Crenshaw walks with masterful memory Penick, his teacher, remains in thoughts

April 10, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Ben Crenshaw gets misty just thinking about the sequence of events that made him the defending champion for this week's Masters.

The tears that began on his fourth walk up No. 18 last year at Augusta National Golf Club still fog his eyes. Crenshaw choked up talking to reporters in the interview room yesterday. Today or tomorrow, when he shows Helen Penick around the grounds, he had best pack a handkerchief.

"There's not a day goes by that I don't think about it," Crenshaw said of his unlikely second Masters championship.

A year ago today, Crenshaw wasn't even on the premises. His preparation for the game's slickest greens consisted of a funeral in Texas for the only golf teacher he ever had, Harvey Penick. Return-ing to Augusta, his game was in tatters, but his mind was at ease, calmed by the words of a wise, old bird from Austin (Texas) Country Club who had overseen the games of Crenshaw and Tom Kite.

"I tried to think of everything he [Penick] ever told me, and it wasn't complex," Crenshaw said of his mind-set last year. "I play my best golf when the thought process is the simplest. The very few things that he always repeated were to trust yourself; play like Ben, meaning to play your game; play hard and accept the outcome.

"I don't know why I kept thinking about those things. I think in some way it had a calming influence on me."

Crenshaw's one-stroke victory over Davis Love III was the latest chapter in Masters lore, which demands a follower to expect the unexpected.

"The tournament is so unique, when I mention that last year fate had something to do with it . . . it has something to do with it every year," Crenshaw said. "It always seems to grab someone by the hand here, like at no other tournament.

"There are things that happen there that are unexplainable. Jack Nicklaus winning in 1986 was something out of this world. It had all the elements of drama that anyone could ever hope to see in a golf tournament, some of the best golf he's ever produced in a tournament. It was just magical.

"The year Freddie Couples won [1992], I don't think there's any question he was going to win the tournament the way he was playing, but how could his ball have stayed up on No. 12?"

Last year, at 43, Crenshaw became the Masters' second-oldest champion, after Nicklaus, thanks in part to the words of Penick, the author of "The Little Red Book."

"I miss him [Penick]," Crenshaw said. "Every one of his pupils miss him. They want to talk to him. They confided in him like a father figure. We have solace in that. We can see the printed word that he put down so well."

Crenshaw gets his swing tips from caddie Carl Jackson now. It worked last year.

"We're talking about a few things, involving my backswing, grip pressure," Crenshaw said. "He [Jackson] wants to see my backswing fold up as opposed to my arms being extended from my body."

Crenshaw has missed three cuts this year, and his best finish was an 11th at the Mercedes Championship. But coming to Augusta National last year, he hadn't broken 70 in two months.

"I'm not putting it together this year, either," Crenshaw said. "But I enjoy this challenge so much. I'm intent on putting up a good defense.

"The crowds and the excitement here, and also the greens, make this unique," Crenshaw said. "The power of the greens has everyone thinking. You think of putts you've had in the past. The greens here are so undulating and different from anything else in contour and texture, I haven't had anything close to the same putt [twice].

"Each time we come, we're trying to relearn the course."

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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