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May 31, 2011

Ben Curtis


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: We'll take comments and questions for Ben Curtis.
BEN CURTIS: It's always great to come back where you grow up. This is the one tournament that you look forward to each and every year, and now that I'm very fortunate, I've been able to play in since 2003.
Yeah, it's good to be back, see a lot of family and friends, and a course that I'm pretty familiar with now. I wish it would get a little bit drier, but we should have a good week of weather, and that's always a plus when we're out here.

Q. Every year does it get more special for you being able to play so close to home, and are you staying with family or near the course here?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, it's definitely -- it gets easier each and every year you get to deal with it, you know how to deal with it a little bit better. I would say it's a little more special because you never know how many more times you're going to get that chance. You could wake up tomorrow with a back injury and never play again or just so many things that could go wrong. But yeah, I mean, it's something that I look forward to playing every year, and I've had a little success here, nothing great, but something to be proud of to be able to play in this event because you look at the field and it's pretty impressive.

Q. Would you say a good week of weather is always a plus for you around here?
BEN CURTIS: Just for the course in general.

Q. I was wondering if this sort of course would benefit you as opposed to maybe playing on a dart board like you've had to in the past sometimes?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I think I like it firm and fast. My record tended to show that -- I don't know why, I've been struggling on the greens this year. I don't know if it's because they're a little bit slower. It probably has to do with me not putting as well. But it just seems like I get on fast greens and it often seems to grow, and the firmer it gets, I feel like the more comfortable I get.

Q. I think it's three of your five tournaments you've had your best round on Sunday this year. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
BEN CURTIS: The problem is one of the first two days I struggle, so just getting over that. That's where I've been inconsistent with the putting. Been hitting it fairly decent all year, driving it well, so it's just a matter of just getting -- for me, like I've been talking a little bit the last couple weeks, and it's just a matter of -- it's gotten to the point where I'm just putting so much pressure on myself to putt well the first nine holes that if I don't, then I start pushing it a little bit in other areas instead of being patient, so I'm just going to focus on being patient and try to not really worry about the makes and misses.
If I make it, then obviously the confidence will grow, but if I miss, I'm just going to try to stay level and just keep working on what I've been working on, and hopefully it'll pay off in the future. Hopefully this week.

Q. I was just thinking if you shot your best in the last round it's not like it's carrying over.
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I don't know if it's just comfortable or what. If it's I focus better on Sunday, I don't know. It just seems like if I get to Sunday, I feel fine. You know, it's one of those things, if you shoot level par, it's all right, but if you shoot a good number you can have a chance to make some money. I don't know if that's just getting under me a little bit to get motivated a little bit more. I couldn't tell you the reason why.

Q. Going back to St. Georges, are you looking forward to that already?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, yeah, I am. It hasn't rained there in eight weeks, so there's no rough from what I hear. It's going to be good. Really looking forward to it. I love playing links golf. It doesn't matter what course you put me on, I always have a good time. Yeah, to go back to where I won is going to be fun and something new. I didn't get the chance in '07 when I won to go back to where I won, so I actually get to defend in some way or another. I get to defend a golf tournament, so it's something unique and fun.

Q. I think you just had come back from there, too, had you not?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I was there last week for a couple, three days.

Q. Did you play there and --
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I played a round. I didn't get all the holes in, but got to see the majority of it.

Q. And what came back, if anything, about the memory? The last day or the tournament in general or the golf course?
BEN CURTIS: Well, it's funny because I did a lot of media stuff, as well. The perception that I had of some of the holes were a little bit different, and I think part of that had to do with -- I mean, they have the majority of the grandstands up. They have around 18 up and the driving range, but they didn't have all of them up on the course. So I think that was throwing me off a little bit.
But they did -- like I don't remember 1 being so open as it was. 1, there's no grandstand behind the green yet and behind like the 9th and 11th yet, as well, which is kind of in your view. But it does look a little bit different. Looks like they may have lightened -- I think they've lightened that fairway, and the same with 17. They didn't change undulation in the fairways, they just kind of made them a little lighter. Right now there's no rough. There's nothing. There's grass there, but it's very hard and firm. Where Tiger hit his ball on 1, he'd be flipping a wedge on the green from there today. Hopefully they'll get some rain and there will be some rough.

Q. Did you have any flashbacks or anything at all while you were there?
BEN CURTIS: A little bit. I mean, I was there -- I went there in October of 2003, as well, but then that was totally different because there was nothing there. It was just a golf course.
But yeah, it's pretty familiar. I think any time you win a tournament it kind of stays in your brain, what it looks like and what it feels like.
You know, they may have added a few bunkers, as well, like 18. They changed the par around and added a couple holes like length-wise, but the majority of it is pretty much the same. Should be a unique test.

Q. As the years have gone by, have you gained more appreciation for what you accomplished; not only was it your first major that you played in and you win it, but I'm wondering has that sort of sunk in as the years have gone on, how hard that might have been to do?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I had to relive the Sunday 100 times last week, so I kind of got to think about it more and more. (Laughter.)
It was one of those -- the more and more I think about it, the first 11 holes was kind of a trance because the night before, my fiancé at the time, she asked how I felt about Sunday about my chances, and I told her I was going to win, and she got real quiet. Didn't talk to me until Sunday when we got finished. It was one of those that I was so focused on hitting the first fairway that I forgot about everything else I was playing for, and then I kind of realized that on the 12th tee. That's kind of when I woke up and said, Hey, you can win this tournament. You can never do that. That's where all the mistakes started coming into play.
I mean, I knew it was a tough finish, as well, and it was -- if you play those last 10 holes or 11 holes, I mean, you've got to get off to a good start there. You just know that mistakes are going to be made.
So looking back on it, yeah, you look at the leaderboard, I have it in our house, you see the leaderboard that they have. I mean, there's some impressive names, and you look at the time, Davis Love, Vijay, Thomas Björn, Tiger, Freddie Jacobson, Brian Davis is up there, as well. They were all in the top 30, top 50 in the world at the time. So it wasn't like you just beat Joel over here from Wisconsin.
But looking back, my whole goal there was just to have fun and play all four days, and to be holding the Claret Jug at the end of it, I guess it's a fairy tale in a sense, but to be part of it is something unique. Yeah, I'll never forget what happened, that's for sure.

Q. Those guys that you mentioned on that list of names that you beat, do you recall having the sense either then or even in the weeks or months afterward that those guys maybe didn't even know who you were, or did you sense that -- had you met any of those guys?
BEN CURTIS: Well, it was funny because I played with Vijay a couple times that year on the weekend at some point before that. Actually when I qualified I was playing with him on the Sunday at the Western, Freddie Jacobson, as well, so I played with those two. Now, as far as most of the other guys, no. So it was kind of -- all of a sudden I'm playing with them every week. It's a big transition for anybody.
So yeah, I was basically getting to know everybody. You used to hang around with the rookies, guys you used to play with every day, and now you're playing with the best players in the world.

Q. You said you have a leaderboard at the house. You mean a picture of the leaderboard?

Q. Where is that?
BEN CURTIS: It's just at home in our basement.

Q. How big is it?
BEN CURTIS: The picture?

Q. Yeah.
BEN CURTIS: It's about as big as those two there on the far left, but it's the leaderboard. It's just the whole -- it's like taken from the other side of the grandstands. You've been over there to see. There's just a big yellow scoreboard, not electric.

Q. Have you ever watched the Sunday final round?
BEN CURTIS: I've seen it one time. I watched like the last three holes. It wasn't even the whole thing.

Q. Anything stand out for you from you watching it?
BEN CURTIS: How skinny I was, but other than that -- (laughter.)
I mean, I watched it -- it was like two or three weeks after. I haven't watched it since. I kind of want to wait until our kids get a little bit older so they'll remember it and see it for the first time. I'm kind of waiting on that, so that'll be -- they're four and three now, so I've got to wait a couple more years to where they'll really remember it so we can all sit down as a family and watch it.

Q. You want them to see you when you were skinny?
BEN CURTIS: Well, that, too. They've always seen all the pictures from then. Candace was somewhat of a blond- haired girl then and the kids are looking at mom, like who's that girl.

Q. Jack earlier today was talking about Tiger and the No. 1 ranking and all the different things going on in golf right now, and of course Luke is No. 1 in the world after he won last week. But Jack said that he suspected that if you polled the players, they might say that Tiger is still No. 1 or in essence may be still the guy to beat. In an informal poll, since you're the first guy, would Tiger still be No. 1 in your mind or still the guy to beat, I guess?
BEN CURTIS: No, not now. I mean, who's to say in three months' time that's not the case, but right now, I mean, you've got to look at Westwood, Luke -- I mean, the way Luke has played the last 12, 18 months has been pretty incredible. I mean, I don't think the World Rankings lie at the top. Maybe further down there could be some argument here and there, but at the top it's basically who's playing really good right now. And if you look at the top 10 in the world, you'd say, yeah, I can see that just by looking at the results.
I would say anybody within the top 10 is probably -- or the hottest players at the moment are probably the guys to beat. We hope Tiger gets it back and can play the way he did back in his heyday -- well, not his heyday, but like two, three years ago. But as of now, he's not playing enough to either -- he's only played five, six events this year, so it's not like he's played enough to be worthy of that No. 1.

Q. I've got a two-part question about a couple holes. First, No. 11, the par-5, 567 yards. I wonder if you could walk us through your strategy from tee to green, and then secondly, No. 16, which has been redone this year, what your thoughts are going to be stepping up to that hole?
BEN CURTIS: Well, I haven't been out to 16 yet to see it, so I can't really answer your question there. But as far as No. 11, the par-5, I try to be somewhat aggressive off the tee, just because it's one of the few times I really do hit a good one, I might have a chance to get there. So I try to play fairly aggressive there.
Now, I feel like if I push it in the bunker, I'm going to be laying up anyway, so it's a three-shot hole. It's one of those I feel like if we get some firm -- if it dries out and we get it pretty firm, it's always a hole you have a good chance of getting on in two. It's relatively receptive for a 3-wood or a 2-iron that you hit in there because of the way it slopes, so you can just kind of hit a cut, feed it off the ridge and then it kind of bleeds down towards the hole.
But if not, you just try to give yourself a good wedge in there and make a good swing at it with a wedge. You've just got to be careful that you don't over-spin it there where you could spin it back into the creek or too far down towards the bunker. It's a hole you look at and you want to make birdie on, but you just want to give yourself a good chance for a birdie.

Q. Do you remember where you stayed in Sandwich that year, and also, do you remember what you first thought of the golf course? Had you ever played links golf prior to that week? Do you remember what you thought of it when you first got on it?
BEN CURTIS: I played a links golf course in Germany that had lots of trees on it, so no, it was my first true links golf course.
Yeah, when I first got there I had no idea where to go. Even when I was up there last week, it's hard to tell where the first fairway is. Half the time my fiancé -- we went out on the weekend before and she walked ahead to hit over my head and I'd see the fairway. That's kind of how I got through the week.
Yeah, it was very different and unique. I don't know if it was the color or the tightness of the fairways that appealed to me, but it was something that once I got the lines off the tee I felt a little more comfortable.

Q. I think you've probably played seven of the nine now. How do you think it compares to the others? It doesn't always have the best reputation among all the other venues, but yet obviously you've played it very, very well, and it's held up over time.
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I mean, it's funny because it's been -- this will be the 14th time it was played. I think it's like the third most in the rotation, if I'm not wrong. I asked three or four R&A guys last week and they couldn't tell me. Obviously St. Andrews is played the most and Prestwick had the first 10 or 11, so they had quite a few.
Yeah, it's weird, every one that I play -- it's hard to describe because they're all different in their own way. Obviously St. Andrews, the way you share the greens and how wide open it is and how narrow the whole golf course is. Troon is kind of that way in a sense. You kind of go out one way and back the other way, but you don't share greens as much. I don't know if you do -- you might a couple times, but I can't really remember.
Then you've got Birkdale that's got all the sand dunes and the mounds. Carnoustie, which actually has a few trees just outside the property that you see along the -- I think it's the eighth and ninth hole there, the par-3 and the par-4. It actually has a bit more gorge than most of the other courses had.
But yeah, and Hoylake was -- Hoylake was probably more similar to Sandwich than all the other ones. Played just a little bit flatter I'd say.
But yeah, they're all unique in their own way, and they all have their different settings and history, and I think that's what makes it so unique and fun.

Q. Talk about -- you've got Jack's tournament here at the Memorial, last week Byron Nelson tournament and then Arnie's. Talk about playing in a tournament like that that's associated with golfers such as those and how that's maybe a little different than some other tournaments.
BEN CURTIS: Well, you know, I think it's kind of a way to pay respects back to the guys that played before you. I didn't get a chance to play Byron last week, but, you know, yeah, you've got Arnold and Jack that -- when I was growing up, they were past their prime and kind of playing the senior circuit at the time. Growing up here where Jack -- basically the same town as Jack, and growing up in his footsteps is something very unique, and I had a chance to study -- not study, but follow his career quite a lot when I was a kid. He was all over the TV and the media, probably more so than anybody else.
It's a lot of fun, and both those guys kind of -- Arnold built kind of Bay Hill. There was a course there before, but he kind of made it what it is today, and Jack has done the same thing here.
They've both done a fantastic job of staying within the game, but not -- you hear about so many former players who kind of get away and don't stay in touch with the game. And they've had such a positive impact on the sport, and they probably made it -- I mean, Tiger has made it with the amount of money we're playing for today, but Jack and Arnold definitely put golf on the map back in the '60s and '70s.

Q. You mentioned you haven't been able to defend, this will be your first time. Are you superstitious? Will you stay in the same house and eat at the same places?
BEN CURTIS: Well, we actually are staying in the same complex I should say. We kind of upgraded a bit. It's a big farmhouse, and we stayed in the barn that had cottages. We actually rented the whole house this time. There's a lot of people coming, so it's going to be a little bit different. Last week it was just Candace and I. It's going to be a bit different. But in a sense it's going to be the same. So hopefully we try to keep it as normal as possible.

Q. How many people? Who's all going?
BEN CURTIS: There's 14 of us.

Q. Your parents and her --
BEN CURTIS: My parents, wife's parents, my brother, his girlfriend, my wife's brother and their two kids and his wife, and our two kids, Candace. And Herb and Paul are coming, too.

Q. Now, did Andy I retire or what?
BEN CURTIS: Well, he's back out here caddying. He kind of took a break for a while and then I think he realized he needed to work again and got back at it.

Q. Have you tried that putt on 18 like you had the last time there in 2003?
BEN CURTIS: Funny question. Yes, I had to do it last week for the media thing. I played the last three holes. They wanted me to hit that putt again. I actually made it this time. I'll just hit it there every time, I guess.

Q. I don't remember what year you played the European Tour and PGA TOUR. Did it give you a sense of how difficult that is for the guys who do it and maybe what were the difficulties you found in trying to play both?
BEN CURTIS: Well, I did it in '04, I think '09. '04 was hard because of the -- I wasn't playing that great, but it was just a hard year anyway after winning the major for me. I kind of let the game get away from me a bit, whereas '09 I had some success playing there in a few events, but didn't do quite as well in the majors as I had the previous year or two. So that was the big difference.
And it is tough. I mean, it's hard to set your schedule -- I think it's one that you've got to set your schedule before the year starts and just kind of go with it. You can't just say, Well, I'm going to add this event here and there. Maybe at the end of the year, like that was the year they had the Race to Dubai, and I said, Well, I'll play this event just to see where I can maybe move up and something like that.
But it was kind of one of those I had the schedule set, and you're almost hoping that you play great. It is tough, but I think the more times you do it and the more familiar you are with the European Tour I think helps the Europeans in a sense because they've been coming over here for a long time, as well, and playing, as well, so they may play four or five events. But they're so familiar with the European events and which ones to play and which ones not to play, I think helps, as well.
But it was a lot of fun, got a chance to travel and see other parts of the world. Just didn't pan out the way I wanted. But who's to say I won't do it again in the future.
JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Ben Curtis, thank you.

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