Furman Bisher: Ben Crenshaw wins emotional Masters

Credit: Kevin Keister

Credit: Kevin Keister

Editor's note: In what was to be 2020 Masters week, we are walking down Memory Magnolia Lane with a look back at some of Furman Bisher's columns from the tournament. Bisher died in 2012 at the age of 93 having covered 62 of the 75 Masters. Selah. Today: Ben Crenshaw wins emotional Masters. The column appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 10, 1995. | Yesterday: Phil Mickelson wins third Masters

AUGUSTA — Here's a story that'll sell. A bigtime winner. Ought to drive the tragedies and the wars and the political sniping off the front page. It's a great American story of the heart, full of sentiment, of a man and his teacher. More than a teacher, but a philosopher who had this uncommon sense of getting across the message of how golf should be played.

Somebody’s got to make a movie of this one. Crank up the scriptwriters. Get a producer. Find a leading lady to play Mrs. Ben.

Crenshaw this time, not Hogan. Another Ben from Texas has brought America to tears with his story. What timing. What a week, from the grave to ecstasy.

“I believe in fate,” Ben Crenshaw said, “and fate has dictated another championship here.”

The Masters had played its hand again, that traditional, sentimental old thing in a green coat, so often battered by the unlearned, but never wavering from its mission. Ben Crenshaw, whose life had been interrupted to fly home to Texas and bury his teacher-coach, Harvey Penick, had flown back and in four days of walking the course at Augusta National had won his second Masters, the weight of the frail tutor on his shoulders, bearing him around the 72 holes to a triumph they now share in life and death.

Penick was Crenshaw’s ‘15th club’

Davis Love III, who finished second a stroke behind, said it first. “It was meant to be.” Harvey Penick had also been his father’s coach, when Davis Love Jr. schooled at Texas. The old gentleman touched so many people in more ways than golf, and it wasn’t until a writer named Bud Shrake convinced him to put his story in print that the world really came to know of him. The book sold over 2,000,000 copies, at which this humble man said, “For the first time in my life, I can take my wife out to dinner and not pay any attention to the right side of the menu.”

I knew it would be this way. Crenshaw would win. The story would be written to shreds across America. It would look like Harvey Penick won the Masters. Crenshaw added to the mystique of it all. “I played with a 15th club in my bag," he said, "named Harvey.”

The quick facts are these: He flew back from Penick’s funeral in Austin late Wednesday, got in a little practice, then shot rounds of 70, 69, 67 and 68. He played into the 18th green with a two-stroke lead, and needed the extra padding. He was barely able to finish off his 274th stroke, a short putt, then collapsed in tears before the eyes of millions. It wouldn’t have been right any other way.

A little flashback here, to a professional career that started in 1973. Here was the game's next new star. There was no ceiling. He would nestle in behind Jack Nicklaus and eventually take his rightful place among the great ones. Right away, he won his first tournament, the Texas Open. Here he came.

Successful, but no world-beater

It has since been said in many a locker room and 19th hole that Crenshaw has been one of the biggest disappointments in golf, no slander here. Not that he was not successful, but that he was not nearly as successful as those of us who felt we knew talent when we saw it had expected him to be. We thought he would sweep through the majors, win British Open after British Open, the U.S. Open, the PGA and a number of Masters. He came so close, twice second in the British Open, once in the PGA and twice in the Masters to go with his two green coats and 17 other tournament victories.

True, he was set back by an ailment named Graves Disease. He went through a divorce. He was inconsistent, which he addressed after the Sunday ceremony. “I was up and down like a yo-yo,” he said. “I’ve been so inconsistent all my career.”

It's still not too late. True, he's 43, and no one older but Jack Nicklaus has won a Masters before. But remember this, Hogan didn't get the hang of winning until he was in his thirties.

There was another story that got eclipsed by the rush to Crenshaw and Penick. A week ago, Davis Love III had been playing his innards out in New Orleans trying to cash in his last chance at making it to the Masters. This Sunday he was playing his innards out again, trying to win the Masters. At least twice he was tied for the lead, the first lead he'd ever tasted in a major tournament, but bogeying the 16th hole, a par-3, left him vulnerable to Crenshaw’s charge, birdies at 16 and 17, and the finish at 14-under-par.

Love was philosophical about it, and painted a lovely scene on his mental canvas. “There could be no better end to Harvey Penick’s life,” he said, “than to have Ben win the Masters the week of his death,” a nice epitaph to Ben Crenshaw’s most emotional day on the golf course.