Every autumn, before filling out my Player of the Year ballots, I take an old reporter’s notebook out of my desk. On one page I jot down my picks for the year’s preeminent players, along with some supporting data — e.g., “Rory McIlroy, British Open and PGA champ, Vardon Trophy, leading money winner in U.S. & Europe, World No. 1,” or, “Stacy Lewis, 3 LPGA wins, leading money winner, Vare Trophy, top 10 in 3 majors.” Then, on another page, I add one name to a list titled “MY Player of the Year.”
This year’s winner: Ben Crane.
It may strike you as a curious choice. Crane’s only win in 2014 was by a stroke over an anemic field at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Best known for the crash-helmeted doofus he plays in the Golf Boys music videos, Crane was 107th in scoring average, 157th in driving distance and 117th in the all-around statistical category. He is 142nd in the World Golf Ranking and hasn’t played in a major since the 2012 U.S. Open.
But there’s one admittedly subjective area where Crane excels: He gets golf. I mean, he really gets it. And that’s why he’s my desk-drawer, no-trophy-necessary, no-acceptance-speech-required Player of the Year.
Crane, 38, wasn’t even on my radar until the calendar year was half gone. He caught my eye on Thursday, July 17, when news of his presence filtered into the press tent at Royal Liverpool. First-alternate ben crane makes last-minute trip to hoylake! screamed the online golf sites. Arrives five hours before opening round! As late as Tuesday afternoon, Crane had been playing golf with his father — that’s 1,000 MPOY points right there! — at Portland Golf Club. When word arrived that then-first-alternate Seung-Yul Noh had decided not to make the trip from South Korea with no guarantee of playing, the Cranes quit their round and raced to the airport with Ben’s pre-packed suitcase in the trunk.
That’s when it turned into an episode of The Amazing Race. The last eastbound flight had departed, so Crane hopped a jet to Seattle, followed by a red-eye to New York, and then — – after a lengthy layover — another overnight flight to London. Finally, he had a 31?2-hour car ride to Liverpool and a mad dash to the course, where play had been under way for hours.
“This is so exciting,” a beaming Crane told anyone within earshot. “What an opportunity, right?” But that opportunity evaporated when the last threesome teed off at 4:06 p.m. Not one player in the field had pulled out — a genuine anomaly when you consider that John Daly was the ninth alternate when he won the 1991 PGA.
A lesser player might have kicked the turf and gotten drunk, but Crane hadn’t come 5,000 miles to be a spectator. So he and caddie/pal Joel Stock motored up the road to Wallasey Golf Club, a classic big-dunes links. There they joined a U.S. twosome for a late-afternoon game on a sun-swept sward that out-Britished the British Open.
For three holes, Ben and Joel sipped their bottles of Davenports and shared the clubs in Ben’s bag. On the cloud-scraping 4th tee, Ben spread his arms to take in the sandy shore and the shimmering sea. “Does it get any better than this?” he asked. “I mean, are you telling me there’s something better than this?” Hearing no objections, he accepted Wallasey as more-than-adequate compensation for the trying journey. “I’d love to have gotten in,” he said of the Open, “but I wasn’t going home without playing some links golf.”
One of Crane’s playing partners, who writes for Sports Illustrated under the name Michael Bamberger, was visibly moved. “You will be paid back for all this, karmically,” he told the pro. The other Yank, after taking some photographs, scribbled in his reporter’s notebook. The notes would come in handy, he explained, when awards season rolled around.
Crane joins a list of distinguished and undistinguished players who have won MY Player of the Year since 1996, when the well- traveled Steve Cook — winner of the 1978 South Australian PGA Championship and one-time executive director of the South American tour — – took the inaugural prize. Some winners, such as Scott Dunlap, Joel Edwards and Brad (Dr. Dirt) Bryant, displayed preternatural persistence over long careers. Others, such as Phil Mickelson and Amy Alcott, won for their flair and charisma. Stats count for little, and no player has won the MPOY and a POY award in the same year.
This article appeared in the most recent issue of SI Golf+ Digital, our weekly e-magazine. Click here to read this week’s issue and sign up for a free subscription.