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Passport to a dream
Hamilton and others have taken strange detours to golf's summit.
By Doug Ferguson ~ The Associated Press
TROON, Scotland -- Todd Hamilton always had the talent. What he needed was a passport.
That's what happens when an All-American golfer fails in five straight tries at PGA Tour qualifying, then realizes his best chance for a pro career takes him to all corners of the globe.
An odyssey that began on the back roads of Asia led to an improbable destination at Royal Troon, where Hamilton outplayed Ernie Els in a four-hole playoff to win the British Open on Sunday.
By now, his travels are as well known as the creative chip he played with a utility club from 40 yards off the green to save par on the final hole of the playoff.
He spent a dozen years in faraway lands, from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, until he finally found a home away from home on the Japanese tour. He got his PGA Tour card last December on his eighth try, a rookie at 38.
Hamilton never spent much time dreaming about a major championship. He was too busy trying to get to the major leagues, and the idea of finding a new line of work crossed his mind more than once.
"Back in late '91, early '92, I was playing the Asian Tour," he said. "I didn't know it at the time, but the people who backed me financially were going to put together some money to allow me to go play the Asian Tour one more time. My golfing wasn't as consistent as it should have been, and I thought about not playing golf.
"So it seems like probably a fairy tale," he said, the silver claret jug at his side. "And to me, it really is."
It is much more than that.
Hamilton is another example that the road to a major championship can take some strange turns.
Mike Weir can relate.
Long before he was fitted for a green jacket at Augusta National, the scrappy Canadian paid $50 a month to store his belongings so he wouldn't have to pay rent while he honed his game in Asia.
He recalls playing the Indonesian Open, catching a cab to the golf course and then lugging his bag through muddy waters when the cab broke down outside Jakarta. He finally got to the course, took a 9 on a par 3 during his round of 80 and missed the cut.
"I think probably then, I had a tough time thinking I would win the Masters," Weir once said.
Then there's Rich Beem.
His unlikely path didn't take him out of the country but to something called the Dakota Tours. Out of hope, Beem took a job selling car stereos in Seattle for $7 an hour before he gave golf one more try. Seven years later, he stared down Tiger Woods on the back nine at Hazeltine to win the 2002 PGA Championship.
David Toms was a star at LSU, but he had to toil in Australia when he got out of college. Toms didn't win on the PGA Tour until the Quad Cities Classic at age 30, then captured the PGA Championship in Atlanta by laying up on a par 4 and beating Phil Mickelson with as gutsy a par that has ever been made in a major.
Vijay Singh never had a college degree, much less a pedigree. He honed his game in the steamy jungle of Borneo until he had enough cash to go to Europe. Even then he had to work as a bouncer in a Scottish bar for extra cash as he tried to get his tour card. Now, he is a two-time major champion and probably headed to the Hall of Fame.
Hamilton was an All-American at the University of Oklahoma, but it took him 17 years to get his PGA Tour card, a dozen years of that journey spent at the most remote outposts in golf.
"After a while, his family and I got used to him going back and forth," Hamilton's mother, Jayne Pearson, said. "But the first time he went to Asia, I took him to the airport, and I was very concerned."
Hamilton won 11 times on the Japanese tour, including four times a year ago.
Els also travels the world, usually with an appearance fee that covers a lot more than the cost of travel, and he remembers Hamilton well.
"Whenever our paths crossed, wherever we were in the world, we always had a nice chat," Els said. "I always knew he was a good player. That's another thing the media and the people don't realize. Everybody looks at America or Europe, but there's a big world out there, and there's a lot of quality players.
"I knew he was going to be tough."
The road to a silver claret jug only made him tougher. Hamilton didn't look like someone playing in only his eighth major, the first time anywhere near the lead on a Sunday afternoon.
A chip-in for birdie on the 14th hole gave Hamilton a two-shot lead, the time most newcomers to his position usually have trouble controlling their breathing. Hamilton followed that with a difficult chip to within inches to save par on the 15th, a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th and a tee shot that found the middle of the green on the 17th.
He struggled on the final hole, dropping into a playoff. But it was Els who blinked first, hitting his 4-iron over the 17th green after Hamilton had stuck his tee shot on the 222-yard hole within 15 feet.
"Sometimes I get in situations where you should be biting all your fingernails off," Hamilton said. "I had never been in a position like that, at least in a tournament as grand was this, and to be out there and feel very calm was an oddity."
To see his name on the claret jug might look odd.
But there were other guys who didn't take the fast track to success and won major championships. And if any other struggling pro was paying attention, there might be more.