An Open Letter to Ben Curtis
Sadly, with the "crucial" week two of NFL football occupying too many sports minds, Ben Curtis' inspiring victory at the last 84 Lumber Classic went unnoticed by too many in the sports world.
That is a disappointing reflection of our society, for Ben is a terrific role model both as a golfer and a gentleman. He shows us so much not through mere words, but actions.
Has there ever been a more underappreciated British Open Champion in history? Ben played so well for that difficult week at quirky St. George's, but all the media remembers is that he backed into the title when several golfers above him had fatal meltdowns.
After two difficult years where he played well on Thursday, but rarely on other days, he was labelled a fluke winner and dismissed offhand.
Now, finally, Ben has won twice at two formerly quintessential, but sadly forsaken tour stops - the Booz Allen (Kemper to the old schoolers) and the always fun 84 Lumber Classic.
But more than that, placid, low-key, but mature-beyond-his-few-years Ben has been a paragon of virtue for the fans. He hit balls on the range as Thomas Bjorn failed to get a tying birdie. His caddie - a man he met merely a week before - concisely informed him, "Ben, you're the Open Champion."
He simply put his club back in the bag, gave a phlegmatic look that could have easily been mistaken for "OK, what happens now" and sought out the loving arms of his fiance. No fist pump, no leap for joy, no tears, no self-aggrandizement. You would have thought he won the City Amateur in Columbus, Ohio.
His graceful, humble, thankful acceptance speech at the 2003 Open endeared him to UK fans, but was not carried by the American media. He won many hearts and minds that day. It was also touching that his win was soon to be followed by his marriage to Candace, his kind-hearted and down-to-earth wife. He graciously let the golf media cover his wedding festivitiesbecause that was a heartwarming story. He even surprised Candace with a Lexus as a wedding present.
Yet the media proved their exceptional prowess at "savaging second" and he was ignored simply because he was not winning tournaments and because he is a bland interview.
This year has been a breakout year for Ben on many levels. To the delight of true golf fans everywhere - yes, the many fans who revere the virtuous, noble side of our game - he won the Booz Allen and long deserved praise finally came, along with late recognition of a dedicated work ethic. Nevertheless, he is still woefully underestimated and underappreciated.
As he won the 84 Lumber Classic - wearing the colors of his hated football nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers instead of his beloved Cleveland Browns - few media gave him the attention he richly deserves. ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, waited until signing off from their bedrock foundational sports show "SportsCenter" to merely add in passing (while the outro music was playing), "by the way, Ben Curtis won the 84 Lumber Classic." The New York dailies reduced his win to a one sentence bullet point in a short roundup piece, while offering full coverage of all the NFL slate - even the games only gambling degenerates could like such as "niners-cardinals" and "ravens-raiders."
What a sad commentary on the state of our media. T.O. preens and pimps like a thug and they all run for quotes, but a good noble man - who is expecting his first child in a week and who's devoted wife surprised him at the 18th green is ignored. To Ben's unending credit, he's merely satisfied with a job well done, a kiss from his wife and a small article from the local Ohio paper in his hometown.
Tommy Lee Jones' character "Two-Face" was right - holy men are martyred and junkies grow legion. Well not on my watch.
Happily, golf has not yet descended fully into the lowest common denominator cesspool as so many other sports. Yes, the "rocket sled to hell," as sportswriter and broadcaster Steve Czaban likes to call it, tries its hardest to dumb down golf (see Open, Phoenix...err...FBR and Black, Bethpage), but golf and true golfers and golf fans nobly resist. Edmund Burke is spot on, "the easiest way for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."
I believe in you Ben. Yes, I've never gotten too many great quotes from you for articles, but I don't care one jot. You speak more with your actions than mere words ever could. I'll root all day for the over achiever - the guy who is - to mix sports metaphors for a moment - second in the gym and the second to last one to leave (Don't worry, Vijay will get the lights), the guy who dives into the stands for the loose ball and the guy who runs the floor the same way whether winning or losing by twenty.
Grace, class, humility, kindness; that's a role model, that's the Curtises. Devoted to each other, earning every accolade though hard work and perseverence, nary a snap, snipe or sour note to anyone. These are the people we should esteem and put on pedestals as an example. We all might rise a little higher as a society.
Old fashioned nobleness, family values and honesty are the core of our great game. fans gravitate so much more to players who embody those virtues. Ben Crenshaw - respectful, grateful and humble, Phil Mickelson - affable, sincere and folksy, Jack Nicklaus - equally graceful and thankful in historic victory or bitter defeat and dedicated to the greater glory of the game, not himself; they are true champions.
Ben Curtis, you are a champion in all the ways those great men were. That is a trophy more precious than three Claret Jugs. True golf fans know it and we are ever so grateful for your good example, even though the myopic, greedy and misguided fail to appreciate it. Some day, as your win tally mounts, they - begrudgingly or belatedly - will acknowledge you. But everyone with a true golf soul respects and esteems you right now.
We are all the richer for your success.