Todd Hamilton was the amateur golf star who couldn’t make it once he started playing for money - the under-achiever who faced the real possibility that he would have to find something else to do with his life.
But that was 12 years ago. Today Hamilton woke up – if indeed he got any sleep - as British Open champion, the sixth American in a row to win at Royal Troon.
And he also woke up never having to worry about money again.
The 38-year-old from Illinois beat world number two Ernie Els in a four-hole play-off last night and so became the second successive long-shot to lift the famous claret jug.
Last year it was Ben Curtis at Sandwich in his very first major. This time it was another US Tour rookie, but one with a very different story to tell.
Hamilton, quoted at odds of 250/1 before the championship even though he had a world ranking of 56 against Curtis’ 396, failed at his first seven attempts to get his tour card and did not even try for a number of seasons.
Instead he took himself off to Asia and after early struggles built a successful career for himself, winning no fewer than 11 times in Japan.
Yet in seven previous majors he had never finished higher than 29th and in his 11 tournaments prior to coming to Troon he had six missed cuts and a best finish of 21st. No wonder nobody took any notice of him when he arrived.
It was different come the end of the championship, though. Very different.
“It’s a very special feeling,” said the father-of-three after the 76-hole drama was over and he was the one £720,000 (€1,084,559) richer, with the promise of millions more to come.
“I think right now I’m more tired than I am excited. I’m sure the excited part will kick in once I leave the golf course and am able to spend time with my family.
“I’m very fortunate to be sitting here right now. It could have been three or four guys, but as luck would have it I’m the one you have to talk to.”
Els had a 10-foot putt on the 72nd green to win his second Open in three years, but it curled wide.
And when he faced virtually the same putt on the same green an hour later it was effectively to stay alive in the play-off.
Once again, though, the South African did not read enough break and Hamilton, having hit a brilliant chip with his fairway wood from short of the green, stepped up and made his two-footer for the title.
Hard though it is to believe, he said he never really felt nervous the entire day.
“I felt very calm and it reminded me a lot of how I felt when I won the Honda Classic back in March,” Hamilton added.
“Sometimes I get in situations where you should be biting all your fingernails off and I’m usually kind of a nervous guy, especially if I haven’t been playing very well, which I hadn’t been coming to this tournament.
“But sometimes I get out there and it almost seems fun. I’ve never been in a position like that, at least in a tournament as grand as this, and to be out there and feel very calm was kind of an oddity.”
Asked about the time his career really was in jeopardy, he explained: “I went over to the Asian Tour in 1992 with no great expectations because my golf wasn’t as consistent the way it should have been.
“It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know I was using the last bit of money that my backers were going to put in.
“I thought about not playing, but the flip side of that is that I don’t know how to do too much other than play golf – and I ended up winning the Asian Tour. It probably seems like a fairytale and to me it really is.
“And hopefully this bit of magic that I had here will continue.
“Right now I have no idea what’s in store for me, but I know I won’t get much sleep over the next two, three, seven days. Sometimes these problems are good to have – like paying taxes.”
The finish was a real test of his mental fortitude because nobody handed it to him like Thomas Bjorn did to Curtis a year ago.
When he birdied the long 16th he was two ahead of Masters champion Phil Mickelson and three clear of Els, but Els followed him in, birdied the short 17th as well and then had that chance to win on the last with a birdie to Hamilton’s bogey.
He was not to know it at the time, but the putt was to be Els’ only chance to win. At the third of the four extra holes, he bogeyed and opened the door for Hamilton to win with four straight pars in the play-off.
“If Ernie had made his putt on the 72nd I would have been disappointed, but still very happy,” said Hamilton.
“If you had told me at the start of the week ’Todd, we’ll give you second place and you don’t even have to bother showing up’, I would probably have said ’OK’.”
In the end, however, it was Els who had to take second – and for him it was never going to be enough.
Three months ago he was pipped by Mickelson at Augusta and last month he was in the final group on the final day of the US Open and shot 80 while playing partner Retief Goosen won with a 71.
“I didn’t play a great play-off, but I had a great week and I think we have a great champion,” said Els.
“He kept his nerve and didn’t make any big mistakes. I did make a big mistake (a double bogey at the 10th), but I didn’t want to let this one go. To get into a play-off you have to take the positives, but obviously I’m disappointed.”
He knows there could be better days ahead. With Tiger Woods finishing ninth, the world number one spot is within touching distance now.