Cinderfella Todd Hamilton, a Tour rookie at 38, surprised nearly everyone by staring down Davis Love III at the Honda Classic

March 23, 2004

There was nothing quite like Sunday night at the Motown House,
although a successful week on the golf course came close. The
Motown is a bar in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, and it's no
Cheers. The Motown is a real bar "and a rough place too," says
Brandt Jobe, who used to frequent the joint until he made it to
the PGA Tour five years ago. "We had rugby players, some baseball
and basketball guys, Australians and a few Japanese. They played
American music, and basically everybody spoke English. Sunday night
at the Motown was our night to unwind. I kind of miss it. We had
some great camaraderie."

The Motown was where the handful of golfers from the U.S.--usually
Jobe, Todd Hamilton and Brian Watts--and American caddies working
the Japanese tour gathered to escape from a strange culture and a
frustrating game. Kind of like Lost in Translation meets Tin Cup.
When a tournament ended, the Japanese pros returned to their
homes. "The Americans only had hotel rooms," says Ron (Bambi)
Levin, a much-traveled tour caddie, "so the Motown was a place for
us to hang out."

The Motown was turned into something of a shrine when Hamilton
lost a tournament in a playoff but decided to celebrate his
second-place finish and improving fortunes by treating his pals to
a bottle of Dom Perignon, an extravagance that set him back 20,000
yen (about $180). When the bottle was empty, Hamilton's feat and
the date were recorded on the label, and the bottle was
prominently displayed on a shelf above the bar's door. Before long,
other empty bottles honoring the achievements of other Americans
joined Hamilton's. "They were still up there the last time I was
there five months ago," Hamilton says. "There must be 25 or 30
bottles now."

Attention, Motown: Make room for one more bottle of the good
stuff. On Sunday, Hamilton, a 38-year-old PGA Tour rookie who
spent 12 years toiling in Japan, finished off a story that even
Cinderella would find hard to swallow. Finally living his dream of
playing in the U.S. after 17 years as a pro and eight trips to the
Tour's Q school, Hamilton squandered a four-shot lead in the final
round but rallied with a birdie-birdie finish on the challenging
Sunrise course at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to edge
Davis Love III by a shot and win the Honda Classic. With the
win--worth $900,000, almost as much as Hamilton made last year
while winning four times in Japan--probably comes an invitation to
his first Masters (Hamilton is 38th in the World Ranking and the
top 50 qualify) and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. Now
that's something to celebrate, and the Dom is in the mail. Better
yet, "if they call, I'll fly over there and hand-deliver one,"
says Hamilton.

It's a trip he has made many times. Hamilton grew up in the small
(pop. 1,539) northwest Illinois town of Oquawka, where he learned
the game on a nine-hole course. After winning a pair of state
titles at Biggsville Union High, he was recruited by Oklahoma, at
which he was a first-team All-America in 1987. After failing to
make it through Q school that fall and in four subsequent tries,
Hamilton chose the road taken by many second-tier pros: the Asian
tour, with stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and
Pakistan. In 1992 he graduated to Japan. The routine then became
six weeks on the road, then three weeks back home in Dallas. Today
Hamilton and his wife, Jacque, have three children (Tyler, 5,
Kaylee, 3, and Drake, 11 months), and last December in Winter
Garden, Fla., he finally earned a Tour card. Goodbye, Japan, the
Motown and boredom. ("There's no must-see TV in Japan, trust me,"
he says.)

Sunday's finish at the Honda was a classic not unlike Craig
Parry's dramatic hole-out from the fairway the previous week at
Doral. Hamilton, the struggling journeyman, was pitted against
Love, the biggest--and pretty much only--marquee player in the
field. Score one for the gritty journeyman, who relied on a good
wind game ("He hits the ball so low it's ridiculous," says Jobe)
and an impeccable short game, including some impressive clutch
putting. Hamilton, an 11-time winner in Japan, also had the moxie
to stick an eight-iron shot to within four feet on the 72nd hole,
then make the nerve-fraying putt for the win. "He birdied those
last two holes when he knew he had to do it," Love said of
Hamilton. "That's why I don't feel bad. He deserved to win. He's a
great, great story."

Somewhere in a certain Tokyo bar, another bottle of Dom has
Hamilton's name on it.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DONALD MIRALLE/GETTY IMAGES HOMECOMING After more than a decade of laboring in Japan, Hamilton finally earned the right to play on the PGA Tour last fall.

Yen for Japan

Many U.S. pros have played the Japan PGA Tour over the years, but
few have done so with as much success as Todd Hamilton. Here are
the Americans with the most wins in Japan.

PLAYER YEARS WINS

1. David Ishii 1980-2002 19
2. Brian Watts 1993-98 12
3. Todd Hamilton 1992-2003 11
4. Brandt Jobe 1992-99 6
Dean Wilson 1997-2002 6
6. Larry Nelson 1980, '89, '91 3
Larry Mize 1988-90 3
Scott Hoch 1982-86, '94-95, 2000 3
Scott Simpson 1984, '88 3
10. Peter Teravainen 1996-2003 2

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)