America is a strange country. We love underdogs, but revere superstars.
What happens when the two meet for our sporting pleasure? What happens when a 250-1 longshot beats up on the world's best players in golf's starchiest major?
Sorry to say, but we tend to whine a little bit. Nitpick. Get a little uppity.
Todd Hamilton, the American who just won the British Open - sorry, technically it's called "The Open," as if we should all know it's British - is being called all sorts of things, mainly vaguely unflattering.
To be fair, it isn't just the American press. The European press is just as perplexed and irritated. Especially when it became apparent Colin Montgomery wasn't going to win.
Just a few nicknames Hamilton earned for winning: The "unheralded journeyman." The American outsider." The American dropout." The "Nowhere Man."
True, Hamilton is from Oquawka, Ill., which is just south ofNowhere.
But hey, they have about 1,600 people who live there, and they allhaveto be somewhere. And they have Class C campsites there - thatincludes tables and grills, thank you.
They have absolutely zero foreign-born residents in Oquawka, and thebiggest news before Hamilton's stunning win was a circus elephant namedNorma Jean who was zapped by lightning. Question: where does an elephanthide during a thunderstorm?
Anyway, small-town hero wins big, puts nowhere on the map. That should be the story.
We should be embracing this guy's amazing Horatio Alger story ofperseverance, rags-to-riches, whatever you want to call it.
He's one of those blue-collar golfers heretofore lost amidst thesuperstar shuffle, a guy who's traveled hither and yon, and thenhithererand yonner, to get to this point. Hamilton earned his stripes all overtheworld. He played on the tour in Canada, which is generally referred toasThe Big, Cold Nowhere.
Then he competed on the Asian Tour, winning in Singapore, ThailandandKorea, which earned him entree to the Japan tour, where he won fourtournaments.
This was after he made the decision not to quit, and presumablybecomehead pro at the Hend-Co-Hills Golf Club and Largemouth Bass Country Club inBiggsville, Ill. That's where he would have pulled down a decent livingorganizing twilight scrambles for the Osquawka "We're Named AfterIndiansBut We Don't Have Any Actually Living Here Society."
Certainly, the Asian press doesn't like being called "nowhere." AfteranAssociated Press story described Hamilton's toil in Asian "outposts," anAsian paper sniffed: "Outposts, indeed!"
He finally got his PGA Tour card last year after eight tries, tyingfor16th in a qualifying tournament. So far these credentials, in terms ofbeingconsidered a contender in the British Open are like a foreign-born,Hollywood palooka being elected governor of California. Oh, right.Forgotabout that.
Hamilton showed a tiny glimpse of what was to come by beating DavisLoveIII to win the Honda Classic this past March. And then - like lightningstriking a circus elephant - came RoyalTroon.
If Hamilton had been the one to wilt, he would have been a minor sidebar and we'd all be reading stories about Ernie Els and South African beer. But Hamilton didn't wilt. He took on the world's No. 2-ranked player hombre to hombre and beat him in a nerve-racking playoff.
The other superstars tumbled, victims of the Troon Swoon. No.1-rankedTiger Woods was felled by the back nine. No. 3 Vijay Singh's puttingcosthim. No. 4 Phil Mickelson played brilliantly the last day, but finishedashot back.
And while we're on the subject of Mickelson, can we finally come outandsay it? He choked at the U.S. Open. There, that feels better,doesn't it? Now let's move on.
Personally, I think most of the world press was pulling for Els,Mickelson, Singh and Woods et al because the story line was sitting uptherenice and pretty, like a good lie in bad rough. Those stories werealreadywritten, almost. Fill in the blanks.
But, with Hamilton, we all had to do a little digging.
So here's what we're finding: Hamilton is a 38-year-old rookie whowasborn in Galesburg, Ill. Umm, actually I can't find much more thanthat.
Suffice it to say Hamilton's win shouldn't come as a surprise. BenCurtiswent from qualifying school to win the Open at Royal St. George's. For ahistorical perspective, look at Jack Fleck beating Ben Hogan at the U.S.Open.
Favorites win most of the time in business, politics and five-cardstud.Not in golf. It's a testament to the depth of the game that a ToddHamiltoncan beat Ernie Els on any given Sunday.
Me, I like the underdog. Then again, I also pull for the Yankees.
July 22, 2004
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