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Arms pumping, jaw thrust out, with a little leap into his caddie's arms at the end, Nathaniel Crosby stepped out of the family photo album last week to win the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, sinking a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to cap a storybook finish in which he got all the girls and the Havemeyer Trophy and filled the shoes of his old man, Bing, who may have traveled with a song in his heart but had golf clubs in the car trunk.
When the 19-year-old Nathaniel finished Sunday's 36-hole match-play final at The Olympic Club in San Francisco tied with Brian Lindley, he had already come back from a huge deficit. With 10 holes remaining Nathaniel was 4-down, and with only three left he was two behind. But just when it seemed that the curtain was about to ring down on him, he would roll in another clutch putt, give a whoop and march on.
It had been like that all week, as young Crosby sauntered around and dispatched opponents with a scrappy, buccaneer's style, escaping from trees, rough and assorted flora. Often it was easy to imagine his father somewhere in the gallery, pipe in mouth, the bells of St. Mary's chiming faintly, and saying to Ingrid Bergman, "Kid's not bad."
The sentimentalists, who never get tired of this sort of thing, were made inescapably aware of Nathaniel's connection with his father, beginning with the fact that he was wearing, on a chain around his neck, the medal Bing won for making the field in the 1941 U.S. Amateur. Outside the gallery ropes, Bing's widow, Kathryn, followed the action outfitted in her husband's old hat, jacket and knickers, silently working over a whole raft of rosaries. Additional support was provided by a large group of friends from the Crosby clan's neighborhood in nearby Hillsborough.
After Crosby had made the winning putt and fallen back to earth from the clutches of his caddie, he hugged his mother and tried to keep from weeping.
"Congratulations, Mr. Crosby," said Kathryn. "Hey, what is this? No crying."
"I'm not crying," Nathaniel said. "I'm fighting it."
Later Kathryn Crosby said, "I'm glad the Mother Mary was on our side, but after all, Bing did play all of those priest roles."
It might appear that her son popped out of nowhere to win the Amateur, but the progress of the University of Miami junior has been steady, although his only previous titles were a Santa Clara County championship and a victory in one college tournament, the 1979 Las Vegas Rebel Invitational. That year he was co-medalist in the U.S. Junior Amateur. Crosby is best at match play, in which his scrambling and tenacity can upset an opponent. Coming into the Amateur, he noted that he had won 15 of the last 20 matches he'd played. On Sunday, over the final 11 holes on a championship course, he was one under par and acted like a prizefighter.
Crosby is only 5'10" and 160 pounds, but he is an emotional player, yelling at his ball—"Go!" "Sit!" "Stop!"—as if it were a pet dog. Occasionally, when he is about to hit a putt he truly needs, he will give his putter a sharp rap, as if to get its attention. Whatever, it worked. In his semifinal match on Saturday, Crosby came from 3-down after eight holes to beat Willie Wood 2-up, and at times some spectators almost expected him to look skyward and mutter, "Thanks."