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Party just starting in Ohio

7/21/2003

OSTRANDER, 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.''