RALEIGH — Some say winning golf’s major championships assures a degree of golf immortality.
It doesn’t always feel that way to Lee Janzen and Todd Hamilton.
Janzen twice won the U.S. Open and Hamilton topped Ernie Els in a playoff to win the British Open. Today, they’re both in their 40s, both on the Web.com Tour and playing this week in the Rex Hospital Open, which could come as a surprise to some sports fans.
“There are a lot of casual fans who have no clue who I am and who Lee Janzen is,” Hamilton said. “If you’re the casual golf fan, you’re (interested) in Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler – all the names the regular tour pushes to promote.
“But if you’re just a casual fan and someone says, ‘Hey, did you see what Michael Putnam did?’ Obviously I know who he is but the casual fan won’t.”
Putnam, 30, is the Web.com Tour’s top money winner and is bidding for his third victory of the year in the Rex Hospital Open. That would earn him an immediate promotion to the PGA Tour.
In the first two rounds, Hamilton played with Andrew Putnam – Michael’s younger brother – and Hudson Swafford. Both are promising players but not household names outside the Putnam and Swafford households.
Hamilton is 47 and Putnam, who had a first-round 62, is a 24-year-old Web.com Tour rookie. In a way, their pairing was a microcosm of the tour’s stated purpose – to prepare young players for the PGA Tour, and to give aging players a place to play and make a living as they approach 50 and the Champions Tour.
“This tour is more of a younger tour,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got some, for lack of a better word, hangers-on like myself.”
Janzen, 48, first won the U.S. Open in 1993, then outdueled the late Payne Stewart to win the 1998 Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He has more than $16 million in career earnings, eight career PGA Tour wins and has competed on U.S. Ryder Cup teams.
But Janzen, no longer fully exempt on the PGA Tour, has been a Monday qualifier on the big tour this year and has played 20 Web.com events the past two years. He had missed six of eight cuts on tour before this week, when he opened with rounds of 65 and 70 in the Rex.
“I work at it constantly, and I constantly have signs of progress and show that I can shoot good scores,” Janzen said of his year. “Then I don’t, which is frustrating. Even my best tournaments, there’s nine holes in there or something that aren’t quite right.”
Janzen isn’t just marking time until he turns 50, when he’ll be exempt on the Champions Tour. He badly wants to regain full-time status on the PGA Tour.
So does Hamilton, who has $5.5 million in career winnings on the PGA Tour. In addition to the 2004 British Open at Royal Troon, he also won the Honda Classic that year on the big tour.
Inconsistency has been a constant problem since his big year, although Hamilton did tie for eighth last year in the Reno-Tahoe Open, his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since 2009. Like Janzen, he has failed to make the cut in six of eight Web.com Tour events this year.