By James Dalthorp
When Ben Curtis won his first major championship as a rookie at the 2003 British Open Championship, there were many who tagged him as a “fluke” or “longshot.” After all, he was ranked 396th in the world entering the event with just his strong amateur resume to validate his win. But nine years later, he’s reached rare company with his third PGA TOUR win under his belt, secured today at the Valero Texas Open at the TPC San Antonio. Curtis shot an even-par 72 to finish at 9-under, a two shot win that was heartfelt for the 34-year-old.
“All the emotions … you don’t even know you have ‘em until you go through something like that,” Curtis said.
Curtis has been through major life experiences during his PGA Tour career. Not long after his major win in his rookie season, he tied the knot with his wife Candace at the United Methodist Church just miles from the site of where he played that week’s tournament at Firestone Country Club. He now has two young children.
Curtis had been playing the European Tour regularly because he did not have full status on Tour. In the past six years since his last win, he had only 24 made cuts in over 200 starts. Through the trying times, he continued to listen to the advice of his college coach from Kent State University. The Ohio State amateur champion mentioned his advice regularly in the media center after his win.
“He said, ‘Just keep working hard and good things will happen.’”
Curtis held off young standouts Matt Every and John Huh by a two shot margin. Every was the first round leader after a course-record 63. Curtis managed two steady opening rounds of 67, followed by 73-72 on the weekend. His two double bogeys on the front nine in Round 3 set him back, but Curtis overcame the setback to finish two-under his last ten holes in difficult conditions. The final round of 72 was two shots below the field average of nearly 74 at TPC San Antonio.
The tough conditions could be attributed to not only a difficult course, designed by Greg Norman, but challenging conditions. The nearly 7500-yard layout saw its share of challenging weather over four days. Day 1, a steady wind from the South made scoring conditions inconsistent. In Round 2, wind came at the same moment, but from a more northern direction. The switch meant that players who teed off late Thursday and early Friday saw a different course – the wind did not start to blow until about noon on Friday which gave the players ideal scoring conditions. At about 1:45 p.m. CST Friday, a rainstorm hit San Antonio that caused players to continue their rounds Saturday morning.
The North wind continued to blow Saturday – and finally Sunday the breeze settled down. However, the pin positions were tough to putt.
“It was hard to get yourself after a while to make good strokes and trust yourself,” Curtis said of the holes today, which were cut in places that were difficult to read.
John Huh and Matt Every fought hard to challenge Curtis, but could not get their putts to drop late. Huh was 9-over after eight holes in the first round, but battled back into contention after only one bogey and 16 birdies in his final 64 holes. He would come up just two shots out of a playoff.
Curtis earned his victory with two clutch putts at the end of the round. Faced with a challenging lie on the No. 17 , he bladed a wedge shot from the fairway over the green. From there, he had to make a lengthy putt of some 25 feet to save par and maintain a one shot lead. He drained it.
“It was the best putt I hit all week,” Curtis said.
He finished his round by making a 15-footer for birdie on the 18th green for a two-shot win.
“I love hard golf courses,” Curtis said. “I love when par is premium. I love courses where you have to control your distance – not only in the air but also on the ground.”
Curtis will head to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans next week thanks to the win. This is his ninth year on the PGA Tour and he will look to defend the Valero Texas Open next year on a new date – the week before the Masters. Next week in New Orleans, he will join Huh and Every in the field that includes Masters and defending champion Bubba Watson, as well as Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els, Justin Rose, and Luke Donald.