LONDON: Ben Curtis, ranked 396th in the world last week, has opened up his future with Sunday's astonishing, one-stroke win in the British Open.
The 26-year-old is now eligible for every Open until he reaches the age of 66 – in 2043.
He can play in the next five Masters, United States Opens and US PGA championships – starting with next month's PGA in Rochester, New York, where he will play the first two rounds with Masters champion Mike Weir and US Open winner Jim Furyk.
He can also tee off in any event on the US Tour he chooses for the next five years, is exempt for the next 10 Players' Championships and this year's two remaining World Golf Championships events and their multi-million-dollar purses.
But he believes he can handle the pressure.
“I want to keep as normal as possible – I'm a normal guy with a lot of talent,” he said.
“My life is going to change, but I'm looking forward to it.
“A lot of great challenges lie ahead of me. It's going to be awesome.”
His career earnings on the US circuit at the start of this season amounted to US$6,020, but the man from Kent, Ohio, is £700,000 (US$1.113 million) richer for one week's work in Kent, England.
But when asked how money would change him, Curtis promised to stay the same.
“It's not going to change me, I'll be cheap as always,'' he said.
All because of what Denmark's Thomas Bjorn did over the last four holes Sunday when he bogeyed the 15th, double-bogeyed the 16th after needing three attempts to get out of a greenside bunker, bogeyed the 17th by missing a five-foot putt and then parred the last to settle for a share of second place with Vijay Singh.
Curtis, preparing for a possible play-off, became the first man since Tom Watson in 1975 to win the Open at the first attempt.
He was also the lowest ranked player since John Daly won the 1991 US Open when ranked 168th to win a major.
“I came here just trying to play the best I could and I would have been happy just to make the cut,” Curtis said.
“To win is unbelievable and I can't describe how I feel. I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn't really think about winning.
“I'm in great company. Right now many people are probably saying ‘he doesn't really belong there', but I know I do and that's all that matters.”
Curtis said he was flying to New York on Monday night to make an appearance on NBC's "Today'' and possibly other shows.
Family and friends wearing freshly printed T-shirts that read "Big Ben'' were excited to see Curtis.
"I'm very proud,'' said Doug Joseph, Curtis' high school golf coach.
"It couldn't have happened to a better kid.''
Joseph, who coached Curtis from 1992-96 at Buckeye Valley High School in central Ohio, was among those holding signs at the airport. Joseph's poster said, "Mill Creek: Home of the 2003 British Open Champion,'' referring to the Curtis family's golf course in Ostrander.
Larry Mosca drove from Curtis' hometown of Kent, about 45km (28 miles) southeast of Cleveland, with friends and family of the golfer's fiancee, Candace Beatty.
“It's a wonderful thing,'' Mosca said while clutching a "Big Ben No. 1'' poster. – Agencies