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Old School

In Calcutta, India, says Hamilton, "people on the course took baths or did their laundry in the water hazards. The water was filthy, but it was their only way of living." To the beggars who thronged the streets, the foreigners were immensely wealthy. "People said that one Titleist fed a family for a week," relates Jobe. "If you threw out a ball and a five-year-old kid got it, he'd get beaten silly by older kids trying to take it away from him. Only the strong survived."

After five years on the Asian Tour, Hamilton moved on to the Japanese Tour. According to Jobe, "the two are different animals." At first, Hamilton felt like a greenhorn and found himself shelling out $600 to $700 a week on cab fare. Two veteran Aussies, Roger Mackay and Brian Jones, took him under their wings. "They were like big brothers to me," Hamilton says. "They'd say, 'Take the taxi ten minutes to the train, get on the train for thirty minutes, then get another cab to the course.' It was kind of a pain in the rear, but it was cheaper and faster."

Halfway around the world, Hamilton acclimated himself, not only to the weather but also to the korai grass ("very bristly; the ball sets up great on it"); the steep elevation changes on Japanese courses ("they had chairlifts on some holes"); the disorientation of sleeping on a tatami mat ("very comfortable, but strange waking up in the morning, because the ceiling is about four feet higher than normal"); and inattentive galleries and lax marshals.

But of all the idiosyncrasies of the Asian and Japanese Tours, the one that made the whole adventure feel like a throwback to a much earlier time was that winnings were paid in cash. "If you did well for a couple weeks in a row, it would be nothing to walk around with thirty or forty thousand bucks on you," Hamilton recalls. "There was a tournament, I think it was in the Philippines, where they gave us a police escort from the course to our hotel. If you knew anything about how that tour worked, you could be waiting outside with a gun." Nothing like that ever happened on Hamilton's shift, but one American playing the Asian Tour lost a briefcase containing $35,000 in cash.

Hamilton had his own hairy adventure with a pile of money—the fruits of his first breakthrough year, 1992. He had a dismal 1991 in Asia before returning to the States and falling short at Q-school for the fourth year in a row. After some soul-searching, he resolved to play one more season in Asia, returning in early 1992 with "no expectations."

The approach clicked. Hamilton soon won his first pro event, the Singapore Rolex Masters, and shortly afterward won in Japan and Korea and was awarded the Asian Tour's 1992 Order of Merit as the leading money winner.

That's how he happened to be carrying $105,000 in cash when he flew home. A U.S. customs agent demanded to know how he had come by so much cash and was skeptical that he had won it playing golf. Finally, to prove it, Hamilton had to pull out the trophy he had received for winning the Maekyung Open in Korea.

"Okay," said the agent, defeated. "Just make sure you report it on your taxes."

Making a living half a world away from one's wife and children—Kaylee was born in 2000, Drake in 2003—is tough on the nerves. Although Hamilton won six more events in Japan between 1993 and 1998, by 2002—ten years after his first breakthrough—he was struggling, not getting much out of his game or his practice sessions. In early 2003, dispirited and once again without expectations, he flew back to Japan for another go and, once again, the absence of high hopes worked. He won four events. That fall he came back to the States and, miracle of miracles, tied for sixteenth at Q-school. "The Tour took thirty," he says. "I was very happy."

With so much worldly experience under his belt, Hamilton was hardly the typical PGA Tour rookie, and he was able to take his two victories in stride. "It wasn't like I was struggling for money and all of a sudden I won a tournament," he says. "I'd made some dollars before and invested wisely. I think my age, and what I went through before I got on the PGA Tour, has a lot to do with how I handled it." It also has allowed him to better appreciate the free cars, great equipment and posh hotels at discount rates that most players on Tour take for granted. The win at Royal Troon earned Hamilton an invitation to play in the British Open for the next quarter century, until his sixty-fifth birthday, if he likes. "I wish it would have happened sooner, but I'm very grateful the way things turned out," he says. "If it happened when I came straight out of college, I might be a big A-hole."

Last November, Hamilton returned to Japan for a tournament and while there made a pilgrimage to the champagne shrine at Motown. He inscribed two more bottles of Dom: one for the Honda Classic, one for the British Open. He'd like to add another for a win at St. Andrews.

On the Old Course, Hamilton has a chance. He still uses the same swing he learned as a teenager, which produces a low, not very long fade that is notably ill-suited for many of the long, modern courses the PGA Tour visits but which is just about perfect for a windswept Scottish links—as he proved last year. "I think he'll like St. Andrews," predicts his old pal Brandt Jobe. "Wind, hard turf, tough conditions, bump-and-run—we played in those conditions for years. He'll enjoy not having much rough. And St. Andrews is wide open, so you can use your imagination. That's what Todd excels at."

As for dealing with expectations at the Open this year, maybe they won't be so high after all, given Hamilton's less-than-stellar play of late and the consistently disappointing performance of other recent out-of-the-blue, first-time major winners, such as Rich Beem, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel. But if Hamilton gets on a hot streak, his fellow competitors had better watch out coming down the stretch. The only place he's likely to choke is at the pretournament Past Champions Dinner. "You have to wear a coat and tie," he says, betraying only a hint of a smile. "And that always makes me feel like I'm in a hangman's noose."


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