Curse of the British Open ... What Curse?

You see? It's not real, the Curse of the British Open. Granted, the Golf Gods exist, there's no argument about that. And it only follows that the Golf Gods' world headquarters (GGHQ) is Over There, across "the pond," in the United Kingdom. But there's no reason to believe they get their knickers in a twist every time someone exhibits such mastery of the game as to win THE Open, their Open, no modifier required. Don't try to tell me the Gods unleash their full arsenal of bogeys and bogeymen on the champ. No way.

Not if 2003 British Open champion Ben Curtis can trample the field to win the Booz Allen Classic at the TPC at Avenel in Potomac, Maryland, as he seems primed to do for his second career W. See? The curse can't be real. Forget about it.

Granted, the Gods tried to turn Avenel into a water hazard Sunday when it became apparent that Curtis couldn't possibly lose, postponing the finish until Monday, when the man in the NFL apparel merely had to get to the course without coming down with a stiff neck or food poisoning or a case of 24-hour blindness. He avoided all three! Get it? No curse.

Okay, fine, Curtis did have a few lean years after he copped the claret jug, but he was young. He's still young at 29. So you see, the 2004 and 2005 seasons, when he made only 17 of 44 cuts and was 141st and 129th on the money list, respectively, had nothing to do with the bogeyman of the British, the hex of the heather. Hocus pocus!

And don't even start on David Duval. Sure, he cratered after winning the British in 2001, going from 80th on the money list in 2002 all the way to 211 in '03, 210 in '04 and 260 in '05 — terrific numbers, if you're a bowler. Dude was simply doing what's known in the trade as "exemption testing," finding out through rigorous field-study if the stated five-year exemption for winning the British can perform under the most extreme slices, hooks, chili-dips, worm-burners and hosel-rockets. It can! And so Duval is back to making cuts in majors, as he did at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot two weeks ago. He's even got some folks, like NBC's Johnny Miller, believing he'll win five more times. Five!

As for Ian Baker-Finch, 1991 B.O. champion and poster boy for the so-called Curse of the British Open (don't believe it), he found a better gig. Talking about golf or playing it — which do YOU think is easier?

Most people believe IBF's golf game took a dizzying freefall after his victory at Royal Birkdale, hit its low point when he bypassed the first fairway wide-left at the '95 Open at St. Andrews, and brought him such despair he finally had no choice but to quit the game. Not so. He's resting for the senior tour. I happened to see a snippet of a recent practice round he played with Robert Allenby at Colonial Country Club, and while he was again wide-left, under branches, I have it on good authority that he was merely scouting out a quiet, off-the-beaten-path place to put a statue of Kenny Perry.

A curse — phooey! Just look at 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie. His 10-stroke comeback, with as assist from Frenchman Jean Van de Velde, was hardly the beginning and the end of his career. He's had three runner-up finishes in Europe in just the last three years!

If there were really a curse, would the Golf Gods have let Greg Norman win the British not once but twice, in 1986 and '93? Think about it. Norman didn't have to go into some kind of cruel karmic debt with the Golf Gods to win those tournaments. Nope.

And while we're on the subject, neither did Seve Ballesteros in winning the fifth of his five majors at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1988, or Ernie Els in capturing his first British and the third of his three majors at Muirfield in '02.

Now I admit that Todd Hamilton has not been on TV much since winning the 2004 British. And sure, he had no top-10s in 31 starts in 2005, didn't make the money rounds at St. Andrews in defense of his title, and missed five cuts by one lousy stroke. Yes, Hamilton has made a check just three times in 17 starts this season, which has been so frustrating he angrily slashed his left arm with a golf tee as things got away from him at the Wachovia Championship. But come on-a curse? If there were a curse, the cut would have required stitches, not just towels, to stanch the blood. It would have gone full-sepsis.

Hamilton will come back. He just got a little too used to playing in Japan, is all. As soon as he gets used to the language and the food over here, he'll be fine. In the meantime, I look forward to shaking hands with the 2006 British Open champion, and in case anyone gets the wrong idea let me just say this right now: the rubber gloves are for a medical condition.

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