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July 11, 2011

Ben Curtis


LYNN WALLACE: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined by the 2003 Open Champion Ben Curtis. Thanks for joining us, Ben. You must have some amazing memories of Royal St. George's. How does it feel to be back?
BEN CURTIS: It feels awesome. Yeah, it feels great to be back. It's the third time back now being on the grounds since I won. The first time I came back, there was nothing here but the golf course, so it completely took me by storm. I didn't realise where I was when I was out there. But with all the grandstands it helps. But coming back during the Open this week, I feel pretty good. So far the weather is good and the course is in great shape, and it should be a fun tournament.
LYNN WALLACE: What are your expectations this week?
BEN CURTIS: Well, I mean, obviously you want to win, but I just want to play good for four days. I've been struggling a little bit the last few months, and just want to play good golf and try to make as many birdies as I can and keep the ball in play and out of those bunkers, and try to hit as many greens as I can, hit the middle of the green, and let the short game take care of itself and hopefully make a few, as well.
But obviously you want to do well and play well. I just got here and just got acclimated a little bit with the course and the grounds again, so I'm just trying to get my game in shape, and I'm sure on Thursday I'll be a bit more excited and a bit more fired up and ready to go.

Q. Last time around were you impressed by the extent to which the British love an underdog, because they did take to you?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I think everybody loves an underdog.

Q. Possibly more so here I think than in America; would you not say?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I would say so. It's hard to say because when you're in the moment, you don't really -- you're kind of going off what the fans are doing and how they're reacting when you're playing. But it's hard when you're in the middle of it because you have a different picture of it than you do from watching it on TV and stuff like that. I think when you see some of these good stories like that, when you watch them on TV, I think you kind of get engrossed into it more so than when you're actually playing in it. That's what you do for a living; you're playing the game of golf.
I haven't had a real good chance of sitting back and watching the whole coverage from Thursday on. I've seen bits and parts of it from Sunday, but I think if you watch it from the beginning to the end, obviously I think I'll have a different perspective of it then. But since then, playing is your job, this is what you do when you're out there, you expect to do great things, and that's what I've done.

Q. But you've felt the support from here?
BEN CURTIS: Oh, yeah. Every year I come back and every time I come back -- I was here a month ago, and I shook probably more hands then than I did the first time I was here. There was just members and a few guests around.
Yeah, I think it's definitely unique and different from what we see all year, so it makes it fun in a way.

Q. Are you one that puts much stock into the fact that having good vibes at a place or good past experiences can help snap you out of a little bit of a lull?
BEN CURTIS: Well, yeah, I mean, it has before. I mean, at Hartford, for example, I love playing there and it's a great golf course. A couple times I've come in there I haven't played that well, but just getting on familiar grounds and a course that you like playing and enjoy, it definitely can turn it around.
Out here it's one-swing thought here or there or just one little thing that might give you a little bit of confidence, and you see a couple putts go in on Tuesday, Wednesday, and then they continue over to Thursday, and just little things like that that go from missing the cut by one to winning the golf tournament.
It doesn't take much. It's so tight out here, you've got to be on your best game every week to compete.

Q. Are you doing anything similar to what you did in 2003? Are you staying in the same house? Are you going to go to the same restaurant just to bring back some of those happy memories?
BEN CURTIS: Well, I mean, we're in the same area. We just kind of upgraded this time. We're in a house, and last time we were in an apartment that was no bigger than this patio that we're sitting on up here.
But yeah, I mean, we're just trying to keep it low key. A lot of family and friends here, and just trying to keep it -- I'm not a big believer you have to do the same thing every time you come back or exact same thing, but just trying to keep it relaxed and enjoyable as possible for everybody so when I get back to the house it's not about the golf, it's just about being together.

Q. You used a local caddie last time, which really helped you to think your way around the course. Are you using your regular caddie this time?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I'm going to use my regular caddie this time. I had Andy on the bag for seven years after the fact, and I've got a new guy and we're about a year into it now, and it's going well. Yeah, he grew up in Portrush so he knows all about links golf. I've played it enough now that I understand that you miss the green, you're grabbing your 7- or 8-iron, not your sand wedge, unless you're in a bunker obviously. But just from the experience of playing, you kind of get accustomed to that.

Q. Tell us about the first time you came back. You said it was completely different, there was no grandstands, et cetera. Why did you come back? Were you on a social round?
BEN CURTIS: Well, in October we were playing in the World Matchplay over at Wentworth, and since we were close and we had my parents here and Candace's parents, so we decided to come on over. So we hopped on the train and came on over. We called ahead and asked if we could walk around and it was no problem. So we just kind of walked the grounds. Didn't play or anything. We didn't walk all the holes because it was really cold and windy; imagine that. (Laughter.)
But I remember we were on the 2nd hole. We were down in one of the bunkers just to stay warm; we were so cold. It was really cold. Yeah, so that was the first time. There was no grandstands. Didn't realise that there's all these fields behind where we are now. Without all the grandstands you get a different perspective of it. We were standing on the tees, and my dad is like, where do you hit it? I'm like, I don't really know without all the grandstands and that. You totally get a real sense of what links golf is all about when you see it in that way.

Q. Can all the nostalgia and happy memories from 2003, can it almost be worth an extra club in the bag?
BEN CURTIS: I doubt it, but I'd like to think so. The hard part is we're out there today and, oh, I was here in '03 and I was here on Saturday and I was here on Friday. When you get out there you've got to kind of forget that because you kind of get more focused on what you did then. Man, I made birdie last time I was here, now I made par; what's the matter, something like that. So you've just got to focus on the present and just try to relive those -- seeing those putts go in, and that's what it's all about.

Q. Do you subscribe to the view that returning to the scene of the crime can make you walk taller, play better?
BEN CURTIS: Well, like I said before, it can. It definitely gives you a little bit of confidence because you know you've done it before, and there's no reason why you can't do it again. I just hope this is my week. But I'm not going to think about holding that trophy yet. Hopefully when the last putt is holed on Sunday it will be coming my way, but we'll see.

Q. As you know there's been a lot of conversation back in the States about the status of American golf, that Phil is the last one to have won a major. I'm curious, because of your breakout performance here, how do you look at that conversation about low American, and is there something maybe about the British Open that allows people who aren't expected maybe to rise to the top?
BEN CURTIS: Well, I think when you look at the field, you're going to see -- there's probably 130 guys that could win this week, have a legitimate chance. You're going to take here and there 20 that may not be feeling well or their game is really bad or whatever coming in, but pretty much anyone in the field can win this week. It's just a matter of having the right things go your way and making a few putts here and there.
You know, as far as American golf, it's healthy. We've got a lot of great young players coming up. I think a few of them just need a little bit more experience. When I won I didn't have any experience, but it's not saying it can't happen. Everybody is different. Like Rickie Fowler, for example, is he putting too much pressure on yourself? Maybe, I don't know. He's a great young player, he's a good kid, and you hope one day he'll get a couple victories under his belt. Once he wins one he could win ten.
But it's just the game of golf goes in cycles. There for a while us Americans were doing quite well in the majors, and then now it's Europeans are doing well. And it's no surprise because they're great players and they have been for a long time, it's just a matter of getting their chances and taking advantage of it.

Q. Could you take us back to when you arrived here, 2003. What were your thoughts coming into the championship?
BEN CURTIS: I was just coming over to have fun. I wasn't really worrying about the golf. I had great form coming in. I was playing well in some events leading up to it. I mean, I remember we came here -- we got here Friday, my wife and I came out on Saturday and Sunday, and my caddie was out here -- Andy was out on Sunday for the first time, so we kind of walked around, played 18, and then Monday I just went into London with Candace and we walked around, saw a few sites and did a few things and then came out Tuesday, come back to work.
But as far as expectations, really the only goal I had was to play four days and to see what it was like to play -- it was my first major, just to see what it was like and just to enjoy it. I never thought coming in here -- I said, this is the last time I might play in it. I didn't know it was one of 30 more to come.

Q. And when did that expectation change? When in the week did you suddenly think, geez, I might even be in for this?
BEN CURTIS: Well, I mean, my confidence was high, and I thought Saturday night -- I mean, Candace, we were laying in our little cottage laying in bed, and she goes, "How do you feel about tomorrow?" And I just kind of looked at her and said, "I'm going to win." She never talked to me until after the round on Sunday. I mean, it wasn't cocky or anything, just felt comfortable. I wasn't nervous or anything like that. I was just having fun with what I was doing and just really took to playing the links golf that I'd never played before, and until this day every time I come over I get excited and enjoy playing them.

Q. Can you give us a few more details on the contrast between your accommodation years ago, what you paid for it then and what you're paying this time?
BEN CURTIS: I mean, it was last-minute. I couldn't tell you. My wife could tell you how many pounds we paid for it. But we went from the outhouse to the mansion.

Q. Do you know what you're paying this year?
BEN CURTIS: I do, but I'm not going to say. (Laughter.)
I just know we've got the whole compound this year.

Q. Five figures?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah -- well, yeah. Five, yeah.

Q. Such a huge golf event in your life, is there one thing that stands out about that evening when you won or anything in particular that still stands out for you, any particular moment?
BEN CURTIS: As far as golf or anything?

Q. No, just realising that you had won and savouring the victory.
BEN CURTIS: I think when I got in the car. You know, once you win, you get the trophy and you go -- you say a few words and then you walk around the 18th green for a little while and take some pictures, and then you come in here and you do this and you go out there and do a few more. I remember it was almost dark when I left here. We didn't even go back to the place we were staying. I don't even know what happened to our luggage or anything. I just remember showing up at the IMG house and there was like three people there, and I think that's kind of when it sunk in, when we got in the car and Candace was kind of half crying. We were driving back to the house, and she was kind of quiet and I said, "What's the matter?" She said, "You won't believe the zoo that's going on overseas back home." That's when it kind of sunk in.
It really didn't sink in until I got off the plane in Cleveland. The flight was from Gatwick to Cleveland and we came down the escalator in the baggage claim and there was thousands of people down there. That's when it really hit in that this was a lot bigger deal than I thought it was.
Going through the airport in London we had the trophy out and we had a few security people with us, so we didn't get the full effect of it until we literally walked down the escalator in Cleveland, and that was a big eye-opener, like wow, this is a big deal. That's where it sunk in, and I didn't sleep for the next two weeks. Was just going everywhere, doing everything, what you should do and enjoy it. But that was when it really sunk in.

Q. You said this is your third time back, so you had the one immediately after that year and then earlier this year. Did you play some when you were here earlier this year?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I played a bit in May, not all of them but quite a few of them.

Q. Do you remember where you were when you found out you had won?
BEN CURTIS: I was on the driving range with about 50 camera crews, probably some of these guys in here.

Q. I think Andy came over and told you.
BEN CURTIS: He yelled it out from about 50 yards away. He was standing on a trailer watching it. I couldn't watch it. I was just down there staying loose because really, to be honest, I thought I was going to be in a playoff.

Q. Do you remember anything that Sunday going along that stands out in your mind, any shot or moment or anything hitting you?
BEN CURTIS: Well, I think we had a little bit of a wait on 12, if I remember right, waited a couple minutes, and that's when it kind of sunk in that I'm leading the tournament. I mean, we were just cruising along the first 11 holes and just started making a lot of putts -- actually I had the lead, and that's when it kind of sunk in that I could win this tournament, and that's when the rookie nerves came in. Being a first-timer over here and playing in a major. And I think that's why I didn't play well coming in.
But walking down the last, I knew I needed to make birdie -- I figured I needed to make birdie to win or to have a chance, and so I finally got back into focus on what I needed to do.

Q. Who did you play with that last day?
BEN CURTIS: Philip Price.

Q. What's Andy doing this week? And is he carrying someone's bag?
BEN CURTIS: It's a funny story, I just found out maybe a half hour ago that he's caddying for a guy in my group Thursday and Friday. He's caddying for Aaron Baddeley.

Q. Were you planning to meet up with him this week?
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, he actually surprised me at the house last night. I mean, I've seen him. He's caddied in the U.S. some this year, and I've seen him. Last night I was grilling chicken on the grill and here he comes walking out with one of the kids in his arms. I'm like, how did you get here? I didn't know he was coming. But yeah, he's a good friend of mine, and we still talk regularly.

Q. And also, do you remember what you did with the Claret Jug during your year as owner?

Q. Did you drink plenty out of it?

Q. Where did you keep it?
BEN CURTIS: Well, we have a fireplace at home with the TV just above it, and we put it right there for most of the year or in the office, and then went down to -- my parents had it at their course for a few weeks or a couple months actually, just to show it where I grew up and played as a kid. So it was down there a bit, too.

Q. Could you just talk us through the shots you need to play around this course to be successful that might be different than the shots you play over in U.S.
BEN CURTIS: You've got to be able to control the flight of your ball here, more so than in the States, and you've got to know -- you've got to kind of figure out how much roll you're going to get after the ball lands. And that's just through a little bit of preparation, playing today, tomorrow and Wednesday, just getting used to seeing how far each club in the bag would roll downwind, into the wind, side wind. You have a pretty good idea by Thursday, and then you still learn more as you go on and on.
That's probably the two biggest things. And obviously course management; you've got to stay out of those bunkers. Back home some courses you can hit it in every bunker on the course and you'll be all right. But over here almost every one you go in is not a good place to be. So you've got to avoid those, and obviously you've got to chip and putt it real well and just try and play to your strengths, as well.
But the biggest thing is controlling the flight of your ball, especially if the wind gets up, which it normally does here. If you can't keep the ball down or can't control your flight or hit the shots you want, you're in trouble.

Q. It was obviously a great day for you but it was a wonderful event for Thomas Björn, as well. Did you ever get a chance to talk to him about the events of that day?
BEN CURTIS: Not really. I played with him a few times since then and we played together at the World Matchplay, the year I think he beat me in the semis. We talked a little bit about it, but I'm not going to say anything to him about -- just obviously what happened to him you don't wish upon anybody. It's just a terrible thing that's happened to him, but he's moved on and he's played quite well since then.

Q. Do you hope he gets in this week? He's first alternate.
BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I heard he was first alternate. Hopefully. Thomas is a good guy and a good player, and it would be a shame if he's not here playing this week.
LYNN WALLACE: Thanks, Ben. Good luck this week.

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