Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Nothing like it has ever hit Ostrander before

By Rusty Miller
The Associated Press

OSTRANDER, Ohio - Now that her nephew pulled off one of golf's biggest upsets by winning the British Open, Ben Curtis' aunt has a major problem to consider in planning a weekend bridal shower.

"What do you get for someone who has just won $1.1 million?" Nancy Plant said Monday. "Do I still get them a gift certificate at Target?"

Curtis edged Vijay Singh and Thomas Bjorn by a shot Sunday in one of the biggest upsets in the 132 years of the British Open. As Curtis flew home from Sandwich, England, relatives and the 400-plus residents of Ostrander still were trying to absorb how a small-town boy made good - very, very good.

On what would otherwise have been a slow morning at the Mill Creek Golf Club owned by Curtis' family, a reception line formed near the grill. Ben's dad, Bob, his mother, Janice, and his 80-year-old grandmother, Myrtie Black, took turns doing interviews.

Other relatives were scattered around the clubhouse, where Ben learned the game from his grandfather. Out on the practice putting green, a couple of Ben's nephews and nieces took whacks at the ball while a film crew logged every second.

Golf was the topic of the day at the Ostrander Restaurant and Pizza Shop, which also sells night crawlers at $2 a dozen.

"We can't talk about anything else, nothing else is even close," said owner Yvonne Ball.

The Delaware County Bank and Trust Co. was awaiting the delivery of a large banner celebrating Curtis' victory.

Ben's parents live across from the bank on Main Street. A large fiberboard sign near their front yard said, "Go Ben!" in orange letters.

The only police car in the village - a rusted, decades-old Plymouth Gran Fury - stood guard unattended. The car isn't actually used to fight crime - there is no village police department - it is just moved around so that out-of-towners hit the brakes when they see the lights on the roof and the peeling "Ostrander Marshal" emblem on the side of the car.

"That's their security," laughed another one of Ben's five aunts, Linda Black.

On the outskirts of town, the Ostrander Implement and Farm Center wasn't advertising any specials. "Go, Ben, Go!" said the marquee.

Inside, Mike Schuette, who said he plays golf occasionally at Mill Creek and knows the Curtis family, said he cannot recall anything bigger happening here.

"This puts Ostrander on the map," he said while tightening the chain on a chain saw.

The village always was on the map, quietly perched a half-mile off a state highway about 40 minutes northwest of Columbus. There are no streetlights. The "business district" consists of an insurance agency, a grain mill, the bank, restaurant and a couple of churches.

Curtis' family has been trying to put it all into perspective. Janice Curtis said she spoke briefly Sunday night to her son, who was at the tournament with his fiancee, Candace Beatty.

"He was the usual Ben," she said. "He was a little excited. He said, 'I played OK.' When I talk to him, I don't dwell on the golf. He gets enough of that. I asked him what he had to eat. And Candace is a picky eater. I wanted to know if she had enough to eat."

Business started picking up at Mill Creek about the same time the sun came out after a morning rain.

When Bill and Myrtie Black told friends they were going to build the golf course on their 60-acre farm, many told the Blacks they were crazy. They opened the first nine holes in 1973, living in the clubhouse because there was so much to do and the days were so short. They bought more land and added another nine holes in 1977.

Janice used to bring her boyfriends out to the golf course and the couple would pick up rocks before they could go out to a movie or dinner. Of all the boyfriends, Bob was the hardest worker. It wasn't just happenstance that he ended up marrying her and becoming the head greenskeeper.

Bill taught his grandchildren to play, but none took to it like Ben. Likewise, no one was hit as hard as Ben when Bill died in February.

That became evident when, as he accepted the claret jug near the 18th green on Sunday, his voice cracked as he thanked his family for its support.

After their August marriage, Ben and Candace will move into a house in Stow, a suburb of Akron not far from where they attended Kent State University.

About the time their jet was over the Atlantic, a sign proclaiming Mill Creek as the home course of a "PGA Tour player" was replaced with a larger one boasting "British Open champion."

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