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July 14, 2004

Ben Curtis


STEWART McDOUGALL: Ladies and gentlemen, we have Ben Curtis, The Open champion. Ben, you come here as defending champion with a lot of expectations on your shoulders. Tell us how you found that different compared to last year when you were a qualifier from the Western Open.

BEN CURTIS: Well, I think there's obviously going to be a lot more eyes on me this year. But I'm going to try to go out there and treat it like last year: Just go out and have fun and just enjoy the whole experience, I think. You don't get to defend your title too much, especially in a major. So it will just be something special, and just try to take it all in and enjoy it. I'm hopefully going to go out there and not really worry about what's at stake, just go out and play golf and have some fun.

Q. You were certainly an inspiration to a lot of guys in the field that are coming in off the radar. Have any of those guys come up and told you that and said that to you?

BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I think especially some of the guys that I got close to last year and a couple this year. It gives them a little hope and inspiration to go out and do what I did, I think. It just shows that anybody can go out and win an event. There's 150 guys here this week, and almost every one of them can win if they play well. So I think you just never know when your week is, and hopefully throughout the course of the year you're going to have times when you play well and have tournaments when you play bad. And especially now since I won, I hope I'll play well during the Majors. And a lot of guys, especially the younger guys have -- that are around my age, there are so many guys in their mid to early 20s, that have such talent and I think they're the guys that probably are inspired more than anybody else.

Q. What do you think is the fairer way to judge you this year? Is it to judge you as the guy that's the defending Open champion or judge you as the guy that is still only on your second year on Tour and playing in your fifth major?

BEN CURTIS: Well, I think you've got to look at it as the defending champion, because I love links golf, and even though I haven't played the last couple of weeks, I haven't played like I wanted to, but coming here brings back a lot of memories, and I feel really comfortable on links golf. I think knowing that -- especially here at Troon there's maybe a few more birdie holes than last year, but I think you get off to a good start here, and if you're playing solid and driving the ball well, you could shoot a good number. And I feel confident about that. I'm starting to drive the ball better. But I think you've got to look at it, anybody who defends their title, they're a threat, and especially in a major because I've won this before and I feel like I can do it again.

Q. In general, this year, how you've done on your second year on Tour, what's a fairer way to judge you? Are you held to an unfair standard because you won?

BEN CURTIS: I don't think so. I think this is one of the four hardest tournaments to win in the world. And now that I've done that I feel like I can do it again. Yeah, it's my second year on Tour and I've seen a lot of courses for the first time, and even coming here for the first time, several guys have played here in the past. But every week and every year is different, I'm just trying to treat this like any other week and hopefully go out and play well.

Q. How much or how little has winning that tournament changed your life over the last year?

BEN CURTIS: I think it's changed it for the better. I think when I came here last year I was just hoping to retain my card for the year. I wasn't really thinking about winning. Even though I got in contention, I wanted to do well and obviously stay in contention. But it's just one of those things I think that for four days I played some special golf. And I hope that this year will be the same. I feel that it's close to where it was last year at this time. Like I said before, I just love links golf and I think it's just such a unique style of golf. I hope to play in many more of these and be in contention, as well.

Q. You said that you haven't been playing well the last couple of weeks. I'm just wondering how much of a distraction because you won The Open last year, all the sponsorships, all the money, how much has it taken away from your golf game, with all these outside distractions, or has it enhanced your golf game coming into this tournament?

BEN CURTIS: I think last year right after I won it kind of hurt me a little bit because there's so much outside of golf that I had to do. But this whole year I've been focused on my golf. I feel like I've been preparing for this week, and even though I haven't played well the last two weeks it's kind of -- I was trying to gear up for this event. Even though I was disappointed in not making the cut, I saw some things in my game that weren't doing too well, especially putting, I've been stroking the ball well, even though last week I didn't make very many putts. I felt all the putts were right around the hole. It just gives me a lot of confidence coming in here.

I know if I hit the ball halfway decent and keep the ball in play, if my putter stays hot I'll have a chance. I think it's enhanced my golf game. It gives me extra incentive that I can go out and do it again.

Q. Last year you were the first one at St. George's and you practiced. You were obscure during practice and things like that.

When did you arrive here and what's the difference between your practice routine this year compared to last year?

BEN CURTIS: Well, I arrived here Saturday afternoon, but I didn't practice or play, just took the day off and came out here Sunday and had a full 18 holes. Last year was a little bit different. Last year I was just learning how to play links golf, because I didn't know what it would be like. I was here in May and I've learned how to play on this style of golf, I think. Now I'm just trying to learn the course, instead of learning how to play on a links golf course.

I think last year I was learning the bounces and how firm the fairways and the greens were, where to play -- Sunday, pretty much I went out and had an idea what my game plan was for the week on each and every hole. I think it's a great test of golf here at Troon and I'm really looking forward to it. I think tomorrow afternoon I'm going to be anxious to get out and play. I feel like -- I really love the golf course and I feel like if I can drive the ball well, I feel like I'll have a good chance.

Q. Time concern-wise, is it harder this year because more people want your time?

BEN CURTIS: Not really. I think I've kind of got accustomed to being in this position and I think that's helped me out a lot. I know I can manage my time a lot better. I can get to the golf course and know how to -- when I go there to get some work done instead of spending all the time doing other things. I prepared myself well. I feel like I've been able to prepare.

Q. Did you enjoy sort of the spotlight you were under after you won? The Letterman appearances and your wedding being on TV and all that kind of stuff? Or would you have just as soon not have had to deal with that?

BEN CURTIS: Well, I think it's a lot of fun when you go through it. I think if I won again it wouldn't be as much as in the past. But I think coming from where I came from and being ranked so low in the rankings that I think that helped -- it didn't help, you kind of got thrown into everything. But you learn and you adapt quickly to it. As a little kid and growing up, and even in college, you hope to get to that level. And I think my dream is to be at this level and you can just watch The Golf Channel and all the major sporting events and you can see how the guys act and how they present themselves off the golf course. And you just find a couple of guys that you want to follow and you learn from what they do because you're interested in who they are and what they do.

Q. Just as a follow-up, is there a part of you that really wants to post a good result here or get that first win following last year to maybe quiet people and say last year was a bit of a fluke or you were at the right place at the right time, is your pride at stake?

BEN CURTIS: Well, I'd love to win this week, I'd love to win next week, whenever I play. I love to win. But you look at a lot of the guys that come out, they don't win for five or six years. If I don't win until my fifth or sixth year on Tour, that's just as fine. I know it's a learning curve and that's all I'm trying to do, is learn and get better and improve each week so I can go out there and hopefully get myself in contention. I've been in contention this year several times. I like to be in that position. I think you learn every time you get there. And that's all I'm trying to do, is learn and get better and improve and hopefully one day I'll become as consistent as Tiger and Vijay. But it's a long ways down the road. But hopefully I'll be down there in a few years.

Q. I'm curious, for nearly a year now people have been examining how this changed your life and the whole deal. Have you ever given much thought to how the way things unfolded changed Thomas Bjorn's life?

BEN CURTIS: Well, you know, I like Thomas, I think he's a great guy. We've had a lot of -- I played with him several times since last year. And obviously what happened to him was unfortunate. He obviously played great golf for The Open last year. I feel bad for him in a way, but at the same time I was extremely lucky to get my name on that trophy. I can imagine what he goes through. He's handled himself well and I think he's going to get himself in contention again, and hopefully for him that he can pull one off.

Q. What kind of conversations did you have with him?

BEN CURTIS: Nothing pertaining to The Open or anything like that. It just had to do with scheduling, life, families, nothing -- he's a good guy to be around. He's been out here a long time and he's a world-class player. He's somebody that I kind of look up to for advice and helped me get through all this.

Q. I know that you talked a little bit about your practice routine, but what's your week been like off the course this week, and what was it like at The Open last year? I think you said you did sight-seeing. What's it been like both years?

BEN CURTIS: Last year was the first time overseas to England, Scotland and Great Britain. I treated it as I don't know when I'm going to be back again, so that's why I wanted to get in all the sight-seeing. And this year it's a little more different, I think. Candace has been able to go out there and do some sight-seeing, and I'm just trying to prepare for the golf tournament. We were here a couple of months ago, and we drove around, went over to St. Andrews and Carnoustie and got to see a little bit of Scotland. This year it's more business-like, I think, even though last year was, but I needed a break, I was over here for five, six days before the event started. So this year we got here, played last week over here and now this week. I'm trying to prepare and get myself ready. It's similar, but different in the same way, I think it's more of a mindset on the golf course, and last year I had a couple more things going on. It's been relaxed and a lot of fun around the house this week.

Q. Talk about when you were in college, winning The Open Championship, was that the realization that the goal was too soon and does it make you more hungry to be successful in this game?

BEN CURTIS: In college I think you always dream of winning on the PGA TOUR. And I think you don't realize how quickly it can come. And I was surprised in a way. But at the same time I want to go out there and keep winning and keep getting better and improve and hopefully -- especially in majors, get myself in contention. I hit the ball extremely well at Shinnecock and I felt if I could hit it a couple -- it was just a couple wedge shots that got away from me Friday and Saturday where I felt like I could have made a run at it. But majors, my style of golf course where I can keep it around par and have yourself a good chance of winning.

I know the last time I was here I think 10 or 11-under won. But hopefully this year the conditions will be tougher and we can go out there and if you shoot even par you get rewarded for it.

Q. Can you tell us about your relationship with your caddy after you were together last year?

BEN CURTIS: We have a good relationship. He's had a lot of experience on links and golf over here in Europe. He's a lot of fun. He's a guy that you go out there and no matter how good or bad you're playing you're always laughing. He's very focused on what you're doing, we both are. But he's a guy that can keep you loose and excited out there. And we just joke around with each other, and kind of tease each other and it keeps our spirits up and keep going.

Q. Will you please tell me what aspects of your game that absolutely have to be on this week for you to do well here?

BEN CURTIS: Well, I think for everybody, it doesn't matter for me, but I think for anybody, you have to putt well and you have to drive the ball extremely well. Obviously you've got to get a couple of lucky bounces and a couple of things have to go your way. But I think putting and driving. It's pretty much that way every week, but especially this week.

Q. You mentioned picking a couple of guys who you'd like to emulate who handle themselves well. Who would that be?

BEN CURTIS: You've got to look at Jack Nicklaus, whose a big hero of mine growing up, in the same area, Payne Stewart. There's so many -- there's a lot of guys, Corey Pavin, a lot of guys that have had success, but they're good human beings, and they're very solid people off the golf course, as well.

Q. Before last year, about the only Ben Curtis most of us in the United States had ever heard of was a commercial on television. What was the highlight of your career before The British Open?

BEN CURTIS: The highlight was winning the World Amateur Team Championship over here in Germany in 2000. It was a couple of weeks before I turned pro and I was just -- there was four of us on the team and we had a good bond, and I think that was the greatest accomplishment, being able to play for your country. It's like the Olympics of golf. It's such a great event. Obviously I had done a lot of great things as an amateur and before that, but that was obviously the biggest highlight.

Q. Did your achievement get more recognition here or in the U.S.? Did you command more respect for what you had done over here? And do you encounter any resentment from any golfers who never achieved what you achieved on the first time?

BEN CURTIS: It's pretty similar here to back in the States. Obviously when I came back over in October, I'm not over here as much as I am in the States, so I think it's a little bit different, but, yeah, I think the recognition is just as much here as it is at home. I haven't seen any resentment from any of the players. I think, if anything, it gives a lot more players hope than resentment.

Q. Maybe you can put to rest this notion, every time that Tiger Woods comes in they're either asking him about his swing or they're asking him how his golf game has been affected by his fiancee since he's gotten engaged. You got married after the tournament. Has your golf game been affected after you got married?

BEN CURTIS: I don't think it's a factor, but I think I've gotten more comfortable with it. For me it's a good thing. I think whereas before you're not living together and you try to spend as much time away from the golf course together. She wasn't always traveling before, but now she's out here 99 percent of the time. It's always good to have her out here. It just makes me a little bit more comfortable and makes me a little bit more focused than before. But it doesn't really have any effect on the game.

Q. Obviously this major means a lot to you now as a champion. What are your early recollections of the British Open, and was there a curiosity about it before you got to Sandwich last year?

BEN CURTIS: I think in the States for us it's all early in the morning, and growing up, you wake up and there it is on TV and you've never seen anything like it, especially if you haven't been there. And that was one of the first things, I think, once I qualified for The Open. I was excited to go see this style of golf. And I think leading up to that week, obviously in America we have three majors within our country, but coming over here is something special, it's more of a world-class event -- I wouldn't say event, but you've got more people throughout the whole world playing in this event, and I think that's what makes it so great and unique, and one of the reasons why I think it's the best tournament in the world. Not only do you have the best players on the PGA TOUR, but you have the best players from the Asian Tour, Japan, Europe, Australia, and I think that's what makes it such a great event. And I think it's the best tournament in the world.

Q. Also your dad was telling a story about -- I want to hear about the pigs. You used to raise pigs as a teenager. Could you give us an idea of what that entailed, and if golf didn't work out did you have a career there?

BEN CURTIS: Well, my dad grew up on a farm, so basically he took care of the pigs. I just took them to the fair and showed them around. But it was a great experience, and I met a lot of people. My dad, like I said, he grew up on a farm and most of his friends are farmers. So a lot of people when I go home, that's who I see, are a lot of his friends. And I've become friends with them, as well. And it's just a unique experience, and I've met a lot of my friends from back home, they're in the 4-H Club, and we're all in the same club, and we grew up together, and it was just a lot of fun. If I have kids, too, hopefully it's something good, I think you learn a lot from that whole experience.

Q. How do you show a pig?

BEN CURTIS: You take a whip or a cane and you beat them with it. There's a judge in the ring about the size of this room and you just try to keep them in the middle portion of the ring and let the judge do the rest.

Q. Did you ever have an Open championship winner of a pig?

BEN CURTIS: Well, my brother did. He won the grand champion. But, no, my pigs were never that good (laughter).

STEWART McDOUGALL: Ben, thank you very much.

End of FastScripts.

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