CROMWELL, CT - JUNE 26: Ben Curtis celebrates his birdie putt on the 18th green during the third round of the Travelers Championship held at TPC River Highlands on June 26, 2010 in Cromwell, Connecticut. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
MACwood Squares is our summer reading series on the best athletes in Mid-American Conference sports history. This week features Kent State. Looking for your MAC school? Consult our schedule for other teams and please submit your nominees as well.
In its long history, Kent State men's golf has won 19 MAC titles, by far best in the conference. But the best linksman throughout that stretch, both during and especially after their time as a Golden Flash, has to be 2003 British Open winner Ben Curtis.
Yeah, remember him? He hasn't done much professionally since that unlikely victory at Royal St. George's, and he only has two other PGA victories (both in 2006, which were poetically the last time each event was held), but he holds a bunch of KSU records, including:
Average individual round in a season: 70.66
Average individual round in a career: 72.27
Best 54-hole finish: 200
All four years (1997-2000) he helped Kent State win a MAC Championship. And each year he was First-Team All-MAC, including Freshman of the Year in 1997 and MAC Golfer of the Year in 2000. For three years he was a team captain, and he was named an All-American three times (twice Second Team, once honorable mention). In 2000, his team finished ninth at the NCAAs, which was their first and only top-ten finish until 2008 (6th).
And then he put Ohio golf back on the map by channeling his inner Jack Nicklaus in 2003 at The Open Championship. Going in, he was ranked No. 396 in the world. I've read that he was 500-1 odds to win the whole thing, and on the Par 71 course, posted a 72-72-70-69 to win the to beat guys like Vijay Singh by one shot, Tiger Woods and Davis Love III by two, Nick Faldo by three, and Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen by five. On a course where only one person finished under par after 72, great golfers faltered and others fell just short. This was also his first-ever major championship, a feat which hadn't occurred in over 90 years. (To compare, Tiger's first major win was in his seventh try).
Since the Open, he won the two aforementioned PGA tournaments in 2006 but other than that, hasn't posted many top tens but continues to play in the PGA and has racked up over $10 million in winnings. Currently he's No. 180 in the world and 114th in the FedEx Cup standings.
As Tiger Woods proved, it's "easy" by professional standards to sit on top of the world, if for even one brief moment (just ask Charl Schwartzel), but it's exponentially harder to sustain that pace. You might see Curtis's name on a leaderboard in a major in the future — hell, he's done it before — but for now he'll remain No. 1 in Kent State's list of prolific golfers.
Who are your nominees for Kent State's MACwood Squares? Comment below, tweet us at @HustleBelt or submit a FanPost making your case. The final nine will be revealed Friday.