2015 Masters will be Crenshaw's last as a player
Rob Gillette is not going to miss another magical moment from Ben Crenshaw at the Masters Tournament like he did the last time. Especially not this year, Crenshaw’s final one as a participant.
Crenshaw, a two-time winner at Augusta National Golf Club, is bidding farewell to the tournament he loves dearly after playing in every one since he was a 20-year-old amateur in 1972. That’s 136 rounds so far, with two wins and nine other top-10 finishes in 43 consecutive appearances.
“I’ve thought long and hard, and it’s the right time,” said Crenshaw, 63, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“I will look back and think how excited and fortunate I was to be in the fray a few times,” Crenshaw said. “No Masters champion ever forgets how that feels.”
Crenshaw said one of the great things about returning each year is renewing old friendships.
One of those is with Carl Jackson, who grew up caddying at Augusta National and will be working for Crenshaw for the 39th time this week.
“When you get past 60, the wisdom of the Lord says it’s time to move on,” said Jackson, 67.
Gillette, Crenshaw friend and president of his fan club, didn’t know Crenshaw when he won his first Masters title, in 1984. They met a year later.
Gillette was there in 1995, but not at the finish, something members of Team Crenshaw won’t let Gillette forget.
Crenshaw, then 43, had not been playing well. He had missed the cut in three of his previous four starts before the Masters and had not finished in the top 15 in Augusta since 1991..
Before the tournament, Gillette promised his badge for the final round to a friend coming from Brownsville, Texas, to attend his first Masters. With Crenshaw tied for the 54-hole lead, it was hard for Gillette to hand over the badge.
“Everybody gave me hell for that. They kept asking, ‘How could you have left?’ I guess I did the right thing,” Gillette said. “One of my biggest disappointments was I wasn’t there at the end. He called me on the plane on the way home.”
Gillette, who sometimes lets a first-time Masters spectator use his badge, as he did in 1995, won’t be doing that this year.
“I wasn’t going to miss this one,” said Gillette, who lives in Austin, Texas, as does Crenshaw.
On that Saturday night in 1995, Crenshaw’s older brother, Charlie, was preparing to catch a plane the next morning to arrive in time for the final round.
Charlie, 15 months older than Ben and named after their father, got a call from Ben’s wife, Julie, after the third round.
“She said, ‘You’ve got to get out there. He’s going to win the tournament,’ ” Charlie said. “That’s a direct quote.”
Crenshaw shot a final-round 69 and won by a stroke, capping an emotional five days starting that Wednesday when he flew back to Austin to attend the funeral of his golf instructor and great friend, Harvey Penick.
After Saturday’s third round, Gillette, who was living in Maryland, drove home and taught Sunday school the next morning. In the afternoon, he watched on his basement television as Crenshaw won his second green jacket.
“When Ben got on the tee on No. 18 and it was obvious he was going to win, I saw the person I gave my badge to behind the tee,” Gillette said.
Gillette, and a large group from Texas, will be following Crenshaw during his final Masters.
Among that crowd will be Crenshaw’s sister-in-law, also named Julie, the wife of Charlie Crenshaw.
Charlie has attended more than 20 Masters while Julie stayed home with their three children, a stepson and their pets.
The children are now grown and out of the house and the pets are being watched, so she wasn’t going to miss this one.
“I’m very excited,” Julie Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw was such a fixture on Augusta National leaderboards from the mid-1980s to his last win in 1995 that he could have easily won the Masters more than twice.
“Two or three more times, at least,” Charlie Crenshaw said.
He was in the final pairing of the closing rounds in 1977, 1987, 1988 and 1989. In 1987, he finished one shot out of the playoff involving eventual champion Larry Mize, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros. In 1989, he fell one short of joining the playoff with winner Nick Faldo and Scott Hoch.
“There are a lot of great things to remember and a lot of heartache,” said Scotty Sayers, who has known Crenshaw since 1962 and been his manager since late 1984. “There’s no question he could have won in 1987 and 1989.”
“We had it in our grasp, but we just didn’t cash in on any of those years,” Jackson said. “He was gallant and played without fear, but it just wasn’t his time.”
The hardest one to swallow for Jackson came in 1989.
“When they stopped play on Saturday (because of a weather delay), he had a three-shot lead and (was) in great rhythm,” Sayers said. “By the time they finished, his lead was one shot.”
Still, when Crenshaw reached his drive on the 18th hole in the rainy final round, he was tied for the lead.
Preparing for the rain, Jackson thought he had packed extra towels in the bag before the round.
“I looked for those towels religiously on (Nos.) 13, 14 and 15,” Jackson said. “I kept looking for those towels. They were not there.”
Because of a wet grip, Crenshaw’s hand slipped on the 5-iron approach shot to No. 18 and landed in the greenside bunker. Crenshaw ended up making bogey, costing him a spot in the Faldo-Hoch playoff.
All these years later, Jackson says, “I take the blame for it.”
LONE STAR STATE HERO
Texans Byron Nelson, Ralph Guldahl, Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Jackie Burke Jr. and Charles Coody combined for 10 Masters titles before Crenshaw won twice.
“It means a lot,” Crenshaw said of being part of the Texas tradition in Augusta. “To carry it on has been a joy in my life.”
No Texan has won the Masters since Crenshaw in 1995, but rookie Jordan Spieth made a run last year. At age 20 – the same age as Crenshaw when he made his Masters debut – Spieth led the Masters with 11 holes to go and tied for second place.
Spieth, who played golf at the University of Texas, as did Crenshaw, has known Crenshaw since Spieth’s freshman year with the Longhorns in 2011. Spieth is already penciled in to play a practice round with Crenshaw this year.
Recently asked to list his “dream foursome,” Spieth named Hogan, Nelson and Crenshaw.
Crenshaw recalls a conversation at his first Masters with then-Masters Chairman Clifford Roberts that started out being about Crenshaw’s Texas roots but was really a smokescreen for something else.
“He came up to me and said, ‘We’re mighty glad to have you over here. You know, Texans have done very well in this tournament,’ ” Crenshaw said. “He laughed and said he’d spent a lot of time in Texas in the oil and clothing business. Then he said, ‘Do you know we have a barber shop on the grounds here?’ So one minute he was talking about Texas and then a barber shop. I went straight to the barber shop.”
It might not be very long before a different Masters chairman asks Crenshaw another question: Would he be an honorary starter and help kick off the Masters? Crenshaw, who has been the host of the Champions Dinner since 2006, would welcome the opportunity. If it happens, he likes the fact that he and Nelson would have been the only honorary starters who have also played host to the Champions Dinner – and that they are Texans. There is another Texas connection to the Champions Dinner – it was started in 1952 by Hogan.
It was one of the classic weeks at Augusta National, full of emotion and great golf by the champion.
A day after Penick’s funeral, Crenshaw opened with 70 and was four shots off the lead. He was two back after a second-round 67. With a third-round 69, he shared the 54-hole lead. A final-round 69, which climaxed with Crenshaw being overcome with emotion and being consoled by Jackson after putting out on No. 18, brought him home in 14-under 274.
In a Masters practice round before he flew back to Austin for Penick’s funeral, Jackson noticed Crenshaw’s alignment was off and he wasn’t turning his shoulder properly on the swing.
“It was like a light bulb went on,” said Crenshaw, who suddenly was hitting the ball like he did in his prime. He was also thinking of Penick and the advice he had given him over the years to keep his swing thoughts simple.
At the funeral, Crenshaw talked about his improved game.
“I went with our father and out pops Ben from a limousine,” Charlie Crenshaw said. “The first thing he said was ‘I think I’ve got something.’ He told us how Carl had got him to move the ball back in his stance. This was in the middle of the funeral. Daddy and I looked at each other. I guess you could say that raised our expectations.
“That was an incredible statement to make in the midst of a funeral procession.”
Crenshaw backed up his talk. At age 43, and 11 years removed from his last victory at Augusta National, Crenshaw became the second-oldest Masters winner.
“It was certainly my week; I don’t think I ever played a tournament with only five bogeys all week,” Crenshaw said. “I never suffered any dark periods, with a lot of bogeys. And I definitely had a couple Harvey (Penick) bounces (of good luck).”
Crenshaw won 19 times on the PGA Tour, but “that’s the best tournament Ben has ever had,” Sayers said. “Carl said he played so much better in 1995 than when he won in 1984. Carl said he was so much more in control.”
Crenshaw’s winning total of 14-under 274 tied for the third-lowest in tournament history at the time, matching the score Hogan shot in 1953. Davis Love III’s second-place score of 275 would have won all but five of the previous Masters.
“I don’t know where I grew so much in two practice days,” Crenshaw said after the victory. “I just don’t know how it happened. I had a 15th club in the my bag today, and it was Harvey.”
CALLING IT A DAY
Crenshaw hasn’t made the cut in the Masters since 2007.
His age, and the added yardage – the course is now 510 yards longer than when he last won – has made it difficult for Crenshaw to stay competitive. In his past five rounds, Crenshaw has failed to break 80.
“Compared to the era I played in, it’s like night and day,” Crenshaw said of the length at Augusta National, which is now at 7,435 yards.
Though the added length took him out of the game, Crenshaw said the club “has done a great job of providing a modern test and still retaining what Augusta is.”
Before 2011, Crenshaw deflected retirement talk, saying he would continue playing so that Jackson, who first caddied in the tournament when he was 14, could reach the milestone of working 50 Masters that year.
“I think he and Carl talked about it (retiring from the tournament) in 2011 – it was Ben’s 40th, Carl’s 50th and their 35th together,” Sayers said. “It was an even number. Up until that point, they thought, if the conditions were right, they might make it to the weekend.”
Since 2011, Crenshaw’s best round has been 76 and he has been pondering retiring from the tournament. Before the second round last year, he let Jackson know the decision had been made.
“I said, ‘Carl, it’s time next year,’ ” Crenshaw said. “He kind of looked at me and said, ‘OK, buddy.’ He calls me buddy.’ ”
Said Jackson: “He told me years ago he had a place to hang his hat here. He just said, ‘Carl, it’s time to hang it up. I’m going to tell them this coming Masters will be my last.’ ”
After he made the announcement, someone asked Crenshaw whether he picked 2015 because it fell on the 20th anniversary of his second Masters victory. He said he didn’t even realize that.
“I saw it coming,” said Sayers, Crenshaw’s manager. “We didn’t really talk about it. I think he and (wife) Julie talked about it. They wanted to give friends and family a chance to go see him play one more time. I sure wasn’t surprised.”
From his Masters debut as an amateur in 1972 and then as a pro two years later, Crenshaw has had a special relationship with the gallery, which will make his leaving emotional both inside and outside the ropes. He is a serious student of golf history, so he soaked up the tradition of the Masters. One of his regrets is that he never met Bobby Jones, a man he admired so much, who died in 1971.
Crenshaw wears his emotions on his sleeve anyway, but especially at Augusta National. When the topic is the Masters, he still likes to start his sentences with “Gosh” and “Honest to goodness.”
The gallery picked up on that early and saw it in full when he broke down after winning in 1995.
That emotional display was the essence of the man known as “Gentle Ben, say those closest to him.
“He’s just got a gentle personality and doesn’t have an enemy in the world,” said his sister-in-law Julie Crenshaw. “He cares about other people and is very generous. ”
Jackson can vouch for his player’s generosity.
When colon cancer struck Jackson in March 2000, forcing him to miss the Masters the next month (and the only one he has missed since starting in 1961), he thought he’d never caddie again. His doctor told him of a new procedure developed in South Africa that might save him. The cost of the operation was prohibitive, though.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to be the one that leaves my family in a lot of debt. If I’m that sick, let me go.’ ” Jackson said. “I had sort of given up. I thought I was a goner.”
Crenshaw was soon on the phone with Jackson at the doctor’s office.
“I said, ‘Carl, I don’t know what we’ve got to do to make you well, but you tell them I said do it. Whatever it takes, they can call me.’ ” Crenshaw said. “I wanted to offer him some sort of solace so he could ease his mind.”
Jackson broke down in tears after he hung up the phone.
“It was probably the first time I cried since I was a baby,” he said. “It was showing, ‘Hey, somebody cares.’ ”
THE FINAL DAY
Crenshaw’s final Masters round likely will be Friday, when the 36-hole cut is made.
If so, would anyone really care what he shoots that day?
“He might!” sister-in-law Julie Crenshaw shot back when asked the question. “He might just for old time’s sake make the cut.”
If he does, he will tie Tommy Aaron as the oldest to make it to the weekend at age 63. Aaron did it in 2000.
“Almost every time he’s approached that tournament, his level of golf has gone up,” Charlie Crenshaw said. “I don’t doubt that he’s going to play well, or better than he has all year.”
Gillette is prepared to see Crenshaw play his final round on Friday – or Sunday.
“He’s very competitive,” he said. “There are a lot of great things going on in his life. Some people say he’s really focused on his golf design business. But make no mistake, when he goes to the first tee on Thursday, he’s going to be grinding, and Carl is going to be grinding with the intent of making the cut.”
But even Gillette knows that at this point “the fans care more about him than they do his score.”
Said his sister-in-law Julie: “We just want him to be happy and be very fulfilled. It’s going to be real bittersweet for him. I’m happy that Charlie is going to be there.”
Charlie Crenshaw said it won’t be a sad day for his younger brother.
“If I know Ben, he’s going to have a ball going around there,” he said. “He’s going to relish every single shot. He’s going to enjoy the heck out of it.”
Said Crenshaw: “I think each champion relives their tracks, wherever they were. Regardless of whether it’s the last round or the first round, you just remember shots.”