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Hamilton enjoying his "Rookie" season

Having recently turned 39 years of age, it seems strange to call Todd Hamilton a rookie. But that's what he was in 2004 as far as the PGA Tour was concerned, and after winning the Open Championship and the Honda Classic, he was more than just a rookie -- he was named the Rookie of the Year.

The three-time All-American who graduated from Oklahoma in 1987 is now a full-fledged member of golf's elite. He's also come as far as perhaps any player this side of Vijay Singh.

As recently as a year ago, Hamilton was flying under the radar -- as well as back and forth from the United States to the Far East, where he was a longtime regular on the Japan tour -- when it came to blips on the PGA Tour screen. If his name was ever mentioned, it evoked not only a "who?" but, usually, a more emphatic "WHO?"

Although he had played in several PGA Tour events in those 16 years since he turned pro just days after receiving his degree at OU, Hamilton was a no-name in those circles. Before this year, he had made the cut only four times in his 12 previous PGA Tour events.

That doesn't mean he hadn't been successful as his chosen profession, however.

Since leaving the Norman campus, Hamilton has made a good living on professional tours overseas. First, he played on the Canadian Tour and then the Asian Tour for five years. For the last 12, he'd played in Japan.

He's not an unknown there. In 2003, Hamilton won a tour-high four tournaments. And, in that golf-crazed nation, Hamilton is recognized.

"Japan is a good place to play," said Hamilton, who owns more than a dozen international victories. "The courses are good and the crowds, while not as big as those here (on the PGA Tour), are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. And, I was making money."

Still, with his wife, Jaque, and family (two sons and a daughter) situated in McKinney, Tex., Hamilton naturally had the desire to return stateside and earn his card on the PGA Tour. He did just that by tying for 16th in last winter's PGA Tour Qualifying School.

Then, after five so-so starts, making the cut three out of five times and winning about $135,000, Hamilton accomplished what it takes to make a name for himself in the USA by winning the Honda Classic. That not only earned him a $900,000 payday, it also insured him a place on the PGA Tour for the next two years.

"The money was great, of course," Hamilton said, "but the exemption was the main thing. Before, as a rookie, I couldn't get into a lot of tournaments so it was hard to know what I was doing from week to week. Now, after winning, I have more of a choice. I have more of an opportunity to pick and choose (in which tourneys to play). I can make out my own schedule."

But if winning the Honda Classic made his schedule-making decisions easier, his shocking victory in the Open Championship turned his life completely around -- and solidified his status. He now is exempt on the PGA Tour through the 2009 season.

"Knowing I have 20 majors ahead of me, I have the opportunity to do well," he said. "Now I think I can win majors. The more you play, the more comfortable you become. I have a good and positive attitude now."

Hamilton has plenty of other reasons to be positive. Along with those victories, he tied for sixth in the WGC-American Express Championship and amassed $3 million in official earnings to finish the season 11th on the PGA Tour money list.

Hamilton, who needed eight attempts to get his PGA Tour card, appreciates that as he passed his 39th birthday in October, his career may not get any better than it is right now and so he had better enjoy it while it lasts.

"I've seen a lot of odd things in golf and I know that tomorrow can bring different fortunes to your golf game, whether it be good or bad," he said. "You never know what's going to happen in the game of golf."

As a major champion, Hamilton finds himself much more in demand, and he's spending part of this off-season re-examining what he needs to do to get the best out of himself.

"I need to rethink my days off at home a little bit better than I have been. I usually play a lot with friends," he said. "Rather than take a couple of days off just relaxing I tend to go out and play and a lot of times it might be 27 holes or if the weather is really good 36.

"It's catching up now," he added. "I'm getting old."

Not too old, though, to forget what an inspirational performance he gave at Royal Troon, beating Ernie Els by one in a four-hole playoff.

"I've watched it a couple of times. Recently I was up kind of late at night, nothing good on TV, so I popped the video in," he explained. "Some guy from California sent me copies of all the rounds and edited out all the commercials, so I just found his copy and just went right through it. It was great.

"I find myself getting a little bit emotional."

It has changed his life, of course. Invitations to play come in from all over the world and in terms of equipment deals, he is a much bigger catch for sponsors now.

Traveling has increased, but from his days going back and forth to Japan he is accustomed to that.

"My golf schedule is getting hectic now, but I guess you've got to take advantage of that. You've got to get it while you can," he said. "Tournaments I thought I was going to be watching I'm going to be playing in.

"But I look forward to it. I'll get a chance to see a lot of the world," he added. "If you've done something that allows you to further your career why not take advantage of it?"

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