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WGC NEC INVITATIONAL


August 18, 2004


Todd Hamilton


AKRON, OHIO

CHRIS REIMER: Welcome the Open champion Todd Hamilton. Just want to start out with a few general comments about your year so far.

TODD HAMILTON: This year, and this will be a very big understatement, has gone a lot better than I expected. My main focus this year has just to keep my card. I felt that I had the game to play out here. It was just a matter of getting comfortable with the golf courses and getting comfortable with the class of golfers that are out here on the Tour.

I think my years in Japan, 12 years I spent over there, prepared me well. I didn't learn how to putt or hit drives or chip over there, but I learned patience and I learned how to manage my game, which has served me well this year.

As I said, this year, not so much a surprise, maybe how quickly it's happened has surprised me, but I always thought I could do something like that.

Q. How familiar are you with Firestone and what are your impressions of the course?

TODD HAMILTON: I played Firestone for the first time yesterday. I played the back nine yesterday and I played the front nine today. Very demanding golf course. You have to drive it well, you have to hit good iron shots and you have to putt well, which is a true sign of a championship golf course. We will be tested this week for sure.

Q. I know you're familiar with a lot of these guys from earlier in your career, but early in the year did you feel at all like an outsider here and after being out here a little less so?

TODD HAMILTON: I did feel very much so like an outsider. I had played with some guys from the European Tour or U.S. tour over in Japan in tournaments or casual rounds of golf because they were friends of mine, but until you actually get out here and get mixed in playing with them under the pressures of a major tournament or just a regular Tour event, you never know how you're going to handle yourself. Fortunately things have gone well this year. I've made a lot of new friends. I've gotten compliments from players that I watched on TV, which is nice, and that makes you feel at ease, makes you feel at home.

Q. Would you say putting has been the best part of your game over the last year?

TODD HAMILTON: Putting? Yes. I think maybe last year in Japan I ranked No.  1 on the putting. I don't think this year I'm as high up, but my putting kind of goes in streaks. If I don't make putts, I usually don't make them for a while. When I do make them, I make a lot of them.

You've just got to take advantage when you're making them, you've got to take advantage of playing well. Same with hitting decent golf shots. When you're hitting good shots, take advantage of it because you never know how much chances you're going to get to win golf tournaments out here.

Q. To follow that up, what are your feelings about not getting into the Ryder Cup team?

TODD HAMILTON: I would have loved to have played on it. I'm not to the point where I'm going to lose sleep over it or slice my wrists or think of doing anything like that. I think it would have been a great experience. I think maybe because I haven't had the experience of playing a Ryder Cup or being a rookie on the Tour, I think that might have been one drawback for me not getting picked. But there's always, not next year, but two years from now.

Q. What did you think of the speed of the greens and share your experience with that.

TODD HAMILTON: I thought they were great. I was surprised they were this quick this early in the week. You definitely have to be wary of where you place the ball on the green, and in order to do that, you have to place the ball in the fairway so you have the opportunity to hit it below the hole. It seems like most of the greens except for one or two of them, anything on the front part of the green is good because you're always putting up the hill. Anything that goes over the green or goes long is going to be very difficult.

Like I said earlier, it's a good championship golf course, a good test. You've got to drive it in the fairway, to hit good irons, to be below the hole, and then you've got to putt well.

Q. I'd like to get back to the notion of being an outsider. Do you think that hurt your chances for the Ryder Cup? The 12‑man U.S. team has six wins this year on Tour. You have two. Is it just because you are a rookie and maybe they're not really familiar with you?

TODD HAMILTON: I think so. I know Stewart Cink was a pick. I know he played¬† ‑‑ I think he played with Hal Sutton either a Ryder Cup, or he played in the Presidents Cup a couple years ago, and I think he won four points, three points. And of course Jay Haas, although he hasn't won in almost ten years maybe, he's been very, very consistent, which is the kind of play you need in formats like that. So I think just me maybe being a little unknown, although I played well in Japan, no one probably knew about my game much, and what I did, I did in eight months this year, which could be seen as a fluke had they not known what I did in Japan. So probably being an outsider didn't help me.

Q. Do you think that it's time that the PGA of America looks at giving credit for other events? Mark O'Meara wins Dubai, he gets no points. You win four times in Japan, you get no points. Is it time where we start looking at U.S. players playing elsewhere?

TODD HAMILTON: Maybe not so much that you should accumulate points for those finishes, whether they be wins or high finishes, but maybe the guys that select the higher‑ups in the PGA or even the guy that's the captain for the year maybe should be made aware. I don't know if Hal Sutton knew, I had won a couple match play events over in Japan. Granted, it's not PGA players or European Tour players, but it was head‑to‑head competition. Me playing against guys that the crowd was rooting for, all Japanese guys, the crowds were Japanese so they were rooting for those guys, so you could say in a hostile environment, although they're pretty nice galleries; not like they spit on you or throw things at you.

Q. What is the difference for you between the 12 years in Japan and the time¬† ‑‑ you're trying to keep your card but getting a couple wins. What happened?

TODD HAMILTON: Last year in Japan I had played poorly for three, four, almost five years, really struggled, not very consistent. I won a tournament in May of last year, got a lot of confidence from that by the way I won. I think I made three bogeys for the week and just fed off that confidence for the whole year.

When I got to the Tour school I was exempt to the Tour school, got exempt straight to the finals. For me to get my card through the Tour school lifted a lot of weight off my shoulders as I had tried eight times in 17 years I think it was, so by getting my card, I felt that I accomplished a lot. As I said earlier, my main goal this year was to keep my card. I knew I could play golf well. I didn't know I could do what I did this year. I didn't think it would happen that quickly.

Q. Can you talk about how winning Honda changed you, scheduling, your thought process about yourself, then going forward, how winning the British, again, changed your schedule and changed how you thought about yourself?

TODD HAMILTON: I think the Honda showed to me that I could play at a high level out here. I think before this year I played 15, maybe 20 at the most Tour events, counting some majors that I have qualified for, but it was always two a year. I never really played week‑in, week‑out, and got to see the best players in the world.

When I won there, I felt that I had accomplished something and I felt that it would lead to bigger and better things. The way I won at the Honda, I think, helped me for the playoff victory in the Open Championship over Ernie. I was a shot behind with two holes to go and finished birdie‑birdie, not having made a birdie in 16 holes and was four over par at the time to beat Davis Love.

By winning that¬† ‑‑ I was just hoping to get into a lot of tournaments such as Bay Hill, Colonial, Memorial, and having won that, my schedule changed quite a bit. I was able to get in those invitational tournaments. That moved my world rank up into I think just inside the Top 50, allowed me to play in the Masters, and of course winning the Open Championship bumped me way up and now I'll be in the majors for a while, and that's going to be a true test for me, being able to play in majors for five straight years plus the Open Championship and if I make it, until 65.

Q. What did winning the Open Championship do for you internally?

TODD HAMILTON: Internally?

Q. You said you felt like the Honda was worth something to you in your own mind, so what does the Open Championship mean?

TODD HAMILTON: Being a rookie and winning the Honda Championship, I wanted to, as quickly as I could, win another one to show that it wasn't a fluke. I had won four times in Japan last year, probably no one really paid much attention to that, but I've always said if you can win, you can win anywhere, no matter what the field is, as long as you believe in your ability and you play smart. You don't have to hit every shot perfect. That's one thing I've learned this year. As long as you can manage your game, you don't have to hit every shot perfect.

There are a lot of guys out here that hit shots that other players wish they could hit, but they don't manage their game very well and they don't take advantage of those pretty shots or long drives or whatever. Usually the guy that believes in his ability plays a game that he's comfortable with, may not win all the time, and it may not look pretty, but he's a pretty consistent player.

The last two days I played with Scott Verplank. He doesn't hit it overly long or overly high, but he doesn't have a whole lot of weaknesses. He's always in the middle¬† ‑‑ not always but most of the time, on the green, and he's a good putter. But he's only 5'8", 150 or 160, pounds, kind of goes under a radar. He could have been a guy that was picked for the Ryder Cup team, and he's always Top 15, Top 20 on the Money List.

Then you take a guy like Ernie Els or Tiger Woods, hit the ball 310 yards, very high, long irons, good putters, and they don't win as much as they should have. Tiger hasn't won as much as he should this year or the last couple years. Ernie wins tournaments but he's had some bad luck in the big tournaments this year. I don't know why that is. Maybe a lot of times the guys that are really good are playing against guys that they would beat nine and a half or nine times out of ten, so there might be a lot of pressure on them to win.

Q. Do you feel that way, that nine times out of ten if you were in the same situation with Ernie at the Open that he'd win?

TODD HAMILTON: Probably, yeah. I just got lucky that week. I believed in my game. He was outdriving me¬† ‑‑ I think the first playoff hole he outdrove me by 80 yards. He hit a 4‑iron and he hit a driver so he should have. I knew our nerves were going to come into play. We were a little tentative on our putts the first couple of holes. I wanted it just as bad as he wanted it, and it seemed like the whole day, whether it was in the playoff or in regulation, it was going to come down to one brilliant shot by the other player to make a birdie or one poor shot from one player to make a bogey or a double bogey, and it happened to happen to him on 17 in the playoff.

Q. Was it more nerve‑wracking trying all those eight times in the PGA school to try to qualify or to get your card or was the British Open?

TODD HAMILTON: This year actually the Tour school wasn't that nerve‑wracking because I had plan B. I could have gone back to Japan and played.

When I first started out, the first five times I tried it, it was difficult because I never had that backup plan. It was a lot easier for me this year than a guy that didn't have anything else in place had he not qualified, but the British Open was kind of nerve‑wracking.

Q. I read about Japanese journalists wrote that you were one of the few foreign players over in Japan that really earned the respect of the fans and the Japanese players because you seemed to show more respect for their traditions and working yourself into the culture, I guess. Do you have any plans to go back there at all? Is that just another part of your life that's over, or do you feel an affinity for¬† ‑‑

TODD HAMILTON: I would like to go back, possibly this fall if it works out in the scheduling. I've got a lot of friends that still play there. I met a lot of people that worked tournaments or have come out and followed us in the gallery, so I'd like to go back. Like I said, if it doesn't work out schedule‑wise, it may not happen this year, but sometime I'd like to go back.

Q. Certainly not the five or six times a year¬† ‑‑

TODD HAMILTON: No, once is plenty.

Q. Is it true that you have "Toddzilla" on your bag over there?

TODD HAMILTON: No, but it's on my ball. A friend of mine in the Dallas area that I play golf with gave me the name "Zilla" or "Toddzilla," I guess because I played golf in Japan and the Godzilla monster is associated with Japan. I've never gotten a straight answer from him why he called me that.

Q. I have a question on this course here. They've tried to toughen up the 2nd hole here, the par 5, which was reasonably short. They've added 30 rounds. How did you play it in practice or what do you think?

TODD HAMILTON: I only played it one time, today, and this is the first time I've ever played it, so I don't know any different. I don't know which tees are new.

Q. It's like 30 yards back and they lowered it and straightened the hole out.

TODD HAMILTON: I think it makes it less of a dog leg. The new tee is to the right of the old tee?

Q. Yes.

TODD HAMILTON: I think that makes it less of a dog leg, but it makes it, what, 25, 30 yards longer? It's still only 520 yards now, at least that's what the yardage book says that I have.

I played with Scott Verplank today. He said he hit a 7‑iron into it last year, and that hole plays uphill the second shot, so it must have been quite short.

Now, when we played it today it was into the wind so it was playing longer.

Q. Did you use driver?

TODD HAMILTON: I hit driver today, yeah. I hit it in the left rough and threw it out in the fairway and hit¬† ‑‑

Q. Like we do (laughter)?

TODD HAMILTON: Exactly.

Q. During the time when you were struggling to get your card, did you have any golfer that was really encouraging you to stay with it, maybe anybody who over the years was a fairly well‑known player that said, you know, "hey, keep at it"?

TODD HAMILTON: Not golfers; just close friends. My wife was very supportive, friends and family kept encouraging me. I had backing or support from people, but they weren't really professional golfers.

Q. Most of these guys didn't even know who you were, I guess?

TODD HAMILTON: No.

End of FastScripts.

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