Friday, April 07, 2006

Crenshaw on The Masters Leaderboard? Say What?

Hey, didn't you use to be Ben Crenshaw? How'd you get onto the Masters leaderboard?

Yep, "Gentle Ben" Crenshaw - whose nickname actually has nothing to do with his usual gentlemanly demeanor, but was given to him sarcastically while he was still a junior as a result of on-course temper tantrums - is on the leaderboard at the Masters after one round.

That's what I call a nice surprice. It's not going to last, I'm sure Ben knows that as well as anyone, but it's fun while it does last. Crenshaw is way too short a hitter to be competitive for long on today's Augusta, and he was never a straight hitter even at his best. What saved him during the first round was what saved him his whole career - that amazing putting.

But Ben's rarely even competitive on the Champions Tour these days, so he'll probably come back to earth in today's second round.

I've always thought of Crenshaw as a "could've-been," as in, "he could've been one of the all-time greats." Don't get me wrong, Crenshaw was great, compared to you and me and the vast majority of guys who've ever played the PGA Tour. Twenty wins and two majors - that's big-time.

But Crenshaw himself has admitted he didn't get out of himself all he could have. I recall a quote from Ben that went something like this: "I was six inches away from being great. That's the space between my ears." The ill-timed poor decision, the ill-timed driver sprayed into the rough ... those things explain the 0-for-8 playoff record, among other things.

In the end, I think Crenshaw's childhood playing partner from Austin, Tom Kite, barely nips Ben on the list of all-time greats. I don't know where exactly the two rate - probably somewhere in the 40s on a Top 100 list - but Kite would probably be one or two spots ahead of Crenshaw.

Kite never had the flashes of brilliance, or anything as dramatic as Crenshaw's 1995 Masters win. Kite had one fewer PGA Tour wins and one fewer major championships. Kite didn't have that one awesome part of his game, the way Crenshaw had putting. But Kite was just so darn consistent. Crenshaw could be anywhere from week-to-week. Kite always seems to be on the leaderboard, hanging around, getting the most out of the talent he had. Winning money titles, finishing high on the money list every year.

"Gentle" is a perfect word for Crenshaw these days. And it's fabulous that he got to enjoy a round like he had on Thursday at the Masters. Today he might fall back into reality, but every old "could've been the greatest" deserves another flash of brilliance on the biggest stage.

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