Jordan Spieth joins long line of Texas champions
Perhaps we should have seen the baton pass coming.
Few golfers have ever been imbued with a mystical quality for the moment like Ben Crenshaw. From his emotional final career victory at Augusta National just days after burying his mentor Harvey Penick to his fateful “good feeling” prediction on the eve of his team’s historic 1999 Ryder Cup rally, Crenshaw has always been “a big believer in fate.”
So naturally his 44th and final appearance in the Masters Tournament had to play some part in destiny’s plan. Crenshaw’s emotional exit after two rounds in 2015 cleared the stage for the newest Texan to master Augusta National.
“A little divine intervention there – it did feel that way,” said Shawn Spieth, Jordan’s father.
Jordan Spieth certainly sensed it. He was a record 14-under par after two rounds with a five-shot lead in the clubhouse watching Crenshaw make his last walk up the 18th hole.
“I’m thinking I’m in the driver’s seat and I’m watching Ben finish on TV,” Spieth said. “There was a little bit of rain coming down that came out of nowhere – Augusta crying that he’s leaving. But here’s the thing. When you think about it that way, that’s what can get in your way. ‘Oh, this is destiny.’ Not exactly. There’s still 36 holes of this tournament and a lot of people play a solid 36 holes every week but don’t play a solid 72 holes. It happens every week.
“You still have to sit there and literally create that destiny and create that history when it comes to golf. It’s not given. But I knew it would be something that would be really cool and fitting that would add to it.”
Spieth’s victory ended the longest Texas drought in the history of the Masters. It had been 20 years since Austin native Crenshaw doubled over in tears after winning his second green jacket in 1995. At least one native Texan had won in every decade but one from the 1930s through the 1990s, with only the 1960s shutting out the Lone Star state. In all, a record eight Texans have won 13 green jackets, with Dallas’ Spieth the latest member of the fraternity that includes Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Ralph Guldahl, Jackie Burke, Charles Coody and Crenshaw.
“It is something I’m going to talk about at the Champions Dinner and I hope I put it in a way that’s not boastful,” said Crenshaw, who emcees the annual gathering of past champions where Spieth will be serving Texas barbecue. “It is amazing how many Texans have won there.”
The history of the Masters is littered with more Texans than any other state. California’s five champions – headlined by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson – account for 10 titles. But no state has caused more echoes at Augusta than Texas – especially in the early years when nine of the first 20 Masters were won by Texans.
In addition to the victories, Texans also have 19 runner-up finishes at Augusta National including Tom Kite (3), Lloyd Mangrum (2), Dave Marr and Chad Campbell. A Texan finished first or second in 16 of 17 Masters from Nelson’s victory in 1937 to Burke’s win in 1956. The only tournament in that 20-year stretch that didn’t involve a Texan in the top two was 1948, when Claude Harmon and Cary Middlecoff finished 1-2 and Mangrum’s tie for fourth was the top Lone Star state contender.
Crenshaw believes Spieth possesses the same home-grown attributes that made his predecessors so successful at Augusta.
“With regards to Texas, I don’t think there’s any question that playing in Dallas and across the state made him a better player because you do have adverse conditions sometimes and you have to invent shots,” Crenshaw said of Spieth. “You learn to do that in Texas and I think the competition has a lot to do with it as well.”
Spieth has been drawing comparisons to Texas golf legends every step of his career. His talent and manners were introduced to most of the world when he contended as a 16-year-old amateur at the hometown tour event named after Nelson. When he helped lead the Texas Longhorns to an NCAA title in his only collegiate season, it was the school’s first since Crenshaw and Kite helped win it in 1972. When he won his first tour event at age 19, he was the youngest since Guldahl in 1931. When he stalked the Grand Slam down the last fairway at St. Andrews, he came within a stroke of joining Hogan (1953) as the only players to win the Masters, U.S. and British Opens in the same year.
“It’s extremely special,” Spieth said of the comparisons. “This state is very proud of its golf. I wouldn’t necessarily put it up there with its football, but we’re very proud of our golf and junior golf and the incredible talent that comes out each year.”
Crenshaw saw something special in Spieth the first time he met him. He likened the look Spieth gave him to Wyatt Earp, the legendary wild-west lawman who survived unscathed in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
“He gave me a different look,” Crenshaw said. “It was kind of a serious look and a little bit like a gunslinger. I could see it in his eyes that this guy is a competitor. At the same time he’s got this other side and he’s the nicest kid in the world.”
The Champions Dinner itself is part of the Texas legacy at the Masters. It was Hogan who first suggested it and played host to nine of the first 11 Masters winners plus club founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts on April 4, 1952. Hogan stipulated that the defending champion pick up the tab.
In an unwritten tradition, a Texan has always presided over the dinner – offering a greeting toast and introducing the defending champ. Hogan served the role through the first four dinners. Nelson took over the duties from 1956-2005 before handing the reins to Crenshaw.
In the distant future, Crenshaw, 64, may be passing the baton again to Spieth at the dinner.
“I’ve got to give it to somebody someday,” Crenshaw said. “I don’t know where it’s going, but obviously as a Texan it’s a nice progression. We are so proud to have won there and it’s something for any Texas kid to shoot for in the future.”
Spieth will be welcomed to the club Tuesday night with an old-fashioned barbecue of smoked meats from Austin.
“To be in that unique Texas fraternity of wearing those green jackets on that Tuesday evening is pretty cool and I feel like I need to honor it in the right way,” he said. “The food selection will be easier for me than trying to choose the wine. … For a 22-year-old, I enjoy it and enjoy trying it. I’ll get some advice on what’s right to pair with Texas barbecue.”
While Spieth and Crenshaw sit at the head of the table upstairs in the Augusta National clubhouse, Jordan’s parents are invited to join Ben’s wife, Julie, for dinner downstairs. In another tradition, the Crenshaws also sent an azalea as a gift for Spieth to plant in his yard.
Leading up to Spieth’s breakout Masters win, he played a practice round on Tuesday with Crenshaw and Tiger Woods, whose tournament record 18-under score he would match at just five months older than Woods when he set it in 1997.
Crenshaw remembers the practice round fondly, and he has a reminder of where the changing-of-the-guard magic was sparked in a frame.
“Someone snapped a picture of Jordan and I and we are tipping our hats to the gallery,” Crenshaw said. “Both of us. It’s one of my favorite pictures. We’re thanking them for applauding but I’m also tipping my hat to Jordan. This is the future and I’m very happy to have played a part in it.”
Byron Nelson (1937, 1942)
Ralph Guldahl (1939)
Jimmy Demaret (1940, 1947, 1950)
Ben Hogan (1951, 1953)
Jackie Burke (1956)
Charles Coody (1971)
Ben Crenshaw (1984, 1995)
Jordan Spieth (2015)
STATES WITH MOST MASTERS WINNERS
Texas (Nelson, Guldahl, Demaret, Hogan, Burke, Coody, Crenshaw, Spieth)
California (Archer, Casper, Stadler, Woods, Mickelson)
Georgia (Harmon, Aaron, Mize)
Missouri (Smith, Keiser, T.Watson)
New York (Sarazen, Wood)
Pennsylvania (Palmer, Wall)
Ohio (Nicklaus, Brewer*)
North Carolina (Floyd, O’Meara)
* – Brewer was born in Middletown, Ohio, but raised in Lexington, Ky.