Ben Curtis was the first player to register for The Open at Royal St George’s in 2003 and the only player to visit the pro shop to ask the club professional about the course.
The local knowledge was vital for a links first-timer. Curtis was 26, from Ohio, and ranked 396th in the world. He had played just 13 events in his rookie season on the PGA TOUR and gained an exemption for The Open by finishing 13th in the Western Open two weeks previously. On a bouncy links that caused even the best numerous problems, Curtis came home in 32 in the third round, went out in 32 in the final round and led by two with seven to play before making four bogeys in the next six holes. But others also struggled, Thomas Bjorn taking three to escape a bunker at the 16th, and he beat Bjorn and Vijay Singh by one and Tiger Woods and Davis Love by two.
This was one of the most surprising results on the history of The Open. He was the first to win on his first appearance since Tom Watson in 1975 and the first player to win his first ever Major since Francis Ouimet’s great upset of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at the 1913 US Open. A few weeks later he got married on the evening of the third round of the WGC NEC Invitational, which he had not been expecting to play but fortunately was held in his home state. Has won three times since on the PGA TOUR and played in the 2008 Ryder Cup. Started in golf thanks to his grandparents who owned a public course in Ostrander, Ohio, where since a Sunday evening in July 2003 calls have been answered: “Hello, this is Mill Creek Golf Club, home of Open Champion Ben Curtis."