Ben Crenshaw, who turns 72 next month, returns to Augusta this week without a green jacket and a golf game that has largely deserted him. But he is still a presence in the game, even if no longer a contender to be crowned champion. He carries the distinction of having won 19 PGA Tour events and, of course, one of the most memorable Masters performances ever.
That performance came in 1995, when he was guided by the unseen hand of his longtime swing coach, Harvey Penick, who died the day before the tournament began. It was a Masters with a melodrama that has not been duplicated, not even by Tiger’s tearful hugs with his father and his son or Phil’s joyously flinging his visor to the heavens.
He fought back from the dreaded back bunker at the seventh hole with what he called a “Harvey bounce” off a tree, and he played the diabolical 17th in similar fashion. He birdied both holes and poured in a 15-footer that would have been a clunker on any other green, but he made it.
Crenshaw has not won a major since that Masters triumph, but he remains a fixture on the game’s grandest stage, and when Jack Nicklaus relinquishes his honorary starter duties in 1998, it seems only natural that the gentle-voiced, kindly-faced Crenshaw should be named to take over for him. He pooh-poohs that idea now, but he will always be part of the Masters, and it’s easy to understand why.