Curtis wins Ohio Amateur wire-to-wire

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 15, 2000

The Associated Press

WORTHINGTON, Ohio – Ben Curtis is hoping his Aunt Nancy can see into the future.

Saturday, July 15, 2000

Email newsletter signup

WORTHINGTON, Ohio – Ben Curtis is hoping his Aunt Nancy can see into the future.

Having captured his second consecutive Ohio Amateur on Friday – by 17 strokes, no less – Curtis is hoping to duplicate the magic pulled off by the tournament’s most famous back-to-back winner.

Arnold Palmer, a Pennsylvanian stationed in Cleveland while with the Coast Guard, won the Ohio Amateur in 1953 and 1954. After winning his second title, he went on to win the U.S. Amateur championship.

Nancy Plant sees history repeating itself.

”She kept calling me Arnie all week because he won two Ohio Amateurs back to back and then went on to win the U.S. Amateur,” Curtis said with a big smile after completing a round of 1-under-par 71 on Friday. ”That would be real nice if I could do that.”

Curtis said he tried not to think about what his victory would mean and the pressures that would go with it.

”They were teasing me and everything but I didn’t think about it because I still had to play,” he said. ”If I thought about it it would be a distraction and that would just make it worse.”

His aunt wasn’t the only family member who kidded him this week.

His grandfather is Bill Black, the 79-year-old owner of Mill Creek Golf Course in Ostrander where Curtis learned the game. Each night after the tournament, Curtis would hit balls on the practice range and then drive home to see his grandfather, who is recovering from eye surgery.

After Curtis told the old man how he had did that day, Black would laugh and say, ”You’re finally making putts.”

”He got on me pretty good,” Curtis said.

Black also offered some advice before the final round.

”He told me not to back down,” Curtis said.

He sure didn’t. The only thing that stood in Curtis’ way was the weather. A late-day thunderstorm pounded Brookside Golf and Country Club and delayed the conclusion of the round by more than two hours.

Curtis thoroughly dominated. He won by 17 strokes – the same margin that separated second place from 45th place.

”He plays really boring golf,” said Ohio State golfer Jason Oien, who finished tied for seventh. ”Fairway, green, putt. Fairway, green, putt. He’s boring. He’s good.”

Oien has played against some of the top amateurs in the country.

”He’s up there in the top five or six,” he said. ”You don’t make it to the semis of the U.S. Amateur playing ho-hum golf. You don’t win back-to-back Ohio Amateurs that way.”

He became only the eighth back-to-back winner. Besides Palmer, the only other winner of consecutive amateurs in the last 50 years is current touring pro John Cook (1978 and 1979).

A year ago, Curtis had to come back in the final round to edge Jeff Ritchey of Pickerington.

No comeback was needed this time. The Ostrander native and former Kent State All-American led wire to wire. He was on top by two strokes after the opening round, eight strokes after his second consecutive 67 and 11 shots after yet another 67 in the third round.

His closing 71 matched the lowest round of the day – just as his three previous rounds had beaten the field. He finished with a 72-hole total of 16-under 272. No one else in the field even broke par.

With such a head start, it was obviously a case of not who but how much in the final round.

He hit nine of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens but said he was ”off a little bit.”

He made a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 2 and balanced that with a bogey at the par-3 fifth when he failed to get up and down from the back fringe. He bogeyed the 13th and 14th holes – giving him just four bogeys in the tournament – but birdied the next two holes.

The 23-year-old had just hit his drive on 17 when play was suspended due to a storm front that brought lightning, pea-sized hail and heavy rains.

He missed a short birdie putt after play resumed, but closed his round by nailing an 8-foot birdie putt. He quietly pumped his fist – one of the few times all week he showed any emotion.

Steve Lee of Columbus closed with an even-par 72 to move into second place at 1-over 289.

”That feels like a win to me,” Lee said. ”Wow. A 17-stroke victory. I keep thinking about Tiger’s win at the Open. Curtis just blew us away.”

But Curtis might be back for more. He said if he were to win the U.S. Amateur later this year, he might just not turn pro until after next year’s Ohio Amateur at Heritage Club in Mason – giving him a shot at becoming the first player to win the tournament three years in a row.

Besides, the pros can wait.

”I feel like my game’s ready, but I’ve felt like that for a while,” Curtis said. ”This week’s not going to change my mind.”