The Claret Jug has been in his possession for almost a year, along with the memories he'll own forever. Yet there is one thing Todd Hamilton, the reigning British Open champion, has apparently misplaced: his game.
"It seems like I can't get in a good rhythm," Hamilton said at a news conference Wednesday, on the eve of the John Deere Classic at TPC at Deere Run. "If I hit a good tee shot, I don't hit a good iron shot. If I hit the iron shot in there, I haven't been able to make the putt."
The numbers are not encouraging. Hamilton, 39, who will defend his title next week at St. Andrews, has been unable to record a top-15 finish in 19 starts this season. He has missed three cuts in his last four tournaments and ranks 98th on the PGA Tour's money list.
What happened? One possible explanation is that he perhaps parlayed his success into too many late-season appearances. Over one grueling stretch, he played in India, Japan, Hawaii, South Africa and Los Angeles.
"I did a lot at the end of the year," he said. "I think the year before, 2003, when I was still playing in Japan, I played probably 22 weeks out of the year. I think [last year] I was on the road for maybe 33 to 35 weeks. And when I'm at home, I play a lot of golf when I should be maybe taking a few days off.
"At the end of the year, there was only about two and a half weeks that I had to kind of recharge, and that happened over the Christmas holiday. I really never got into a good frame of mind or a good start to the year, and it seems like I've been chasing to play good golf."
Hamilton is surely hoping that this week's familiar territory will bring back familiar scores. He was born in Galesburg, Ill., about 45 miles away, and spent the early part of the week playing with his father and a few friends, not arriving at the TPC course until Wednesday. His mom still lives in the Quad Cities area.
Despite his struggles, he hasn't lost belief in himself. In 2004, he also won the Honda Classic and was named the tour's rookie of the year, finishing 11th on the money list.
"I didn't think it was going to be easy, and as a major winner or even a tournament winner, I wasn't guaranteed a future success," he said. "But I do know deep down that I can do it."
Yet Hamilton has maintained perspective.
"Because I defeated Ernie [Els] in a playoff," he said, "I didn't see myself on his level, and I still don't. I feel like I'm a good golfer, a very streaky golfer, and right now I'm not in a good streak, and I'd like to have that change."
The week that changed his life has still not sunk in. Maybe it never will.
"There are times where I'll be at home watching The Golf Channel," Hamilton said, "and they'll show some old footage of a British Open, and after the guy wins they present him with the Claret Jug, and I'll think, 'Man, I have that in my closet.' "
This week he has the Claret Jug with him, ready to take it back to Scotland Sunday night to be awarded to this year's champion. A replica of the trophy sits above the television in his family room.
The real one draws a lot of attention.
"It's kind of neat," he said, "to see the looks on the people's faces that are examining it."