By Matthew RudyThe last hole of the British Open playoff between Todd Hamilton and Ernie Els summed up perfectly what happened in the final pairing Sunday at Troon. Els hit his tee shot 50 yards past Hamilton's, then put a skyscraper approach to 10 feet, setting up a putt that could extend the playoff into sudden death.Hamilton hit his approach 20 yards short of the green, but confounded the Big Easy again with his next shot -- an unglamorous, low runner with his 17-degree hybrid club (bent to 14 degrees). Hamilton had already used the shot a dozen times during the week, but the last one would be his best. The chip trundled up to tap-in distance, putting the pressure squarely on Els to make his putt. He didn't, and Hamilton, an 11-year veteran of the Asian and Japanese tours, scored one for the average guy."I enjoy that kind of golf," says Hamilton, who won 14 times around the world before joining the PGA Tour in 2004. "It doesn't have to look pretty. It just has to get the job done." The big chipping areas around Troon's greens gave players more options than the standard PGA Tour flop shot. So, out came the hybrid."I used it from five yards off the green to 15 or 20 yards off," says Hamilton, who also used the shot in winning the Honda Classic in March. "The fairway was as firm as the greens are in the U.S. I could get my ball up and running like a putt."And yes, the hybrid did do its intended work as well. "I hit it 280 off the tee at Troon -- 20 or 30 more yards than a 2-iron," he says, "and I knew I could hit it straight."
By Todd Hamilton with Matthew RudyName: Todd HamiltonBorn: October 18, 1965Birthplace: Dallas, TXHeight, weight: 6-feet-1; 195Driver: TaylorMade R540XD, 9.5°, and r7Ball: Titleist Pro V1Clubhead speed: 119 mphBall speed: 168 mphLaunch angle: 10 degrees2004 average driving distance: 284.5 yardsMost of the courses on the PGA Tour demand that you hit one kind of shot -- long and high. I can hit it high if I have to, but nobody confused my ball flight at this year's British Open with Ernie Els'. Calling what I hit a fade is sometimes pretty generous.I don't have the prettiest or most efficient swing, but it's reliable. I know I can hit the shots I need, even under pressure. Believe it or not, I have bad Japanese television to thank.In 11 years on the Asian and Japanese tours, I was by myself a lot of the time -- my family mostly stayed home, in McKinney, Tex., while I traveled. During tournament weeks across Asia (Thana City, Thailand, anyone?), I could either sit in my hotel room and watch Japanese game shows I didn't understand or stay at the course and work on my swing. So I spent hours at the range, figuring out what worked for me and going with it, because the alternative was so fricking boring!I've never had a swing coach because, honestly, I can't stand people telling me what to do. It's not that I haven't ever gotten any swing advice. I just don't want to have to rely on somebody else to make my swing work, especially when I might be 3,000 miles away from the teacher and his video camera. If I have a bad round, I want it to be on me. The good ones, like Sunday at the Open, are on me, too, and that's very satisfying.
I built my swing around the idea that I won't miss left. If there's trouble on the left side, I trust my swing enough that I'll hit it right at the trouble and fade it to safety.
By getting a bit more flex in my right knee here, I made my plane a little flatter. That's really helped me hit my driver better.
I swing a little bit more around my body than I used to. Getting a little less upright lets me hit the ball right to left when I need to.
Bad things happen in my swing if I try to swing really hard. I don't hit it as far as a lot of guys, and I play my best when I accept that and just make my swing.
The most valuable lesson I learned playing in Asia was about patience. The courses there aren't routed or conditioned as well as the ones in the U.S., so you're going to get your share of bad bounces and bad breaks. You quickly learn to take things as they come and manage your game better. That's served me very well on the PGA Tour, where the courses don't let you make mistakes.