Tour funny guy Ben Crane on why pros need to lighten up and why his best golf may be ahead of him
You might know Ben Crane best from his YouTube videos, in which he speeds up his pace of play by donning Rollerblades and being towed by a golf cart; raps about barely qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs ("I'm a bubble boy/buh-buh-bubble boy"); and shares his mental-game secrets, Golf in the Kingdom–style ("I experience zone. I'm speaking to you from the now, in the middle of the now.") Crane also croons with his fellow Golf Boys bandmates Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson (with lyrics by Mat Kearney, the singer-songwriter who, like Crane, hails from Oregon). But the 37-year-old funnyman also has an intense side. You've heard of the 10,000 hours it takes to master a pursuit? Crane has logged 35,000 hours honing his game. (He counted.) If you think that's odd, consider that Crane believes he's no more innately talented at golf than you are. The main reason he chose this career path was because as a kid he could beat his five buddies. The Tour's biggest ham talks about the 100 percent commitment required to excel at both golf and comedy, his infamously slow pace of play, and why he won't let the bad back that knocked him out of the 2013 FedEx Cup playoffs diminish his enthusiasm -- or his sense of humor.
In the media center after you won the 2010 Farmers Insurance Open, you broke into an impersonation of your southern-fried, former-college-football-coach agent Tommy Limbaugh. It got quite a laugh, even among the cynical press. Was that when you realized you could bring your act to a wider audience?
It's been a slow progression, no pun intended, where things have just worked. The more you show your personality, the more fun everyone else has. I'm watching tennis last night, I'm watching Rafael Nadal play a guy, and it was 6-0 in the first set, and in the second set the guy is just trying to score a point. He finally thought he scored one; they did the shot-spot thing, and it was out by an inch. It was the moment where he should have gone, like, What do I gotta do to score a point against this Nadal guy? But he didn't. Athletes get so stuck in competition sometimes that we just can't let go of it.
Has your game improved since you've been expressing this lighter side?
Well, 2010 and 2005 were my best years, but it's been a battle with my body. I have a lot more potential now, and I have a bigger team around me. Instead of no one following me, now I'll have friends who are following me, and sometimes they'll walk up to a random person and say, "Who are you following?" In a few cases the person has said, "Ben Crane. He's my favorite player." And my friend will go, "Why?" And the kid will say, "You don't know? You don't know about the videos?" [Laughs] That is so fun right there.
Your fans definitely get your sense of humor. When your caddie decided to take a day off on a Wednesday, and you told people to apply on Twitter for the one-day job to replace him, you got interesting responses, like, "I have a rough tongue like a cat and can clean the grooves of a wedge in seconds. My tics are mostly silent."
[Laughs] That deserves to be written somewhere in this magazine! That is so good. We've opened up the job twice, actually. We did it at the Byron Nelson and at the Travelers. For the Nelson, we found a guy who had played in college. It was his birthday. And for the Travelers, we did it for a cause called Charity: Water, and the guy bid a couple of thousand bucks. He was awesome. We really hit it off.
Do you think most Tour pros could stand to loosen up?
I don't think, I know. I mean, I'm very serious between the ropes at times, especially when it's not going well. I can feel like I can't let myself have a good time. But guys need to pick their chin up a little bit and look around. Dude, you're on the PGA Tour! You've probably dreamed about this since you were a kid. It's so fun. I don't care if you just made double; you have the opportunity to look at a kid and throw him a ball and make his day. I try to remember that.
You show full comedic commitment in your spoof videos, which you have to do to make them work. Your wardrobe gets laughs, too. Where did the helmet come from? In the video where you offer exercise tips, it's a crucial prop, along with the unitard.
My buddy went to Goodwill and found it. I was like, "What is this thing?" It's a low-end ski helmet. I never picked up on that until the fifth video. That whole outfit is like five bucks at Good-will. It's awful. It's so tight. It doesn't breathe. It would be great in the Oregon fall, for surfing.
Who are your favorite comedians? Have you seen Borat?
I have not seen Borat. Honestly, the stuff that Joel [Stock], my caddie, and I have seen -- he has a great sense of humor and a great memory for funny lines -- would be "Coming to America," "Spies Like Us," "Caddyshack" and "Dumb and Dumber."
What about "The Hangover"?
Yeah. A little crude, but...
It was structured smartly.
Right. Kind of like "Life of Pi." At the end you go, "Ah, now it makes sense."
What was the last movie you saw?
Unfortunately, "Planes." It was a big letdown. "Shrek" was amazing. "Cars" was amazing. "Planes" was not. And "Finding Nemo" was great.
You have three kids, so it's obvious who's picking the movies. What TV shows do you watch?
You know, I'm trying to think if I've turned on the TV this year for something other than sports. I watched the Bible documentary. When you have three kids under 6, you have to ask, am I going to space out on the couch for an hour and a half, or am I going to hang out with my kids? When your kids are grown up and out of the house, everyone says, "It happened so fast. I wish they were back."
Musician Mat Kearney helped with the lyrics on Golf Boys 2.0 and the Bubble Boy video, which poked fun at you for being 125th on the money list at the Barclays. Which video took the longest to make?
Golf Boys 2.0 was six weeks of talking to the production crew and doing some of the writing with Kearney, and giving feedback and stuff. The shoot only took two days, but afterward, editing and stuff, it was a couple of months. We shot it at Vaquero here in Dallas.
Did everyone stay at your house?
They did, except for Hunter, who lives here. Bubba bought my daughter her first Elmo. He's awesome with kids. And Rickie was on the floor rolling around with them. It was funny; we were driving to the course and one of Kearney's songs came on the radio. I was sitting there thinking, What do you do when you're sitting right next to a guy whose song is on the radio? Do you sing along?
Do you ever play money games with Ryan Palmer or Todd Hamilton or any of the other pros who live and play at Vaquero?
I should, but it's really just practice. I like playing in the Phil money game, the Mickelson game on Tuesdays. It's competitive. I've played in that a few times, and you're so ready to play in the tournament after that.
Mickelson loves to get in guys' ears. Give us your best Phil smack-talking story.
A few months back, Phil and I were playing a match in an off-week, and we were on the 10th green, both about eight feet away for birdie. He said, "I found the secret to putting." And I said, "Really?" Well, I make my putt and he misses, and because he's always jabbing me, I say, "Looks like I had the secret to putting on that one." He thinks about it for about 10 seconds and says, "Yeah, but I had the secret to putting at the British Open." [Laughs] Yes, he did.
You rapped with Bubba Watson on the 16th tee during the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Were you more nervous for that or the golf?
I was going to do it anyway. I had the helmet in the bag and everything. And then Bubba and I got paired together. I mean, are you kidding me? It was perfect. And there's a guy who stands up there and says, "Hey, crowd, be quiet," and so we went over and grabbed his microphone. But, yeah, I was nervous.
Rory Sabbatini famously left you in the dust at the 2005 Booz Allen at Congressional. Have you gotten much faster with your pace of play since then?
Rory and I are friends, and I've tried to get better. Last year I talked to Jon Brendle, a Tour official, and they see everything. I said, "Hey, how am I doing?" His reaction was very positive. He said, "Just keep up with the group in front of you." I don't want guys to get bummed out when they get paired with me. I didn't even know in high school and college golf that I was slow. No one ever said anything.
You beat Rory Mcllroy 8 and 7 in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in 2011, and later that year you made eight birdies in the last 11 holes to force a playoff with Webb Simpson in the McGladrey Classic, which you then won. Were you hotter when you thumped Rory or when you beat Webb?
When I made those eight birdies, I got so hot with the putter. Webb told me he went back and watched the broadcast, like, six months later. He said, "I got so mad. They were going in from across the green!" With Rory, I was playing some of the best golf of my life, but my back went out the next morning on the range.
You finished the year 139th in driving distance. Was that because of your back?
My clubhead speed on the Nation-wide Tour was about 124 miles an hour. If I saw the front lip of a bunker 300 yards out, I wouldn't even think about it -- I'd just fly it. I was so long. I was No. 1 in driving distance for the first five months of the season out there, but then I got injured and stopped working on being fast, and now I'm way down in driving distance. [Laughs] I can't smoke it anymore.
Did that inspire you to become a better short-game player?
It contributed to it. Plus, when you're not feeling well you can at least work on your chipping and putting, which I did. I would swing on a launch monitor and think about how I could get faster. I went from 115 mph to 124 mph in about a year.
You've worked with short-game coach James Sieckmann for a few years. How much of your short-game prowess do you owe to him? Why do you two click?
I was having some trouble with my chipping and pitching, with my contact, especially on Bermuda grass with tight lies. I was like, "I'm missing something." I spoke to Tom Pernice, who said, "You should go see my guy." I said, "You've got a guy?" It's been dynamite. I think I'm top 10 in bunker play. He really understands the mental game, too.
Have you also seen improvement in your wedge play?
I'm much more confident with that 50-yard shot, the 60-yard shot, just because he's taught me proper technique and how to practice for that shot. The difference between the best player in the world and the guy who finishes 100th on the money list is not much -- maybe one shot a round.
It's a fine line out there. "It's a fine line between clever and stupid." Do you know what that's from?
"This Is Spinal Tap." Have you seen that film?
No. I haven't.
You have to see "Spinal Tap"! For a comedy lover, it's an absolute must.
Okay, it's on my list. I'll write it down.
You used to not look at the Tour pairings to see who you were playing with the next day, in case it was someone you grew up idolizing. Do you still not look?
I still don't look. The Tour sends you your tee time for the next day, but it goes to my caddie's phone, it goes to my wife's phone, but not to my phone. Some guys will spoil the surprise and say, "Looks like it's you and me tomorrow."
You learned the game at the age of 5 from your grandfather, right?
Yeah, my grandpa was like my best friend, and if I wanted to hang out with him we were going to play golf. The cool thing was, he had three old guys he played with, and one of his cronies died when I was 8 or 10, so I took his spot. We gambled a lot. We played a dime a hole, and double or nothing on 18, so it was big money. That was when I learned to love the game. That was at Portland Golf Club, which we live a block away from in the summer.
Are you a member there?
Yeah, they gave me an honorary membership. They have a plaque saying that that's where I learned to play. There's a lot of history there. They had a Ryder Cup in . Hogan played there, and a lot of the greats, so they're like, "Do you want us to put your plaque up?" [Laughs] I'm like, "No, no, in the ground is fine." So they put it in the ground next to the putting green.
You're a big tennis fan. What else did you play as a kid?
I'd seen my dad going to work every day [he owned a small media-development firm] and I thought, That looks terrible. I've got to figure out professional sports. I played basketball until 10th grade, but I was vertically challenged and maybe the fourth-best player on my team. Soccer, I was the third-best guy on my team. Baseball, I'm kind of afraid of the ball. Golf, well, I was the best golfer of my five friends, so I decided to go for it. I quit everything else, practiced every day as hard as I could. The pro I worked with growing up used to say, "I think if I worked a little harder I could've made it." I thought, I'll never say that.
So you got your 10,000 hours in.
Thirty-five thousand -- I added 'em up.
So you should be really good by now, given you've put in more than three times as much as the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell recommends in his book "Outliers."
I read "Bounce" [by Matthew Syed] and "Talent is Overrated" [by Geoff Colvin]. I think Bounce is the best one. He proved that guys like Mozart, Roger Federer -- it has nothing to do with genes; it's about putting in specific, intense hours of practice. Of course, you can't play post for the Houston Rockets if you're my size.
So you don't think you have any more innate ability at golf than a bogey golfer?
No. I think we all have unique gifts, but just about anyone can train to be just about anything.
Well, that's both encouraging and discouraging. Four victories on Tour, two Web.com wins -- are you done? You're 37, and you've got a bad back. Is this it?
No. I'm planning to do the Steve Stricker thing. I'm planning to go to 47, and I'm planning to have the best decade of my career from 37 to 47. I am so confident that my best golf is in front of me -- and this is the shooter's mentality in basketball -- that I'm thinking of putting money down on myself in Vegas.