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It was obvious that his father was never far from his thoughts. "I definitely felt his presence, and thinking of him calmed me," Nathaniel admitted. "I wasn't absentmindedly touching that medal. He was in my mind all day."
Crosby's theatrics saved a tournament that needed help after the big names—Hal Sutton, the defending champion, Jodie Mudd, the 1980 and '81 U.S. Amateur Public Links titlist, and most of their Walker Cup teammates—made fast exits.
If anyone was born to smash a one-iron, it is Nathaniel Crosby, whose godfather is former Masters champion Jackie Burke. At age three, he was taking up divots in the Crosby backyard. Later he would join in friendly rounds with his father, who always needled him: "You never hit enough club." Recalls Nathaniel, "They were some of the happiest times of my life, on the golf course with my dad. I never felt closer to him."
Bing was a self-confessed golf fanatic who once figured that he had memberships at 70 different clubs, and while he didn't invent celebrity golf, he turned it into an art form with the Bing Crosby Pro-Am, now celebrated early each year on the Monterey Peninsula. Just hanging around, Nathaniel got an invaluable golfing education. On Oct. 14, 1977, when his father suffered a heart attack and died after playing 18 holes (he shot an 85) in Spain, the youngster assumed the sponsorship of the Crosby.
Bing's was a pretty big legend to follow, but Nathaniel has always been a serious sort, not a dilettante. He has said that he plays life one day at a time. He attended public schools, and he doesn't throw his heritage around. Last week he was "yes sir-ing" and "thank you-ing" everyone. In between matches he sipped milk, and on Saturday, on the 18th hole of his semifinal against Wood, when fans yelled, "Down in front," Nathaniel dutifully knelt.
He is, in fact, a likable, self-deprecating young man. Commenting on his relationship with his mentor, former PGA Tour player Toney Penna, he said, "I'm just a punk trying to learn from a wizard." And asked if he was upset when he fell behind in several matches, he answered, "I get sort of ornery out there. I'm a little upset all the time." He also agreed that being a Crosby helped last week: "Everybody in my family is talented. My father, my mother, my brother, my sister Mary. She shot J.R. Gosh, I had to win the Amateur."
He was asked what his father would have said if he had been there to see it. Answered Nathaniel, "He'd say, 'Kid, don't let it go to your head.' He taught me how to be humble. I can't see anyone handling success better than he handled it." And so occasionally, like a good trouper, Nathaniel would even applaud his opponent after an exceptional shot.
A lot of people were surprised that Crosby could play so well, but as a golfer who has borrowed parts of his game from touring pros ( Ben Crenshaw's putting stance, for instance), he isn't a vaudeville act. That's a good thing because, although he has a crooner's Adam's apple, as his father had, he has, he says, "no talent as an entertainer."
He is serious, however, about making a career as a professional golfer. "Can you think of a better profession?" asks his mother. "He planned all of this when he was nine. There are plans and there are dreams. He planned it." Says Maurie Ver Brugge, the pro at Nathaniel's home course, the Burlingame Country Club, which is only a couple of three-irons from Olympic, "He works as hard as anybody I've ever seen, pro or amateur. I've seen him bordering on pneumonia, but putting in the rain for hours. He eats, sleeps and drinks the game."
Crosby wasn't too keen about his chances early in the week. He opened with a 72 in the qualifying, then shot an 80. His mother had an explanation: "Some girl in sprayed-on jeans followed him around all day, which just proves that even Nathaniel can be distracted."