This story first appeared in the April 17, 1995, issue of Sports Illustrated.
So how would you explain it? Balls trickling left down ridges, when any physicist would turn purple telling you they've got to go right. Putts diving into corners of holes when you know they are supposed to slide six feet past on green Formica. A ball on Saturday that had a one-way ticket for a double-bogey bunker at number 8, smacking dead into the sand and then, for no reason at all, bounding out.
"Another Harvey bounce," Julie Crenshaw would say to her husband, Ben, that night. Ben would smile yes.
And what about the caddie? What are the odds on that? Ben Crenshaw had come to Augusta for the Masters playing uglier than a presidential threesome. Three missed cuts in his last four starts. Hadn't broken 70 in two months. Sixty-ninth on the PGA Tour in putting. Sixty-ninth? Ben Crenshaw? But then on the Tuesday before the tournament, his longtime Augusta caddie, Carl Jackson, a man who would need two woofer implants just to be considered quiet, said out of the blue, "Put the ball a little bit back in your stance, Ben. And you got to turn your shoulders more."
After hitting four balls, Crenshaw was suddenly striping it again. Four balls! "I've never had a confidence transformation like that in my life," said Crenshaw.
Good thing, too, because for the 1984 Masters champion, practice was over. The next morning at 7:30 Crenshaw flew 950 miles to attend the funeral of Harvey Penick, the tiny and frail former head pro of Austin Country Club. In a downpour. Pure sentiment, but Crenshaw is 99.4 percent sentiment. This is a guy who watches Beauty and the Beast with his daughters and ends up crying himself. His father, Charlie, is also like that. Charlie will cry at a Thanksgiving toast or a decent Southwestern Bell ad. So three days after the 90-year-old Penick, the man who first put a golf club in Crenshaw's six-year-old hands and the only coach he ever had, died on Sunday, April 2, Crenshaw and Tom Kite, another of Penick's pupils from Austin, flew home and carried a very light box and their own heavy hearts to the grave.
After the service Penick's son, Tinsley, took his father's old wooden Gene Sarazen putter and saved it for Crenshaw. It was the same putter that, on the last Sunday in March, Penick, lying in a hospital bed in his bedroom at home, had commanded Crenshaw to get from the garage. The man who wrote The Little Red Book checked Crenshaw's grip the same way he had been checking it since Ben was a child. Then he said, "Just trust yourself."
When Crenshaw flew back to Augusta on Wednesday night he was tired and drained of tears and emotion and energy. But when he teed off in the tournament the next morning, all heaven broke loose. "There was this calmness to him all week that I have never seen before," said Julie.
Said Ben, "It was kind of like I felt this hand on my shoulder, guiding me along."
Crenshaw has always been a "feel" player, not only because of his hands but also because of his emotions. When things are going badly, he bleeds he kicked a trash can a few years ago after a three-putt and may need surgery on that foot sometime soon and his game unravels. However, when things start going well, Crenshaw lets his heart follow. The swing gets sweet, and the best putting stroke in history starts pouring golf balls into holes like little white rivers.
Moreover, every break went his way. Disaster never got within a three-wood of him. He made only five bogeys and not one double bogey. On Sunday, tied for the lead, he hit a terrible drive on the par-5 2nd hole. The ball struck a tree and bounced into the fairway, pretty as you please. "Look, there's Harvey," Julie said to a friend. Crenshaw birdied the hole.
What's weird is that this did not start out as Crenshaw's week at all. The first two days of the tournament belonged to the 19-year-old dervish known as Tiger Woods, the U.S. Amateur champ playing in his first Masters and only the fourth black American to compete in the event. He changed the face of the tournament, literally. This year you did not have to look for white caddie overalls to find a black face. They were everywhere in Woods's teeming galleries, and they were there to take a sip of golf history, to see the baby steps of the first potentially great black golfer on the most important golf course in America.
"My god, I had no idea how long he was," said none other than Jack Nicklaus. In practice rounds Woods was 30 yards longer than such short knockers as Greg (Shark) Norman and Fred (Boom-Boom) Couples, who have been known to blast golf balls from here to Peachtree Plaza. On Friday at the par-5 13th, when his three-wood tee ball got stuck behind a huge pine to the right of the fairway, he cut a two-iron from 250 yards over Rae's Creek, over the flag and into the back bunker. On the 500-yard par-5 15th, he hit either an eight-or a nine-iron for his second shot in all four rounds. On the 405-yard uphill par-4 18th on Sunday, he had a sand wedge to the hole.
Somebody asked Long John Daly who was longer now, him or this 150-pound rocket launcher. Daly said, "I guess we'd probably be about even." Wrong. Woods's average driving distance was 311.1 yards, the longest in the tournament and 14 yards more than Daly's.