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Living by his game for Crenshaw means maintaining confidence in a swing that because of its looseness is now and then going to land him in trouble, that is probably going to produce better results on the inviting wide fairways of a course like Augusta National than on a U.S. Open course, where the fairways are narrow and the options few. It also means living with his temperament. "My golf game is much like my emotions—ups and downs and long, deep, dark spells," he says. "But that's kind of the way I am. That's my personality."
"He's at peace with himself now," says Buckman. "He has rededicated himself to being the best player he can be; maybe not the best in the world but the best he can be."
Charlie Crenshaw has developed a somewhat fatalistic view of tournament golf over the years. "Something guides these guys—the winners," he says. "It sounds like voodoo, I know, but it does seem like some outside force is at work. That putt on 10 that last day at Augusta, for instance, the 60-footer. Ben says he couldn't do it again with a thousand balls. I say, 'Except if you're supposed to.' Destiny takes hold. I'm glad the old friendly hand was on Ben. It just guided him through there. He won't have near that much pressure from now on. It should help him...but you never know about golf."
Even Ben admits to an eerie occurrence during the last round of the Masters. "When I hit my tee shot in good shape on the [par-5] 13th, after birdieing the 12th to go three shots up on Kite, Larry Nelson and Gil Morgan, I'm debating whether to go for the green in two or not. I watched Kite behind me dropping his ball on No. 12, so I knew he'd found the water and was going to make at least a double bogey [Kite made a triple bogey]. I knew I could knock my shot up on the 13th green with a four-wood. I wanted to. But I also knew it would be foolish. I was suffering over the decision. But then I thought about Billy Joe Patton. It was like a beacon."
Patton, who was serving as a rules committeeman at Augusta, is a Masters legend himself. And if Crenshaw knows anything better than he knows golf, it's golf history. In 1954 Patton might have become the only amateur ever to win the Masters if he hadn't tried to reach the 13th and 15th greens in two. Both times he had found the water. Crenshaw's decision, therefore, was made with that one glance at Patton. He laid up, scraped out a par, maintained his three-shot lead, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fate's friendly hand hasn't been so kind in the matter of Crenshaw's marriage to the former Polly Speno, the lovely blonde he married nine years ago when she was 18 and he was in his third year on the tour. Their tumultuous relationship, which over the past few years has at times been the despair of their friends, seems finally to be over. Polly filed for divorce in Texas the week before the Masters, but the decision to part, reached in mid-March, was mutual. "We knew we were going to do it," says Ben. "But until then we didn't know the timetable. I had notions about it a long time ago but I was hoping things would get better, and certainly she was, too. Being the wife of a professional golfer is a very thankless job in a lot of ways. I want people to know just how positive she was. It was very unselfish of her to put up for nine years with my passion for the game. Now I want to see her very happy and doing the things she wants to do."
Polly hasn't yet decided what that is going to be. For the moment she's living in their house on a quiet cul-de-sac in Austin, amid Ben's collection of golf books, old golf prints and antique golf clubs, while he has taken up temporary residence at the home of his father and stepmother a quarter mile away. The situation has had its awkward moments. Two weeks ago a CBS-TV crew was in the backyard of Ben and Polly's house, taping a segment for a forthcoming feature on Ben. Ben, Charlie and Ben's stepmother, Roberta, known to all as Bobbie, were to watch a replay of the final nine holes of the Masters on a monitor and comment on it for the TV cameras. Polly was present, but under the circumstances, all agreed, it wouldn't have been appropriate for her to sit in with the family on camera. On the other hand, Polly hadn't been at the Masters this year and was eager to hear what Ben had to say about it. So a chair was set off to one side, out of camera range, and from there Polly watched along with the others.
Like all touring pros, Crenshaw measures his life by the week, the length of time it takes to play a tour event. Of his marriage, he said one day, "We had some great weeks and we had some poor weeks."
Ben himself grew up in a family that by all accounts never had a bad week. He's the youngest of the three children of Charles, who worked his way through Baylor Law School waiting on tables and running a campus store with his older brother, Allen, and Pearl Crenshaw, a sixth-grade schoolteacher who died of a heart attack in 1974 during Ben's second year on the tour. Charlie remarried two years after Pearl's death, and the second marriage, to Bobbie, a woman of considerable wealth, has been blessedly happy. But even today neither father nor son can speak of Pearl without crying. Crenshaw emotions ride close to the surface.
"I never met a kinder soul in my life," says Ben of his mother. "I mean everybody loved her—everybody. I'll never forget one afternoon when I was 10, I wanted to play golf at Austin Municipal, which was near my house, but I couldn't find anybody to play with. I felt a little bit down because of that, but I went out by myself anyway. I was playing the 5th hole when my mother just appeared from the trees. She said, 'I knew you were alone' and she walked with me and watched. It's just how she was."