' Bob Curtis said. While he is proud that his son became the first player since 1913 to win a major on his first try, Bob Curtis said he was disappointed with one thing. ''He forgot to kiss the trophy,'' the elder Curtis said, describing his son's oversight as a ''rookie mistake.'' He said he wishes that Ben's grandfather, who quit coaching high school basketball to build Mill Creek and teach Ben how to play golf, was alive to see his grandson's triumph. Black died five months ago, but lived long enough for his grandson to show him his PGA Tour card, a hard-won prize that came after three trips to qualifying school. Black was known as the consummate coach. Sometimes he even would stop mowing the course to give instructions when he saw someone hitting a bad shot. ''He was very oriented to winning and structure and what you have to do to be a champion,'' Bob Curtis said. ''I really do wish he was here. I can guarantee he is watching from somewhere.'' Janice Curtis said her father was a strict teacher. ''My dad didn't put out praises very often, but I think he would have put one out today,'' she said. Curtis played college golf at Kent State. His best previous professional finish was a tie for 13th at the Western Open two weeks ago. He is a two-time Ohio Amateur champion, winning in 1999 and 2000, when he set a tournament record with a 17-stroke margin of victory. The only other two players to win the Ohio Amateur two years in a row since 1950 are John Cook and Arnold Palmer. Now Curtis has another thing in common with Palmer -- a British Open victory. Walt Humes, the starter at Mill Creek, said ''it's hard to put into words'' what Curtis did. Johnny Regula, who farms with Bob Curtis, said the town will never be the same. ''What is so cool about this is you are looking at history,'' Regula said. ''You are going to see signs reading 'home of the British Open champion' on all of the stores.''