Born May 26, 1977, in Ostrander, OH; son of Bob and Janice Curtis; married Candace Beatty, August, 2003. Education: Graduated from Kent State University (recreation management degree), 2000.
Agent—Jay Danzi, IMG, 420 West 45th St., New York, NY 10036.
Professional golfer, 2002—. Won Ohio Amateur Tournament, 1999; won Players' Amateur Open, 1999; won Ohio Amateur Tournament, 2000; qualified for United States PGA Tour on his third attempt, 2002; played 13 PGA events, 2003; won British Open, 2003.
Ben Curtis was a Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour rookie, ranked 396th in the world rankings, and was a 500–to–1 shot to win the 2003 British Open, his first major championship. To the surprise of the golf world, win he did, beating the world's best golfers. He was the first player to win a major championship on the first try since Francis Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open.
Curtis, who was born in Ostrander, Ohio, grew up playing golf; his family's home was only 50 yards from the practice putting green of the Millcreek Golf Course, which his maternal grandfather had built in 1973. He first swung a club when he was three years old, and became so obsessed by the game that when he was 12, his parents moved to another house two miles from the course, hoping the distance would distract him into thinking about something else so he could develop more diverse interests. However, this ploy did not work, and Curtis remained obsessed with golf.
At Buckeye Valley High School, Curtis was already an elite player, and was recruited by almost every major college golf program in the United States. He chose to go to Kent State University because it was small and close to his family's home. While there, he became a three–time All–American and in 2000, was ranked No. 1 among world amateurs. As an amateur, Curtis was a two–time winner of the Ohio State Amateur Tournament, and also won the Players' Amateur Open. Interestingly, other than a few lessons he took from a local pro as a teenager, and coaching from Kent State's Herb Page, he has received no formal instruction in golf. "He likes his mind uncluttered," Page told Seth Davis in Sports Illustrated. Page noted that the one time he tried to give Curtis detailed instructions on his swing, Curtis became so distracted that it took him six months to clear his mind and go back to his much more effective, natural swing. Curtis himself told Davis, "I grew up on a driving range where you had to pick up your own balls after you hit them, so I learned the game by playing."
After his senior year at Kent State, Curtis received offers from several sports management agencies, which typically do not recruit such young players. Curtis told Sports Illustrated's Davis, "That gave me a lot of confidence because if they believed in me, why shouldn't I?" He signed with the well–known agency IMG, which got him a two–year sponsorship with golf equipment manufacturer Titleist.
In December of 2000, Curtis qualified to play on the PGA Tour on his third try. In 2003, he traveled to England to play in the British Open, paying his own way because unlike the other players, he did not have a sponsor. He took only two cousins with him, hired a caddy from the European PGA Tour, and settled in to play. As an unknown, he was not expected to win, and he only wanted to hold his ground. However, he did win, decisively.
Curtis won by closing with a 2–under 69, the only player to break par at 283. He told a SI.com reporter, "I came in here this week just trying to play the best I could, hopefully make the cut and compete on the weekend. Obviously, I did that and went out there and probably played the best weekend of my life." Of all the other golfers at the Open, none could match him, including famed golfers Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.
After winning the British Open, Curtis told SI.com that he was aware that some observers thought his win was a fluke and that he did not belong among the ranks of the world's best golfers. "But I know I do, so that's all that matters," he said. As a result of his win, he earned more than $1.1 million. "I'm very fortunate to be a winner with all the great names on that trophy—Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones," he said.
After winning the British Open, Curtis garnered more publicity than he had bargained for. As a result, his every move was scrutinized by reporters and others in the golf world. When he decided to withdraw from the Greater Hartford Open the week after the British Open, he was attacked by some reporters, as well as by fellow golfers. Peter Jacobsen, who won the tournament, told Sports Illustrated's Davis, "I was disappointed that Ben withdrew. You don't do that. I know you have to think about yourself and your health, but in the short term you have to keep your obligation." Curtis said he regretted withdrawing, but did it so that he could spend time with family members who had been unable to go to England for the British Open.
Curtis was also distracted in August of 2003 by his wedding to Candace Beatty; he had proposed to her during a Caribbean cruise in December of 2001. Beatty had played golf for the Kent State women's team, and she and Curtis were close friends for two years before he confessed to her that he was in love with her. "I'm shy in everything," Curtis told Sports Illustrated's Davis. "You can kind of control what happens on the course, but you can't control a situation like that." Fortunately, Beatty said yes to his proposal. The wedding took place on the same day as the NEC Invitational, where Curtis calmly made par to conclude his third round; three hours later, he and Beatty were wed. His cousin, Mike Birkenheier, told Dennis Manoloff in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "About 400 people are going to be at the wedding, and I'm proud of the fact that only a few were invited after the British [Open]. He's the kind of guy who will try to be more normal after something like that. He doesn't need to be ridiculous." In Crain's Cleveland Business, Brian Tucker commented on Curtis's unassuming personality: "It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.… He's the kind of pro golfer you wish they all were: genuine, friendly, sincerely interested in his playing partners."
Crain's Cleveland Business, July 28, 2003, p. 10.
Daily Telegraph, October 15, 2003, p. 7.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), July 23, 2003, p. B8; August 24, 2003, p. A1.
Sports Illustrated, August 11, 2003, p. G20.
Weekend Australian (Sydney, Australia), July 26, 2003, p. T15.