Diamond in the Rough

Some say Ben Crenshaw will be the next Jack Nicklaus. Others wonder if he is over the hill at 22. 

“You just would not have believed it: first, he quits The University of Texas right before his senior year to turn pro. I mean, people have been telling him that he’s losing a hundred grand a year by staying in college, so why not, right? He goes to the PGA’s 144-hole qualifying tournament last fall, and he drowns everybody, wins the damn thing by twelve shots. But then he enters his very first tournament as a card-carrying pro, the Texas Open, and he wins that, too. I mean, it’s just unreal!”

Fat Cat stretched his more than ample frame across the cushy bar of a prestigious Houston-area country club, and waved in the general direction of the 18th green. We were waiting to meet Ben Crenshaw, the rookie touring pro from Austin whose golfing skills have made him one of the richest young college drop-outs in America. Both Fat Cat and I had played golf with Crenshaw back in the late Sixties when we were all teenage golfers on the Texas amateur junior circuit. But since that time I had made the rather dubious decision to give up golf for journalism, and I hadn’t really kept up with Crenshaw’s career. Fat Cat, on the other hand, had followed our old friend closely—in mind and spirit, if not in golfing success—and he insisted on reviewing Crenshaw’s entire life history, stroke by stroke, while we waited for Ben to arrive.

Fat Cat loves the story about Crenshaw winning his first tournament. Ben was leading Lee Trevino by a stroke coming up to the 18th hole, and all he did under pressure was knock home a birdie putt to win by two strokes. But Fat Cat doesn’t spend much time talking about Crenshaw’s golf game. “Every day, about 30 or 40 of these starry-eyed coeds from Trinity University are out at the course wearing ‘Ben’s Bun­nies’ T-shirts that don’t exactly leave too much to your imagi­nation, and they yell and scream for him as if he’s some kind of candy-coated chunk of unadulterated sex appeal. Mean­while, he pockets a cool 25 grand, and becomes an overnight media idol.

“The next thing you know, his blond, blue-eyed all-Ameri­can mug is on the cover of Sports Illustrated and just about every single golf magazine that ever found its way into a pro shop. People want him to do commercials hyping everything from liquor to ladies’ lingerie. Tournament sponsors, tour groupies, other touring pros—everybody just gushes and drools over him and his game. He has the physical stamina of Gary Player. The mental attitude of Jack Nicklaus. The charisma of Arnold Palmer. And not only that, in the middle of Watergate America, the kid is even honest to a fault. There was that time he accidentally kicked his ball in the National Junior Amateur qualifier at Houston Country Club. No one saw his ball move but him; he could’ve kept his mouth shut, qualified for the tournament, and won the whole damn thing. But oh, no, that’s just not Ben Crenshaw. He calls a one stroke penalty on himself, and misses qualifying by just that. He loses a chance at the National Junior, but wins everybody’s heart instead. He’s a

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...