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My father, Tom, Sr., had a career in the civil servicewith the IRS, and in 1973 the agency transferred himfrom its office in Dallas to Austin. It would take a bookto describe what that move meant to me. This is that book.
A writer in Jacksonville, Florida, Chris Smith, was the one who made me recall those days. He was doing asurvey of players on the tour, asking each of us aboutthe best break we ever had in golf. Fred Couples picked that famous shot in 1992, the year he won the Masters,when his ball just hung miraculously up there on the slope at Number 12 in Augusta without rolling back intothe creek. A Kodak moment. A magic minute. I knew this is what writers want. And I couldn't come up with a comparable experience.
I thought hard about it that night, and the next day I found Chris and told him. My best break was my dad being transferred to Austin when I was thirteen years old. The reason is, I came into contact with Harvey Penickand with Ben Crenshaw, whom he was coaching at the time. In my wildest dreams, I couldn't have hoped for a finer teacher. Nor could I have found a stronger competitor — or better friend — than Ben Crenshaw.
If you're trying to become a good player, that is about as good as it gets. Falling into that nest was pure luck, and from that time on fate took its course.
Fate's course happened to include the Austin Country Club, at the center of the Texas pipeline. Virtually every Texas golfer who went on the tour passed through Austin. Manyothers lived and grew up there, and mostsought out Harvey Penick to draw on the knowledge heshared so fully. Dave Marr, Davis Love III, Terry Dill, Don Massengale, Billy Maxwell, Betsy Rawls, Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright, Ben Crenshaw, me... the list goes on and on.
By the time he was eight, Ben had been identified as a child prodigy in Austin golfing circles. You could seeeven then what a fine athlete he was. Mr. Penick worriedabout losing him to baseball, as he had Ben's olderbrother, Charlie, Jr. Charlie gave up golf to play theoutfield on a fine University of Texas team that went to the College World Series three times. One of his teammates was Burt Hooton, who made it to the majors andpitched for the Dodgers in three World Series.
But Ben stuck with golf. We both had dads who cut down clubs for us when we were just out of the toddler stage. Mr. Crenshaw had cut down a 7-iron for Benand sent him to Mr. Penick. The story of their first lesson became a bit inflated over the years, as golf stories sometimes do. Mr. Penick was amused when Jim Trinkle, a respected Fort Worth writer, embellished the tale in print: "He said I pointed Ben toward the green and told him to hit it out there. He did, about a hundred yards. Then I said, 'Let's go putt it in.' And Trinkle had Ben saying, 'Why didn't you tell me that in the firstplace?' "