The Forgotten Major Winners of Golf

I am certain that once upon a time we all dreamt of greatness and more often than not that will have included fame and fortune. No matter where you grew up I am sure, at some point in life, you have had a dream of representing your country at football, winning a tennis grand slam, becoming an Olympian or some other grand achievement. For a chosen few that dream is realised. These people reach the pinnacle of their sport whilst we spectate and those years of hard work, the blood, sweat and tears, all become worth it.


As a youngster I was one of those who was good at many different sports but never really excelled at one in particular. If I was to have achieved a dream I once held and become a major winning golfer then who knows how my career would have gone after winning that title. I often believe that the hard work comes after you have realised your ultimate goal. The reason being that if that has been your aim for the last 15 or 20 years, then once it is achieved, maybe some of that determination disappears quicker than Sam Allardyce's role with England. The truly great athletes are those who have the mental strength to want more than one title and keep going. Those who do not let their form dip just because they have finally accomplished their dream. They form a new dream and they work tirelessly until that is accomplished too.

 

With the Ryder Cup just behind us (and the wounds for us Europeans still fresh) I thought we would take a look at four golfers who managed to win a single major title and who you may have forgotten. Rather than see their careers continue on an upward trajectory, these guys have instead found themselves become just a name on a trophy or the answer to question 16 at the Red Lion's Tuesday night pub quiz. These are the players that achieved their goal and then quietly drifted away from the golfing spotlight.

 

Rich Beem2002 PGA Championship

Beem was the surprise winner of a tournament that an inform Tiger Woods had already won in 1999 and 2000. Although Woods had already taken home the trophies in two of the three majors that year, Beem went into the PGA Championship having won the 2nd PGA title of his career just two weeks earlier. Despite this he was seen as a huge outsider and although his opening round was a level par 72, he found himself in the final group with Justin Leonard for the last day. Woods finished strongly ending the tournament at -9 with Beem still out on the course. Beem managed to get round in 68 to record an unlikely win over a legend of golf by just one stroke.

 

Since winning the 2002 PGA Championship his career never reached that same level again. Beem failed to ever win another tour title and by 2012 he had lost his tour card leading to him taking on work as a golf commentator. He never finished in the top 10 of another major but I am sure the $990,000 that he banked for his 2002 win is something that he will never forget.


Ben Curtis2003 Open Championship

At 26 years old, securing a major title such as this would usually be the early signs of a magnificent career. For Ben Curtis it didn't quite turn out that way. Having said that, what made Curtis' win so great was the fact that this was his first ever appearance at a major. He was more than just a rank outsider, he was a young, inexperienced player with a poor world ranking who came from nowhere to secure arguably the biggest prize in golf. Beating great players such as Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III to the title must have put him on cloud nine and probably should have seen him perform better in the years that followed.

 

Curtis was not able to capitalise on this early promise and his career deteriorated only slightly slower than it had risen. He did manage a few top 10 finishes at majors and three more PGA Tour titles but at 39 years old, although his career is far from over, 13 years after winning a major at his first attempt, I am sure he will have expected and hoped for so much more. 


Shaun Micheel2003 PGA Championship

Just one year after the unlikely heroics of Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel proved that lightening can strike twice as he became another huge underdog to win the PGA Championship. Micheel was 34 years old and ranked all the way down in 169th going into the 2003 Championships but that did not stop him winning with a score of -4. An unusual fact of the Shaun Micheel life story is that, to date, his PGA championship victory is the only PGA Tour title he has ever managed to win. I guess if you can only win once in a lifetime then it may as well be a big one right?

 

Although Micheel did not win as many PGA tour titles as Rich Beem in his career, his performance at the majors have been significantly better. In 2004 he made the cut at all four majors playing with high confidence from his previous year's exploits. In 2006 he finished in second place at the PGA Championship, coming just short of securing the second major title of his career. Micheel has not made the cut at a major since 2011 but his albatross at the 2010 US Open is something that many golf fans may still remember him for.


Todd Hamilton2004 Open Championship

The intriguing success story of Todd Hamilton proves that you should never give up on your goals no matter how many times you are knocked down. Hamilton had been a professional golfer for over 15 years when he eventually won a major title in what was yet again seen as a huge upset. The American was playing on the Japan Golf Tour for no fewer than 12 seasons before he finally managed to secure a PGA Tour card in 2003 after coming through qualifying school at the eighth attempt. It seems that the triumph of finally making it onto the tour that he longed to be a part of was not going to see Hamilton rest on his laurels.

 

In March of 2004 he won his first tour event before winning The Open in July of that year following a thrilling four hole playoff with Ernie Els. After 2004 he only enjoyed limited success as he failed to ever win another PGA Tour title. A couple of commendable performances at the Masters and the US Open in 2008 and 2009 were unfortunately followed by Hamilton losing his Tour card in 2010. He is now 50 years old and competing on the Champions Tour but his name will be etched in Open history forever.


I am not quite sure what happened between 2001 and 2004 but the golfing world produced shock after shock at the majors. In 2003 the four majors were won by Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel, none of which have ever gone on to win another major. I dread to think what kind of return you would have got from the bookies if you picked those four at the start of the year!

 

I cannot think of another sport where shocks of this magnitude can happen on the biggest stage so frequently. Careers can be short and underwhelming or they can be long and astounding but no matter who wins the major titles and no matter how many they win, their name goes down in history and there are millions of people who will wish they could do the same. The reason I love golf is that for every Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy major win, there is a Rich Beem or Todd Hamilton just waiting for their chance to cause utter shock and astonishment to the world of golf. After all, you are not just competing against everyone else, in golf you are battling with the course, the weather and your own mental strength.

 

 

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