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Todd Hamilton wishes there were more events on links layouts in the United States. (Photo: Getty Images)
Todd Hamilton wishes there were more events on links layouts in the United States. (Photo: Getty Images)

Former champ Hamilton is glad to get back to links golf

Todd Hamilton has struggled since his surprise victory at the 2004 Open at Royal Troon. But he is pleased to be back in the U.K., where his triumph is still widely recognized, and to again play the creative golf that links layouts require.

By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor

HOYLAKE, England -- Boy, is Todd Hamilton glad the Open Championship is here.

Hamilton, the surprise winner of the 2004 Open at Royal Troon, has struggled dearly since taking home the Claret Jug, golf's oldest trophy. In fact, until his tie for 10th at last week's John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill., Hamilton's only other top 10 since his Open win was a tie for sixth at the WGC-American Express Championship that same year.

If for no other reason, the 40-year-old from Galesburg, Ill., who now makes his home in Westlake, Texas, has got to love the five-year PGA Tour exemption that came along with his major triumph. Otherwise, he might not be out here this week.

In 2006, Hamilton has participated in 19 events, making the cut just four times, including the high finish at the John Deere.

"I don't think last week -- at least the style of golf -- is going to allow me to play well this week," he said. "What it will allow me to do is get some confidence. I haven't played well and it's nice to see four good rounds next to my name.

"Actually, make that four rounds period, because I've been missing a lot of cuts. It'll give me confidence, but again, the style of golf here is completely different, so it remains to be seen whether I'll do well here or not."

Late Wednesday afternoon, on the eve of the 135th Open Championship at Royal Liverpool as the heat was finally subsiding thanks to a refreshing breeze, Hamilton was one of a handful of players getting in some last-minute practice on the range.

Several spectators had their eyes focused on Hamilton as he pounded range balls, something he's not very accustomed to in his home country.

"It's nice," said Hamilton of his reception, while signing autographs. "I think, to be honest, I get recognized more here overseas than I do back in the States. It's odd that young kids in Europe would recognize me and ask me for autographs whereas kids in the U.S. kind of just ask me for an autograph because I'm playing in the golf tournament that they're at.

"These people over here know what transpired a couple of years ago and they appreciate what happened, and it's nice. They appreciate that and they appreciate good golf shots."

What happened a couple of years ago is Hamilton made a remarkable up-and-down on the final hole from off the green with a fairway metal to fend off a charging Ernie Els and claim his first major championship.

"Obviously, that was a week that I'll never forget," he said. "It seems like it happened a long time ago, but it's only been a couple of years. To see my name on that trophy, or any trophy, for that matter, is a good feeling. As they say, they can't take that away from you."

Hamilton is one of the few players at Royal Liverpool who took part in the rather starless John Deere last week. He said the long trip that got him to Liverpool late Monday night didn't bother him. Rather than focusing on playing good golf, Hamilton said he has spent the bulk of the last two days taking good notes on the course he's seeing for the first time.

"I enjoy this kind of golf," he said. "I wish we could play it more at home in the states, but it seems like they're so worried about growing grass over there and the grass has got to be nice and green for TV. Every shot is played through the air at home, where over here you need to focus on a lot of feel shots, bouncing the ball up, keeping it under the wind, cutting the ball back into the wind, drawing it. You just don't stand up there with driver on every hole and smash away."

After missing the cut in his title defense last year at St. Andrews, Hamilton is hoping for a better result this time around. Like many, he believes anyone could win this week, as opposed to most major courses that are set up mainly for the bombers.

"You've got to drive the ball pretty well here," he said. "You don't have to hit every fairway, but you've got to stay out of the bunkers. St. Andrews last year seemed to be a lot wider. That allowed the guys that hit it a long way to do a lot better than the shorter guys.

"Here I think the guys that don't hit it as far have just as good a chance as the guys that hit it a long way because the course is playing firm and fast. I think this is a tournament that anyone in the field has a chance to win, to be honest with you. You don't have to bomb it, you just have to play smart."

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