Todd Hamilton and Anthony Kim, two players going in opposite directions, were practice-round pals on Tuesday

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., May 8 — Todd Hamilton, 41, and Anthony Kim, 21, warmed up on opposite sides of the TPC Sawgrass driving range for their practice round together Tuesday afternoon. Despite a 20-year age difference, the two share a coach, Northern Michigan's laid-back Adam Schriber; a caddie, Ron "Bambi" Levin, who worked for Hamilton until this year; an alma mater, Oklahoma; and a hometown, Dallas.

Their recent results are shockingly different. Kim has two top-five finishes in his last three starts, has earned more than $1 million this season and is an early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors. He's supremely confident. Hamilton is searching. He has made one cut in 12 starts and $10,000 this year. He's ranked 765th.

He still drives it like he did when he won the 2004 British Open and Honda Classic, and with Schriber videotaping him, he piped a series of long, straight bombs into a stiff wind.

"What's wrong with that?" I asked.

"Nothing," Schriber said.

Hamilton, Levin and I celebrated into the wee hours after their Open win three years ago. But I was not prepared Tuesday when Hamilton turned and asked me, "What do you think about when you're playing well?"

Surprisingly, this was the first time a major championship winner had asked me for golf advice, or advice of any kind, come to think of it. "Uh, I don't know," I blurted. Keep your head down? Breathe through your eyelids? "I just think about how much I love playing the game," I said finally.

God love him, Hamilton nodded as if I'd said something reasonably lucid. Schriber kept on taping, no doubt assured that his job was safe from being outsourced to a writer. Hamilton started in on his irons, which were a different story. "I can't hit an iron," he said. "I'm going to get a bag full of hybrids and have 14 Rocket Tour headcovers." (Levin's fiancee, Helena Stanton, runs Rocket Tour Golf out of Boulder, Colorado, and with Levin's help has outfitted several players in her headcovers.)

The problem: Hamilton's takeaway has become too outside, but only with his irons, making him the opposite and envy of Tiger and Phil, who can manage the irons but can't hit the driver. No one, least of all Levin, would be surprised to see the long-hitting Kim win any day now. But privately Levin says he would not be shocked if Hamilton also won one of these weeks.

With two Ws and only two other top-10 finishes in his Tour career, and 14 international victories, he's even money to win when he contends. Maybe Hamilton can take heart in the fact that he's not lost the belief of his old bagman, and that history is full of players who went through terrible slumps only to get it back, a little at a time. Maybe today's Todd Hamilton is tomorrow's Henrik Stenson. Here's hoping so.

 

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