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Divine Back Nine

During his 50-plus years as a chronicler of the game, no event captured the author’s soul more completely than Ben Crenshaw’s emotional 1995 Masters victory

By: Ben Wright

In 54 years covering the game, I only once felt that a  greater power had presided over a major championship to ensure just the right ending, in which the forces for good emerged triumphant.

You may be surmising that I’m going to discuss one of the myriad megadeeds of Tiger Woods. But at the risk of appearing sacrilegious, the phenomenal golf skills of the world’s number one golfer scarcely, if ever, require divine intervention to carry his days.

No, it is the second Masters victory of Ben Crenshaw, in 1995, to which I refer. It is silly to say he had no right to win the event, because he was still one of the greatest putters ever. And Augusta National’s wide fairways could still accommodate his wayward driving. But having missed three of four cuts prior to that Masters, he was far from the favorite at the start of the week.

Crenshaw was eating dinner in the clubhouse Sunday night before the tournament began when Tom Kite phoned to tell him that their longtime instructor, Harvey Penick, had died at the age of 90 after a long illness. The patriarchal pro had meant the world to both Texans growing up and had become famous late in life for his bestselling Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book.

Crenshaw had visited Penick for his final lesson—the first had come when he was 6—two weeks before the Masters, desperate about his putting. From his sickbed Penick watched Crenshaw hit a few putts, then opined: “I want you to take two practice strokes, and then trust yourself, and don’t let that clubhead get past your hands in the stroke.”

Crenshaw and Kite flew to Austin, Texas, on Wednesday morning to be pallbearers at Penick’s funeral, and returned to Augusta in the evening. Crenshaw opened with a 70, then matched his low Masters round with a 67 on Friday, leaving him tied for fourth.

Stationed as I was at the 15th tower for the last time for CBS, I felt that Crenshaw, usually heart on sleeve, grew increasingly calm with each successive pressure-packed day. One by one during the final round his challengers largely fell apart as Crenshaw appeared impervious to nervous tension.

It all came down to Crenshaw, Greg Norman and Davis Love III. Playing five groups ahead of Crenshaw, Norman and Love both had three-putt bogeys on the closing holes that sunk their chances. Norman tied for third with Jay Haas, while Love’s 66—the best round of the day—was good enough for second place.

Crenshaw earned himself a two-stroke cushion with superb birdies at the 16th and 17th, a cushion he needed. He missed the last green, chipped poorly and had to make an 18-inch putt for bogey and a victory that I will forever argue was pre-ordained.

No one is likely to forget the scene as Crenshaw threw down his cap and, elbows on his knees, wept uncontrollably, with only his massive, wonderful longtime caddie, Carl Jackson, holding him up. I never saw anything like it, or liked anything more. 

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