Ben Curtis - In the Moment

Ben Curtis is a 33-year-old whose life trajectory seems not that much different than other 30-somethings. He grew up in Ostrander, Ohio, graduated from Kent State University with a degree in Recreation Management and married a wonderful woman, whom he met in college. The couple has two young children and two dogs. He works full time to provide his family with luxuries like their homes in Florida and Stow, Ohio, and he loves spending time with his wife and children. His life might even resemble yours, except for a few details:Curtis’ workweek doesn’t usually start until Thursday, and when he does finally go to work, it’s on a world-class golf course somewhere in the world.
Q & A » » » » » »

Where exactly is Isostrander, Ohio?
It’s almost dead smack in 
the middle between Delaware and Marysville, 
off of 36. If you blink you’ll miss it. Seriously, there are no lights, there’s just one 
little stop sign on the main corner there, but you can easily miss it, that’s for sure.

Where did you go to high school?
Buckeye Valley.

What is your fondest Kent State golf memory?
We had a lot of good memories the four years that I played. The fondest memory was at NCAA finals my senior year. We finished ninth. We had a really good 
player, he was a freshman. He got in some trouble, 
and he was dismissed 
from the team. So we 
had two new guys that 
came in and stepped up and played really good for the last two tournaments of the year without this other kid. And just how we all bonded and have friendships to this day and how it brought the whole team closer with the coaches and players. I knew it was my last event at Kent State. It was just unique, because you’d look at the five of us and probably think we would never get along.

What is your fondest non-golf memory?
I met my wife Candace there, obviously that was huge. I was a junior, she was two years behind. She was a freshman. She actually then walked onto the golf team the next year and played 
a little bit. I met her at a party and then actually we didn’t date until after I left school. She was dating a good friend of mine, and they broke it off, and we were good friends — and the next thing you know, two kids [laughs].

You turned pro in 2000. Reflect back on your first pro start.
Well my first pro start was actually a tour event, which 
was Callaway Gardens in Georgia, which was out in the middle of nowhere. It was really 
odd because you think of the tour, you think of L.A., you think of Chicago, you think of New York, you think of Atlanta, you think of the big cities — then we’re out in the middle of nowhere. I remember playing, I was so nervous. I had just signed with IMG two weeks before, and that was one of their things — signing with them they would get me in that event and go down there and struggle. I just remember being really nervous, a little bit uncomfortable. The first event, you might want to play in a two-day event somewhere, Hooter’s or a nationwide event, but you start out in the PGA Tour. A lot of pressure because you know if you play well, you can get your tour card in one week and set yourself up forever almost. Even though I didn’t play well, it didn’t distract me from keeping confidence. It was a learning experience.

You were a 300:1 outsider when you entered the 2003 British Open. You went on to beat both Vijay Singh and Thomas Bjorn on the final day. What did you learn about yourself that day?
It’s a funny story. We’re 
going to bed, and I was 
two shots back, and Candace was like, “How are you feeling?” I was a bit quiet, we were just reading some books, and we had a tiny little place, it wasn’t even big enough to put a bed in it. And she was like, “How do you feel about tomorrow?”
and I’m like, “I’m gonna win.” And she looked at me, didn’t
even say a word, closed her eyes. She said she didn’t hardly sleep. I slept fine. It was just one of those feelings I got. I felt comfortable, like “Holy crap what’s going on here?” Looking back on it, what was I thinking?

What did you learn about the golf field as a whole?
Obviously, when I birdied at eleventh, I was five under for the day and I get up on the twelfth tee, and I’m like, “What am I doing out here? I’m 
leading the British Open.” You don’t just do that stuff. It kind of just fell apart from there. But, you know, I stayed pretty calm. I didn’t let the bogeys bother me. At the beginning of the week, I would have thought just a cut would have been a victory, first major and all that. Second, playing good would have been above all expectations, but to win it? I never even thought about that until I got on that twelfth hole.

You've made just under $10 million in your nine years as a pro. Growing up in Ohio, was there ever a time while hitting balls in the sticks when you thought you'd be this successful?
There were always dreams of it, but did I honestly think it would happen? I don’t think so. As a kid, obviously you dream big, but no — not really.
I remember just sitting around my grandmother’s, “If you make it big on a tour, you’re gonna buy me a red convertible.”

Do you have an opinion on Tiger's ordeal?
No. I think he’s just got to get his priorities set and move on. He’s not a bad guy, not a terrible guy. And she’s a great person, two great kids, and 
I think that’s what makes it all so tough, you got two 
kids involved.

Explain to our readers the mental fatigue your sport often causes.
It definitely is fatiguing. Every Monday I do not want to move after an event. I just want my brain to shut off, go on the couch, watch some TV. It’s just a lazy day, a shutdown day. It’s amazing how you don’t think about it — Sunday you’ll feel great — you’re in the tournament, you feel energized. And then Monday you’ll wake up and you can hardly move, don’t even want to move. I think it’s more your brain shuts down. It’s like, “OK. That week is over.” All that energy leaves you.

Equate a season of golf to something.
A lot of people think I’m crazy, but imagine going to Disney World five days in a row with your kids. That would be how we would feel.

What was the most important resolution you ever made?
I don’t really make any, to be honest.

Can you cook anything? If so, what's your best dish? I can cook a bit. I’m not the best chef, but pretty basic. 
I love to grill. Candace does all of the salads and all of the potatoes and all that. Not that I can’t do it, but there would have to be written instructions on the package for me. 
We always like to eat in 
when we can.

What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
I don’t have too many regrets. 
I do believe everything happens for a reason, but there are things I could have done better. In ‘04-’05 I could have been more focused on my career. I had to go through the hardship to learn from it. I think the biggest regret I ever had was pushing Candace and myself to believe that Florida was the right option, and it really wasn’t. We had a place in Jupiter, and now Orlando. And Orlando is fine, and we love the community we live in, but just because it’s great for my game and I can golf year-round, doesn’t necessarily make me 
a better player or person.

Fondest memory growing up?
Building that relationship with my grandfather through golf. It was funny because I had some older cousins that were pretty good at golf. They tried to make a career out of it, and it didn’t happen. But for some reason my grandfather believed in me from day one. That happiest photo I’ve ever seen with him is when I got my tour card and I came home and we have a picture. I’m holding up the PGA tour card, and he’s on his bed because he wasn’t doing too well. Just building that relationship with him, someone other than your mom and dad.

What talent would you most like to have?
To be more handy around the house. Candace’s father is a homebuilder and he’s building our house. Her brother can do a lot of that stuff. And Candace can do more around the house than I can. I think because I was at the golf course all the time. My dad’s handy, my grandfather’s handy, but me?
I don’t have the knack for it. 
I haven’t done it enough.

You're walking down death row. What was your last meal?
A big steak, definitely. A filet, American grown. Good sushi, 
a couple pieces. Definitely green beans and mashed potatoes. Coke. I’m not a big drinker. I’ll have a beer every now and then. But with my meal, it’s always water or Coke.

Who is the most overpaid person in sports?
Baseball players. A pitcher in baseball — I know how important they are to a team, but are they worth $15 million 
a year? There’s the opposite — there are guys like LeBron who you could probably never pay enough, just for what he’s done for Cleveland, for Ohio, for the Cavs organization in general. They probably couldn’t pay him enough. But overpaid athlete? Anyone wearing 
a Steelers jersey.

What is the single most pivotal event of your life?
I’d say there’s a couple. 
The British Open every 
year — love going there because it’s always different even if you go to the same place. There’s no particular thing. Christmas is obviously important with the kids now.

Do you think there is an sort of social responsibility implicit in being a pro athlete?
Yes and no. There are so many people who look up to us, you can’t deny it. Also, in a sense, you can’t force someone to be who they’re not just because they’re an athlete. It’s a business. I think you always have to be true to your fans, be who you are, because as soon as you’re not, you’re not. I don’t play golf for publicity or money. I play golf because I love it and it’s my job.

Is there anything you would like to forget in the course of your life?
No, anything you’ve learned 
is good.

Root beer or cream soda?
Root beer.

What conversational topic do you avoid at all costs?
Now, Tiger is the big one. I’m not a big religious guy, but I’m open to listen, but I’m not one to say this is right, this is wrong — people have their own beliefs. But I’m pretty even-going, anything is open, but I think politics and religion are the ones where you’ve got to be careful. Those are pretty private things for some.

What's your weakness?
Chocolate. Anything sweet. I’ll eat anything sweet. Cookies at Christmas time, and pies. Candace bakes. I wish I had more willpower, but I just don’t. A lot of the guys on tour are so fit now, and they’re good at watching what they do.

Best Halloween costume you ever wore?
My mom used to make them. Kermit the Frog was the best.

Worst piece of advice you ever took — what was it and who gave it?
Some teacher of some kind, or somebody said, “You need to practice more like Vijay. Hit more balls.” That’s actually the worst thing for me. I need to play more than I hit. I don’t know who it was, and I actually did it for a while — ‘04 and ‘05 are one of those times where I look back and I’m like, “What was I doing?” Playing, that’s how you get better. You don’t get better on the driving range.

What animal would you be?
A dog, no question. He’s got the best of both worlds.

Vince Vaughn or 
Will Ferrell?
Vince Vaughn.

Eddie Murphy or Richard Pryor?
Eddie Murphy.

What kinds of pets do you have?
Two dogs. One is a Yorkie, Miles. They say he’s a normal Yorkie, but he’s only 5 pounds. Then we have a Yorkie-poodle. Miles doesn’t like loud noises, he’s real timid.

Oatmeal and a banana or steak and eggs?
Oatmeal and a banana.

How do you want to be remembered?
As a good golfer and a 
great person.

Who's the best golfer you know who's not a pro-golfer?
Derek Anderson, for sure.

How many hours a day do you still practice? Do you have a routine that you follow when you practice on your own?
No routine. A typical off week would be nothing until at least Thursday or Friday. A typical practice depends on the time of year. Say it’s May; I only need about three or four hours a day if I’m out. During an event, it’s more playing than practicing.

What is the most exciting two minutes in sports?
The final two minutes of a hockey game are intense because there’s no stoppage. If a team is one behind or tied, especially in the playoffs, 
it’s intense.

Why is ESPN more important than CNN 
to a large segment of the U.S. population?
One, I think it’s good news. You turn on CNN — it’s terrorists, it’s politics. Sports — it’s entertainment, it’s live and it speaks for itself. You don’t have to go out and make up stories, you don’t have to fabricate.

What would you like to achieve to consider your career a success?
Nothing more.