Crenshaw didnt play his senior season at Texas. He turned professional in the fall of 73, played in seven tournaments and made the cut in all of them, then went to the PGA Tour qualifying tournament. He was medallist there by 12 shots, the top player in a field that included Gary McCord, Larry Nelson and Gil Morgan. The first tournament he played in after securing his tour card 30 years ago was, ironically, the Texas Open in San Antonio.
Here, from his book A Feel for the Game, Crenshaw describes what happened:
I was playing well and got wrapped up in trying to beat really established pros like Orville Moody, George Archer and Mike Hill down the stretch, he said. I played the last round with Orville, and I remember when we came up to the last hole, I had a two-shot lead.
Now, Orville was one of the straightest drivers I had ever seen. There was water on both sides of the fairway, and he took his driver, even though a lot of people were playing conservatively that week, and whipped it down the fairway between the lakes. He put pressure on me right there. But somehow I had the presence of mind to take out a 3-iron and I just hit it down the fairway, hit a good second shot, and a 9-iron into the green and ' just like that ' that was it. I shot 65-72-66-67 to beat Orville by two.
Crenshaw never quite lived up to all those collegiate press clippings after that week at the Texas Open. Oh, he won 19 tournaments in his regular-tour career that lasted almost three decades. He won a couple of Masters. He played on five Ryder Cups and was the captain of a Ryder Cup team. But as a teenager and in college, he appeared to be a clone of Jack Nicklaus. What eventually occurred over his 30-year career was something a little different.
Following the great beginning and the early win at San Antonio, Crenshaw would not win again until 1976. He began to fulfill lofty expectations when he won three times in 76 and finished second to Nicklaus, but he would never finish that high again. In only one other year (1979) did he win more than one tournament.
Injuries and illnesses have affected Crenshaws career. He had a thyroid problem and finished 149th on the money list in 1985. And in 1997 he was diagnosed with a foot problem and had surgery. He was the Ryder Cup captain in 1999, so that year and 1998 were basically devoted to his duties. He didnt finish in the top 100 of the money list since 1995 ' when he won the Masters, his last triumph.
If Crenshaw didnt reach the pinnacle expected of him, it might be because of his willingness to listen to everyone. His old friend Kite said as much back in 1983.
I think its hard for Ben to say, No thanks, I dont need your help. He isnt that way, said Kite.
If it was anyone but Ben, Id have been suspicious that not everybody really wanted to be helpful. A little of that goes on, you know. With Ben, they mean well. Even so, the result is still the same if the advice messes you up.
Regardless of whether Crenshaws career has measured up to others expectations, it certainly has measured up to his. He wishes he could have won even more ' what golfer, including Tiger Woods, doesnt? But he is certainly satisfied with what has transpired in his professional life since that Texas Open victory 30 years ago.
I think more than satisfied, said Crenshaw.
When you look at it, Ive been a lot more fortunate than most. Ive had some great experiences. Certainly, the two major victories ' the Masters ' that meant so much to me in so many different ways (were great).
The first victory was more so to prove to myself that I could do it, but the second one was for someone who had meant my whole life in the game (teacher Harvey Penick) ' to have that happen at that time was incredible to me.
And then the Ryder Cup was to follow a great captains legacy (Kite) of players who achieved some wonderful things in this game. And then to watch a team go out and give forth an effort like Ive never seen at a place that I dearly loved (Brookline) was quite special.
Those three things (are special.) And also, to have a chance to win on a lot of other occasions and not achieving it, but to win many events. Ive been luckier than most. Im very satisfied.