When Todd Hamilton won the the Open Championship back in 2004, I was invited to chat about it on a Toronto radio station and the host surprised me right out of the gate.
“Is this good for the game?” I was asked.
I hadn’t even considered it being detrimental to the game, but back then, in the minds of many, if Tiger Woods didn’t for some reason win a major, something just wasn’t right, especially when the guy accepting the Claret Jug is somebody who wasn’t supposed to be doing that.
I replied that everybody loves an underdog and have no doubt about it. Hamilton was an underdog, even with 11 wins on the Japan Golf Tour.
He had come through Q-school in 2003, won his first PGA Tour event at the Honda Classic in 2004, before receiving the Claret Jug after a four-hole playoff at Royal Troon against Ernie Els of all people at the age of 38.
Being Champion Golfer of the Year is an accomplishment that many of the world’s most heralded players will never experience and for Hamilton to come through a field filled with such names on one of the great golf courses of the world is Rocky, Rudy and the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights all in one.
Whether fact or fiction, we celebrate such stories, but in golf it seems as if you don’t attain exalted status even when you’ve earned it and the media can be the main offender. Even if it is a won-and-done, how can it be seen as a bad thing?
In Hamilton’s case, it might be that golf had just come off an extended run of first-time major champions going back to the 2002 PGA Championship won by Rich Beem.
In 2003, Mike Weir (Masters), Jim Furyk (U.S. Open), Ben Curtis (British Open) and Shaun Micheel (PGA Championship) were first-time major winners as was 2004 Masters champ Phil Mickelson.
Retief Goosen snapped that streak by winning his second U.S. Open in 2004, but maybe Hamilton’s win at Royal Troon was seen as the beginning of another streak of first-timers.
That’s the only reason I can see for somebody thinking Hamilton’s win could somehow not be good for the game. Ratings maybe? That’s all I’ve got.
For my taste, watching the same marquee names winning major after major would get rather tedious and take the drama out of what should be tense moments in such championships.
Perhaps, Keith Mitchell will also win a major later this year and if that happens, you can bet he won’t be a favourite going in, but that’s okay.
Like Hamilton, he won this year’s Honda Classic on Sunday and that too was his first PGA Tour win. In doing so, he held off names such as Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler, and finished it up with a life-altering birdie on 18.
Not only did his first victory earn him $1,224,000, but it was clinched a two-year exemption on tour and a ticket into some prestigious event, including one at Augusta National, which will be his first major played.
“The feeling of putting yourself in the position to win or to succeed and then not coming through or not taking the moment as yours is something I’d struggled with in the past because you want it so bad. If you think that way, it’s never going to be a good outcome,” said Mitchell.
He overcame that and his first thoughts were nothing to do with money or majors to come.
“The first thing I thought about was having a job for the next two-and-a-half years on the PGA Tour and the second thing was when I saw my mom, gave her a hug and then everything else just kind of started sinking in,” he said.
After Mitchell and Sungjae Im took the 36-hole lead two days earlier, a headline had described them as “no-names” and it had been suggested that they wouldn’t be around come Sunday, prompting Mitchell to use an old football or hockey trick and not get mad, but use such snippets as motivation.
Mitchell even handled a slip of the lip with humour, when he tweeted a message to NBC’s Dan Hicks, who accidentally called him “Kevin” Mitchell in the third round.
You can call me Kevin all you want. Just make the check out to Keith ???? pic.twitter.com/Lcxh3xAGTO
— Keith Mitchell (@K_m_Mitchell) March 4, 2019
Hicks’ gaffe was a one-timer that can easily happen in the broadcast booth, but even victory didn’t stop the “no-name” headlines, one in particular from the Palm Beach Post that lit up social media in protest, including this from Canadian David Hearn.
Every player on every tour has a name. And every player has a story to be heard…especially when they win. What a terrible thing for a player to have to read about himself after a highlight moment. @pbpost you should be disgusted by this headline. https://t.co/zpm52dlmGT
— David Hearn (@HearnDavid) March 4, 2019
I couldn’t agree more with Hearn and apparently, neither can sports editor Nick Pugliese who admitted here in the Post that “We blew headline on Keith Mitchell’s victory.”
A victory by Mitchell offers a story that’s fresh and new and we need that in golf. You know that you’ll hear more about Tiger, Phil Mickelson, Koepka, Fowler and any number of marquee guys as the season wears on.
A friend of mine in the real estate business once told me that every home on the market is more than walls and a roof and hardwood floors. There’s a history to each home or something unique that makes it stand out. You just have to do some research to find out in order to bring it to a prospective buyer’s attention. It takes effort.
What both Hamilton and Mitchell did was something that shattered the norm on the PGA Tour and that makes people nervous when it should be a breath of fresh air.