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Extra, Extra Ordinary

Curtis' British Open victory has done nothing to alter his image, and he's just fine with that

August 13, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It's incredible what fame has done to Ben Curtis ... nothing.

He arrived for this week's 85th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club with the same glazed-over look in his eyes and maybe the same pants he wore home from last month's British Open at Sandwich, England.

Speaking of Sandwich, Curtis is still about as exciting as a ham on white.

"Just take it one day at a time," he says of life after winning his first major in his first try less than a month ago at Royal St. George's.

In the surreal days since recording one of golf's most stunning upsets, Curtis' life, like the Beatles' song, has changed in oh so many ways.

For instance, he spent 25 minutes in the Oval Office chatting it up with President Bush. Guys from Ostrander, Ohio, population 405, don't do that every day.

Based on reports, Bush did most of the talking -- what a surprise.

"He just went over the history of where he came from and how he got there," Curtis recounted of the visit. "He was just a nice guy and you could ask him anything you wanted."

Curtis also received a congratulatory note from Jack Nicklaus, that other Ohio native who made it big in golf.

Then there was Curtis' appearance on David Letterman's show in which the golfer told the host that Tiger Woods "had an aroma about him."

What Curtis meant was "aura," but these things can happen when you book guys who are only months removed from the Hooters Tour.

Of his goof, Curtis explained, "It's just nervous being in front of a big crowd like that. You can't see anybody when you're onstage."

Woods said the "aroma" line has made the rounds in the locker room.

"Trust me," Woods joked, "we've had a lot of stories about that."

No one expected Curtis to suddenly travel with a posse or record a country album or tell anyone wanting to speak to him to speak to his agent, but you might have expected something, maybe a rise in his pulse rate?

Yet, the 26-year-old Curtis gives no indication he is anything more than the simple, boring, straight-shooting, homespun person he was when he missed five of his first 10 cuts this year as a PGA Tour rookie.

"I'm just going to try to be the same old me," Curtis said.

So far, so good. Curtis entered Tuesday's media briefing wearing mud-splattered white jeans, sneakers and a well-worn polo shirt sporting the insignia of "Kendra," the tire company in Ohio that sponsors him.

Curtis had a pen stuffed in his left front pocket, a simple but functional watch on his left wrist and no jewelry.

Make no mistake, life is different now, which is to be expected when you become the first player to win the first major you played since Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Open in 1913.

Curtis was used to flying under the radar, but no more. People stop him in restaurants, want face time with him. His life story is already being written somewhere, accompanied by the background twang of a banjo.

Yet the notion that fame will somehow corrupt Curtis, as it has others, has almost no momentum.

Some of golf's heavy hitters have offered advice and Curtis has politely listened.

"Its going to be tough to try and delegate everything and get to where it feels comfortable," Woods said. "This is all new. He's soaking it all in right now."

Mark O'Meara pulled Curtis aside and warned him of the pitfalls.

John Daly, who burst onto the scene with his improbable win at the 1991 PGA, is a walking cautionary tale for the perils of early success.

"Hopefully, he's got good people to take care of that stuff for him," Daly told reporters Tuesday. "He's going to get a lot of requests. He's got to deal with it."

Curtis, unlike Daly, seems to have a stronger foundation built around his two loves: family and golf.

In fact, the most complicated issue in Curtis' life is that his planned Aug. 23 wedding to finance Candace Beatty coincides with his participation at the NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

"I was going to change the wedding, it's not just my day," Curtis said.

But since Candace "never told me no," Curtis is going to try to pull off a daily double. He is getting married in Kent, about 20 minutes from the course, and his marriage might be the first in the history of mankind to be coordinated around a Saturday tee time.

That's right, the "Curtis Wedding" has a "floating" start time.

"Well," he said, "we just hope everything runs smoothly."

It's still too early to tell whether the look on Curtis' face is shock or quiet confidence.

As completely out-of-the-blue as his British Open victory was, he really was an All-American golfer at Kent State and really did expect to win a major some day.

Curtis said he actually liked his chances at this year's British after his first tee shot.

"I knew I could win majors," he said. "I just didn't think it would happen this soon. I thought maybe as soon as I got 10 or 12 under my belt, that maybe once I got in contention a couple of times. I was surprised to win; at the same time, I wasn't."

On Thursday, Curtis will be paired with Masters champion Mike Weir and U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk.

Maybe the enormousness of it all will hit him then.

Will Curtis ever win another major or will he win five?

The only thing we know for sure is that Curtis, in terms of career timing, is now officially on the clock.

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