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A Breakthrough For The Heartbreak Kid
Dan Jenkins
April 23, 1984
Ben Crenshaw, after a decade full of high promise and low fulfillment, won the 48th Masters, his first major championship
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April 23, 1984

A Breakthrough For The Heartbreak Kid

Ben Crenshaw, after a decade full of high promise and low fulfillment, won the 48th Masters, his first major championship

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At that point, Crenshaw had lost his lead to a stranger named Mark Lye, a diabetic who had stunned Augusta in his first Masters appearance with rounds of 69 and 66 while munching on his candy bars between shots. But like every other experienced competitor in the field, Crenshaw had to believe that Lye would eventually go away. This he did, with rounds of 73-74, to finish in a tie for sixth place. Crenshaw knew he had to keep thinking about his own game. This he did.

"I've been trying to believe in myself for the past year and a half," Crenshaw said Sunday night. "I went back to my old swing and concentrated mainly on aiming the ball and on my timing. I spent 10 years working on my swing, and it didn't get me anything but a lot of disappointment. My dad was the one who said I had to go back to my old swing and live with it. There are a lot of funny swings in golf. Who wants Miller Barber's? Nobody, but I've seen him hit as many solid shots as anybody."

Crenshaw played 13 of his third-round holes on Saturday, before rain, hail and lightning prematurely concluded play. Those still on the course were obliged to come back out on Sunday at 8 a.m., and that was when Kite took the Masters lead by two strokes over Crenshaw and by one over Lye.

Sunday morning was the unseen golf. Few showed up early to watch when Tom Watson went back out to miss a 15-foot eagle putt at the 13th and par in the rest of the way. Kite went back out to save par from a bunker at the 12th and then birdied two more holes, including the 18th, to take the third-round lead. Lye went back out to the 12th to three-putt for a bogey, then found two bunkers at the 16th for his third double bogey of the tournament.

Lye had been the comic relief of this Masters. A 31-year-old bachelor, consumer of something called Nature Valley Chewy Granola Bars, a guy who had spent his nights jamming on his guitar with a member of Eric Clapton's band, a lanky 6'2" string bean with a funny gait and a big smile, Lye would say after his Friday 66, "I haven't had to deal with any funky 40-footers. I have no idea what those greens are doing out there. I don't think I can save any more shots than I already have."

Thus the first three rounds served largely to set the stage for the drama on Sunday, which overshadows everything that comes before it in most Masters. Crenshaw was simply one of a crowd when it came time for the last 18. A total of 18 players were within six strokes of the lead. Eight players were within four shots of Kite, who led with a nine-under 207. Lye was at 208, Crenshaw, Nick Faldo and David Graham were at 209, and Watson was at 210. Larry Nelson was considered a serious lurker at 211 after rounds of 69 and 66 had made up for his woeful start of 76.

Crenshaw mostly had to be concerned about golfers like Watson, Graham and Nelson, who had won 12 majors between them, who would know and understand what the pressure was going to be like because they had overcome it before—unlike himself.

Crenshaw played smoothly and confidently to a three-under 33 through nine holes with birdies at the par-5 2nd and 8th and then a beauty of a 10-foot birdie at the 9th. With nine holes to play, Crenshaw held a one-stroke lead on Kite and a two-shot lead on Nelson. Watson and Lye were three back.

If ever there was going to be a time when bad memories got the best of Crenshaw, it was going to be now. He'd once stood on the 71st tee with a two-iron in his hand tied for the lead of the U.S. Open. That was at Medinah in 1975. But that long, loose, unreliable swing had put a two-iron in the water. The result was a crushing double bogey that caused him to miss the Lou Graham-John Mahaffey playoff by a stroke. Four years later he'd stood on the 71st tee at Royal Lytham again tied for the lead, of the British Open. But that long, loose, unreliable swing had sent his tee shot soaring into the heather. The result was another double bogey, and he watched Ballesteros win that championship. Two weeks after that he'd gone into a playoff for the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills with David Graham. This time he bunkered his tee shot on the third extra hole while Graham birdied, and Crenshaw and his fans had once again been torn apart by a near miss—or a near win.

Now, on the back nine at Augusta, the possibility was always there that Crenshaw and his admirers might suffer another heartbreak.

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