Back in 2004, Todd Hamilton won the Open Championship at Royal Troon. It was the second year in a row an unknown golfer had won golf’s oldest prize following Ben Curtis’ victory in 2003.
Prior to the 2004 season, Hamilton had been playing on the Japan Golf Tour for 11 years. In his first season on the PGA Tour, he won a major championship.
How did he do it? With a mix of brilliant golf and a golf club that single-handedly revolutionised the golf equipment industry. That club was a 17-degree Sonartec Md hybrid bent to 14 degrees.
“What’s it called, is it called anything, the club?” asked one reporter after Hamilton had lifted the Claret Jug. “It’s made by a company called Sonartec,” was the champion’s reply.
The week before the 2004 Open Championship, Hamilton was playing in the John Deere Classic. He was continuing to work with the Sonartec Md hybrid, but he wanted it to go further. Williams had found a Fujikura Speeder 3-wood shaft that worked well and cut it to 42.5 inches long.
He had also bent the loft even further, changing it from 15 to 14 degrees. It made all the difference. Both Hamilton and his caddy Levin wanted it to put it in the bag in place of the 3-wood for his trip to Royal Troon the following week.
While walking the course ahead of the event, Levin considered the deep pot bunkers the most treacherous hazards on the course. Hamilton couldn’t hit the ball far enough to carry them with a driver, so Levin built their strategy around playing short of them. That’s where he believed the new Sonartec addition would prove key.
The ‘light bulb’ moment for the importance of Hamilton’s new 14-degree Md hybrid came on the 11th hole during his Wednesday practice round.
“The 11th at Royal Troon is not only one of the toughest driving holes on the course, it’s one of the toughest driving holes in golf,” said Levin. “Todd stood up there on the Wednesday and I remember it almost rolling 300 yards straight down the middle.”
The ability to use the hybrid from a number of different situations also proved a key part of that strategy. On the way from the driving range to the first tee every day, Hamilton would drop ten balls beside the practice green and putt them using the hybrid to ‘get a feel for how far the ball was running out’.
All of a sudden, Levin knew they had a club his player was very confident with off the tee - something he couldn’t say for his driver - and one which was also very valuable around the greens.
“Personally, I’m one of the worst chippers in the world and always elect to putt or run a ball whenever I can,” said Levin. “Whenever Todd asked my opinion about whether he should chip it or putt it, I would always say putt it or hybrid it. Todd’s one of the best long putters I’ve ever seen and the hybrid is just an extension of that.”
Hamilton had a one-shot lead over Ernie Els heading into the final day. After both players completed their final round, a play-off was needed to separate them as both finished on ten-under-par overall.
After the first three extra holes, the American was leading by a shot. The real drama arrived after Hamilton left his approach into into 18 short. Thirty-six yards short to be precise.
“It wasn’t an overly difficult shot. All you’re doing is putting,” recalled Hamilton in an interview with PGATour.com.
With Els comfortably on the green, Hamilton knew he had to get down
in two. He proceeded to use his 14-degree Md hybrid from 36 yards and
knock the ball to within three-feet of the cup.
He’d guaranteed himself a tap in par and his first major win. It was the 13th time in 14 attempts that week Hamilton had successfully used the club to get up and down from off the green.
“That little shot he played on the last hole. I saw him play it quite a few times,” Els said afterwards. “I don’t know what club he uses… but every time he used it, I think he got up and down.”
Levin was overheard standing behind the 18th green that day saying: “Todd was the Most Valuable Player and that was the Most Valuable Club.”
While speaking to us, Levin also revealed a rumour he heard in the months following the 2004 Open. He had been told one player had asked the USGA to inspect the legality of the Md hybrid Hamilton had used. He has never been able to verify if the rumour was true, but a Golf Digest story published several years later confirmed Sonartec had received a call from the R&A to see if the club conformed to the Rules of Golf.