Gentle Ben Crenshaw prepares for Augusta farewell

Two-times champion Ben Crenshaw is set to play his last Masters. Picture: Getty
Two-times champion Ben Crenshaw is set to play his last Masters. Picture: Getty
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HAVING been born in 1964, my golfing hero should really have been either Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson. I was hooked on golf, after all, around the time the former was winning his fifth Masters and the latter claimed his first Open Championship.

Yet, it was neither Nicklaus nor Watson – the men who fought out the “Duel in the Sun” that week – that I couldn’t wait to clap eyes on in the flesh for the first time when my parents took me through to Turnberry for the 1977 Open.

I’ve spent so much time here and been in the fight here. So I’m very thankful

Ben Crenshaw

I hardly slept a wink the night before thinking about watching Ben Crenshaw and, nearly 40 years on, I don’t mind admitting that my heart will be as heavy as his when the two-times Masters champion says his farewell to the event this week after his 44th and final appearance.

“I started thinking about this week a while back,” admitted the man known as Gentle Ben. “I’m going to have to get through it the best way I can. I’ll just play and have fun and the people have been great already.”

Crenshaw was still an amateur when he made his first Augusta National appearance in 1972. Both that year and the following one he finished as low amateur. A love affair had been sparked and the Texan went on to claim Green Jackets in both 1984 and 1995, the second of those successes coming soon after his long-time coach and mentor, Harvey Penick, had passed away.

“I feel like I’ve lived in the gutta-percha era,” said Crenshaw as he took a stroll down memory lane at the event that defined his career. “I’ve spent so much time here and been in the fight here and that’s what I’ll always take away here. So I’m very thankful.”

He vividly remembers standing at the first tee as a starry-eyed youngster in 1972 and watching the Honorary Starters at that time, St Andrews-born Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod from North Berwick, strike their ceremonial blows. “That was one of my dear memories,” he said. So, too, is a photograph hanging at home of him with Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen. “I don’t know what the heck I was doing in there with those two,” he recalled with a smile.

The one regret for Crenshaw is that Bobby Jones, the founder of Augusta National along with Clifford Roberts, had passed away before his first appearance there. “The more I studied about him, the more fascinated I became,” he confessed of the legendary Jones. “He had a way about him that was very graceful and very unique. He had exceedingly rare taste in almost everything that he did.”

That certainly includes this golf course, which was designed by Jones and Dr Alister MacKenzie. “They knew what they had,” noted Crenshaw of the wonderful piece of land at their disposal, “and they had the great sense to leave things out of it rather than put in. They made a beautiful statement in what they did and what they left behind.”

It’s not here, though, that Crenshaw learned the most before embarking on a course-designing career in tandem with fellow American Bill Coore. “There no question that any student in the world of architecture knows that St Andrews is the most fascinating course in the world,” he said. “There’s a million ways to play it for everyone and it is still a guiding principle for most architects.”

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