In the history of the Masters the name of Ben Cranshaw is written great.
He was a low amateur, that is, an amateur who played best this week, in 1972 and 1973. In 1984, he won the tournament, beating Tom Watson by two strokes. But it’s his victory in 1995 at age 43, it’s one for history textbooks.
Literally a few days after his coach and teacher Harvey Penick died, he was again paired with Carl Jackson, Caddy of the Augusta National Golf Club, to win with one hit. When the final blow fell, Crenshaw emotionally hugged Jackson on the 18th Green.
The 70-year-old Crenshaw has not played in the tournament since 2015, but he has become a presenter at the annual Champions Dinner. He is also one of the best architects of golf courses. He and his business partner Bill Cour have designed or renovated half a dozen of the top 100 courses in the world.
On the eve of his 50th Masters Cranshaw told about the course, the players and the story. The following was edited and collapsed.
How has the experience of the tournament changed over the years?
With modern golf I am amazed at how Augusta National has sought to keep up with the times. They stretched the length of the holes almost as much as they could in many cases. But the real purpose of playing golf is very much the same. You still want to drive the ball into position to have the best angle in these greens. Nowadays there was no second incision [of the higher grass just off the fairway that was instituted in 1998] – everywhere mown grass, wherever you look. The ball kept running. It was very strategic in that regard. There have been many cases where the wrong ball could have faced a problem.
Augusta National will play at 7,510 yards this year, 300 yards longer than the average PGA Tour course. However, it is the greenery, not the length, that challenges the best players. What are they?
Greens are different in the way they play. These are the outlines of that greenery and what can happen to the ball. From the player’s point of view, Augusta National is very strong on hitting the green. But you learn the course over time. You don’t go directly to the flagship. You play there to get where you are going. As the player tries to practice and explore the golf course, you will see beginners go to the many places around the green and hit those chips and small short strokes. You can’t practice them enough. I beat them from different places; I got to a place where I wasn’t.
So distance matters less?
Let’s face it, a lot of attention is paid to how far people can hit the ball and what advantage they have. This is true. But if you look at the list of champions, there are so many people with different distances from the tee. He will always reward the one who beats, who beats where he should be.
You were a low amateur in the 70s and a winner in the 80s and 90s. What has challenged you for decades?
The course makes you take risks. You know, if you don’t make that shot, you always suffer from the effects of a miss by a very small margin. If you miss a place on the green, the ball can move 60, 70 feet from where you want. No one can play it safe and win at Augusta. You have to use the chances to kill. Nothing gives you more confidence than when you make a good shot. It adds excitement to the game. There was nothing better than arguing in Augusta and hearing the crowd.
What’s the talk at the Champions Dinner?
When we have dinner, we all look around the table and see different eras of golf. The conversation between the champions is always about how they played, who you chased, who your pursuers were, what chances you risked. A thread was passed through all of us that we were very lucky to be in this room. Always want to ask Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player or Vijay Singh: “You faced this shot and knew you had to take a risk. Did it go as you planned? ” We faced the same problems and we overcame them.