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Old School

"I've always enjoyed that sound," Hamilton says. You can sense the pleasure he takes in the precision of his memories. "My first pair of golf shoes had metal spikes. I was ten years old. Up until then I played in tennis shoes. But I was going to be playing my first real tournament, and it had rained the night before. My dad said, 'You probably need a pair of golf shoes. We don't want you slipping.' "

The shoes were all white, with a flap over the laces. And they crunched when he walked on pavement. He never switched to soft spikes, as the majority of modern pros have.

Hamilton likes to keep things simple. Today, like most days, he is wearing a solid-color shirt, because solid shirts are easier to match with pants than patterned shirts are. He has won all his tournaments with the same style Ping putter. His current one, a beryllium copper B60, he bought used for $50 in 1995. There are four strips of lead tape on the bottom. "With a heavy putter, you don't have to use your hands too much," he explains.

Hamilton's caddie, Ron "Bambi" Levin (no relation to this writer), describes his boss as "low maintenance." Hamilton calculates his own yardages, reads his own putts. "He's very businesslike," Levin says. "He loves to play golf, loves to practice. There's nothing false. What you see is what you get."

At home in McKinney, Texas, Hamilton likes to carry his own bag. Back in Japan, he got used to carrying his own luggage up and down stairs, sometimes a thousand yards from the bus to the train. That experience, bouncing around the Far East in cars, buses, taxis and trains, earning a living with no frills, made him identify with the barnstorming pros of the 1930s and '40s who practically lived out of their cars. "I'm sure those guys didn't lift weights," he remarks. "And they carried their own luggage."

A strapping fellow at six-foot-one, 195 pounds, Hamilton admits he could stand to lose ten to fifteen pounds, and that someday he'll probably have to start stretching if he wants to continue playing golf, perhaps with a trainer's help. But he's not there yet. "Craig Stadler lost a lot of weight one time," he says, "and he didn't golf well. He decided he'd rather golf well than look his best."

Hamilton also doesn't use a golf coach: "I'm very stubborn and hardheaded. I've taken a few lessons over the years, but I've never relied on anyone to fix me. I don't want to call up some guy every night when I'm not going well, like he's a baby-sitter."

Growing up in Oquawka, a Mississippi River town of 1,500 in west central Illinois, Todd Hamilton was by no means rich. His father owned a small grocery store called Hamilton's Super Market, where Todd worked when he got old enough. Todd took after his father, a good athlete who had grown up playing football and basketball. When Todd was three, his dad took him to the local country club in Henderson County, Hend-Co Hills (2005 membership for a family of four: $800) and gave him a sawed-off iron to chip and putt with. Those types of shots are still the strongest part of Hamilton's game.

In the summer before his junior year in high school, Hamilton started dating a pretty cheerleader named Jacque Saben, the woman he later married. He won a golf scholarship to Oklahoma, where he was named an all-American three times, and left in 1987 just short of a degree to begin earning his living at golf. Jacque, who also went to Oklahoma, stayed to get her degree in merchandising and today handles Hamilton's business affairs.

In his first shot at Q-school, in 1987, Hamilton fell three strokes short of earning his Tour card. "That was devastating to us," says Jacque. "I cried and cried, not realizing that there were other tours out there for him to play."

Before the first of their three children, Tyler, was born in 1998, Jacque would fly to Asia or Japan a couple of times a year to be with Todd. She did some sightseeing, but it wasn't all play. "In the Philippines," she recalls, "he had a tee time at seven in the morning, and you want to get there an hour early. So my wake-up call was around 2:30, because we had an hour and a half on the bus, and then we had to take a shuttle bus to the course."

When Hamilton first arrived in Asia, the 90-degree heat with 90-percent humidity hit him like a lead mop. "It was unbearable," he says. "You've got sweat dripping in your eye, your glove's slick, but we were focused on the golf tournament and that wasn't going to bother us."

It was in these circumstances that he became fast friends with Brandt Jobe. "We used to leave for Asia around the first of February and play fourteen straight weeks of tournament golf," Jobe recalls. "That's a strength he has. He can be mentally ready to play that many weeks in a row. Most players can't. Todd loves to play, and that's all we did."

Some of the ports of call on the Asian Tour were rugged, to say the least. The food was iffy. Hamilton caught a stomach virus in Pakistan in 1988 that caused him to lose so much weight his wife says she barely recognized him. And often there were no range balls, forcing players to save up old balls to hit on the range and then walk out and fetch them. But the roughest part was seeing extremes of poverty rarely if ever encountered at home.

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