TROON, Scotland — Todd Hamilton won the 2004 British Open here, but it was an elephant that became the story.
Back then nobody really knew much about Hamilton except that he was from the Illinois town where a circus elephant named Norma Jean was hit by a bolt of lightning and buried in the city square.
The British tabloids loved it. “I’ll believe I’m Open champ when I see an elephant fly,” was the headline, all capital letters, in the Scottish Daily Record.
Under that: “Todd storms up field with a wacky tale of dead Dumbo.”
Hamilton, then 38, ended up tied with one of the stars, Ernie Els and won the playoff. He came back to the PGA Tour, never finished better than 123rd on the money list and having turned 50 last October, now plays on the Champions Tour.
As a former champion, he has an exemption into the Open until age 60. And this week he returned to Troon, where the 2016 tournament will be held starting Thursday, for the first time since he won.
Oquawka, his hometown, built a statue for Norma Jean, not for Hamilton. “I assume I would be more famous than the elephant,” he quipped.
Royal Troon, as it has been known since 1978, has hosted the Open eight times, and the last six the winners were American: Arnold Palmer (1962), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Tom Watson (1982), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Justin Leonard (1997) and Hamilton.
“Yes, I walked through the clubhouse and saw the stuff on the walls; the last two were Texans,” said Jordan Spieth who is from Dallas.
“They were all individually very different players. I don’t think that impacts on you, but it is very cool to walk through the halls and see that. Just as it is at any of these fantastic old but timeless clubhouses . . . we don’t have that kind of history in the States.”
Gambling is legal in Great Britain, and there are betting parlors around virtually every corner. Online gambling also. The Open favorites are the usual suspects.
Dustin Johnson, winner of the U.S. Open and Bridgestone the last few weeks, and Jason Day, who dominated the Tour through The Players in May, both are 8 to 1. Rory McIlroy is 9-1, while Spieth is 10-1.