A Feel for the Game: A Master's Memoirby Ben Crenshaw
With two Masters Championships, nineteen career PGA victories, three NCAA Championships, and millions in earnings, Ben Crenshaw is without question one of the most successful golfers of the century. But Crenshaw's claim to fame goes beyond his individual performances. As captain of the 1999 Ryder Cup team, Crenshaw confronted the largest deficit in tournament history–and the skepticism of commentators who suggested that he was the wrong man to manage the team in today's dog-eat-dog, mindgame world of match-play golf. Twenty-four hours later, Crenshaw proved all the critics wrong. In a hard-fought competition that kept viewers glued to their televisions, he brilliantly motivated a team of diverse personalities and, in the most thrilling match in Ryder Cup history, brought the Cup back to American soil. And he did it his way–with grace, honor, dedication, and an encyclopedic knowledge of how the game should be played.
A Feel for the Game is Crenshaw's warm tribute to golf and its traditions. He describes his early years learning the game from famed golf guru Harvey Penick, and takes readers through his career as an outstanding amateur to his glorious years on the PGA Tour, culminating in the climactic Ryder Cup victory. He introduces the players and teachers who have inspired him, from Penick and Bobby Jones to Jackie Burke, Tom Kite, and Payne Stewart. His reminiscences, his fascinating glimpses into golf history, and his unparalleled understanding of the nuances of play make this an engaging personal portrait of a man and a game that were made for each other.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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1. AUSTIN ROOTS
best austin traditions: Cisco's Bakery for breakfast; The Hoffbrau Dirty Martin's; Lion's Municipal Golf Course; Barton Springs; UT Football; Bert's Barbeque; Jake's (sadly, no more); Butler Park Pitch & Putt . When you're a kid, what do you need? A swimming pool. A backstop for baseball. A field big enough to get a football game going. A dirt road to ride bikes down. A front yard with trees laid out perfectly to serve as bases for the baseball game always underway. A mulberry tree whose branches provided the perfect escape for two brothers on a lazy Texas afternoon.
My brother Charlie and I used to climb that tree in our backyard at the end of the day and eat mulberries 'til our fingers turned purple. There was something wonderful about the taste, which changed with the seasons, and we always enjoyed the underlying certainty that one of us would get so carried away we'd pop one into our mouth before inspecting it for worms. It made for a lot of laughs and stomachaches during those years.
When you're six or seven there's no end to the fun you can have on a tree-lined Leave It To Beaver street like the one we grew up on in the Tarrytown area of West Austin. Rows of well-kept homes, trimmed hedges, and immaculate yards lined Bridle Path, where we lived in a cozy two-story home. The sprawling oaks in everyone's yard provided shade on a hot afternoon, and we even had a vacant lot nearby, the perfect place to build two forts about fifty yards apart and have all-world dirt-clod wars with your best friends. I can still feel the sting of those clods. Texas dirt has so much clay in it that dirtballs make unbelievable missiles.
There was nothing we didn't have back then, when kids didn't have a care in the world. All around us, everywhere we looked, there was something to do, something to keep us interested and challenged and, in my parents view I suppose, occupied. Our neighborhood was filled with warmth, love, and fun. And, at our house, some kind of brotherly competition.
Charlie was just fifteen months older than me, so we grew up competing in everything. We shared a bedroom and a never-ending supply of teammates and friends, but he always seemed to be a head taller and a stride faster than me. So everything I got I had to earn. Like that old catcher's mitt.
I must have been six when I decided that my future was behind the plate. My dad had been a star catcher at Baylor, and Charlie was already one of the best Little League pitchers for his age in West Austin. So when I saw the perfect catche's mitt in a catalog, I was convinced that the "hole" or pocket in the glove would catch the ball by itself. I was just eaten up with the thought of that mitt and kept pestering my dad for it, crawling up in his lap every night to show him a picture of it. He would always nod, but never say yes.
This went on for maybe two whole years until, one day, dad said if I could learn to catch Charlie, he'd get me that mitt. I begged Charlie unmercifully for three weeks--every day after school--until he gave in. Then, well, we wore out the lawn.
We found a perfect area, marked off the distance between the mound and home plate, and laid down towels that pretty well killed all the grass underneath and left us with the start of our front-yard diamond. Then Charlie started firing at me.
He threw balls at me into the dirt, over my head--anything but a strike. He had to make it tough on me and that little bitty glove I had that couldn't catch a thing--that's just what a big brother does to irritate you and leave a few bruises while he's at it.
After a few months I started catching him, so I called dad over one night when he came home. Charlie made it tough, but I caught every pitch he threw. And Dad? He went down to Rooster Andrews Sporting Goods and bought my mitt. Over the years we tore up the lawn in the front yard with all of our games. No hedge or flower was ever safe from us; there wasn't a sport that couldn't be played under those trees. We'd customize the field, using trees for bases, which turned dangerous the day Andy Loudermilk, one of our neighbors, was rounding third and knocked himself flat at the third-base tree.
We had only one television channel in those days--TBC--so we made our own fun. If we weren't in the yard or on the street, we'd head over to West Enfield Park two blocks away to swim or play a pickup game with older guys like Chicago Cubs manager and longtime major leaguer Don Baylor, who started at center field for Austin High at the same time Charlie was a starter in right. Don used to hit rockets when we were kids, and we'd just stand there and ask him to hit it far. He would and we'd stand there duly amazed.
We moved into that house when I was four and it still looks the same. Oh, the trees are bigger and those bald spots in the lawn are all filled in, but the neighborhood--I live only a few blocks away--is still a kid's paradise. And the dads? Like mine, they coach.
My father Charlie was the perfect blend of discipline and tenderness. One day he'd be wearing me out about something I hadn't done; the next he was throwing that big old arm of his around my shoulder. Born and raised in Alabama, he looked so much like his old college suitemate and Sigma Nu fraternity brother Bear Bryant that people had trouble telling them apart. Especially since Dad used to play up the resemblance by wearing one of Bear's signature houndstooth hats. And, when people asked what kind of a team he'd have next year at 'Bama, he never passed up a chance to tell them everything they wanted to know.
Dad spent only one year at 'Bama before transferring to Baylor, where his younger brother Allen was in pre-med. I don't know what possessed him to stay in Texas after graduation, but I do know what kept him here--my mother, Pearl Vail Johnson. He was practicing law in Houston when he met my mother, who had graduated from the University of Houston and was teaching elementary school. They were living in the same boardinghouse in the Montrose area and everyone in the house kept trying to fix them up. They resisted for a while, but once they got together, it wasn' long before they fell in love and were married--at that same boardinghouse. Mom, a fine piano player, played at her own wedding.
Not long after they married, my dad was offered a job at the attorney general's office in Austin, and the Crenshaw roots in the capital city were permanently established. He served Governor Price Daniel, whose brother Bill had roomed with Dad in law school, and they became so close that when I was born, they named me Ben Daniel Crenshaw. Yes, after the governor.
My mother taught school in Austin while Dad represented a lot of companies, including 3M, in front of the state legislature, but his passions were golf and baseball. He loved baseball and coached Charlie and me when we were growing up. And it didn't stop there. When Charlie played baseball at Texas, Dad was always in the stands, usually picking up a few tips while sitting with legendary UT baseball coach Bibb Falk.
Dad had a great way of making a point. When I was about eight I wanted a new rod and reel, so Dad used that to improve my batting stance. I had a habit of "stepping in the bucket," especially against older pitchers I feared, and Dad was going to break me of it. He said, "Until you step towards that pitcher with your left foot, you're not getting that rod and reel." One day I stepped forward and got a really good base hit--and that rod and reel. That was his way. He would make us work hard and do something he wanted us to do so he could tell that we were learning. Then we would get a reward.
And, he was so kind to everyone. He made the whole team feel ten feet tall--no matter who was the star that day. He touched so many lives, and many guys I played sports with have gone on to coach Little League and soccer and kickball themselves--even me.
One thing that really touched me was, about three months before Dad died, he was carrying a little letter around in his pocket that Jerry Bell, a Houston attorney who had played on our Little League team, had written him. It was a beautiful, sweet little letter remembering the years in West Austin Little League and telling Dad that, as he coached his daughter and her softball team, all he could think about was wanting to coach like Dad. It made Dad very proud.
Dad loved everything about baseball and so did Charlie and I. So you can imagine how excited we were when Dad decided to take us to St. Louis on the train to see a Cardinals-Cubs game at old Busch Stadium. Dad had a friend from law school who knew Stan Musial and he arranged it so we could meet him. We got to meet Ernie Banks, too, and shake their hands and eat at Biggie's--Stan Musial's restaurant just outside the stadium. Imagine that as kids. We thought we were in heaven for those five days.
The whole trip back, Charlie and I dressed up in our "good" clothes because that's the way you traveled back then--ran all over the train. We wore Dad out. I think he was glad to get us back home.
Honestly though, while growing up we were surrounded by an unbelievable cast of characters. We played baseball and football with the sons of governors, politicians, and coaching legends.
I remember in 1963, Mark Connally, the son of Texas governor John Connally, was in school with us. President Kennedy was supposed to fly to Austin later that day and we were going to get out of school early. Just after lunch two state troopers came to school and took Mark and Scotty Sayers, now my agent and business manager, out of school. Scotty's dad worked for the governor at the time and we didn't know what to make of it. When school got out we learned that President Kennedy had died in Dallas and that Mark's father had been wounded.
We lived and died with the University of Texas Longhorns because we knew football coach Darrell Royal and his staff. We were touched by many great events and people, which is just the way it is when you're raised in the state capital and in the shadow of one of the finest universities in the country. But often it was years before we knew the stories behind some of the faces.
One night Dad brought home this short, balding man and called us away from one of our front-yard games. "Boys," he said, "I want you to meet D. X. Bible." Charlie and I didn't know who he was, but he handed us a brand new J5V1 football with The University of Texas written on it. He told us he wanted us to take that ball and scuff the heck out of it. We did.
Bible had a sweet spot and came back a few other times, each time bringing us a new ball, but it wasn't until later that I found out he was one of the most legendary and prominent coaches UT ever had. To me and Charlie, he was the guy with the footballs.
And there was Wilmer Allison, a 1930s tennis star, two-time U.S. Open doubles champ with John Van Ryn, and former UT coach, who was another of Dad's friends. Colonel Allison had a group that always met at four in the afternoon for their putting match at old Austin Country Club. Without fail, Mr. Allison would show up with his old Ben Hogan putter in one hand and his glass "lemonade" in the other. I used to laugh about how much he liked those lemonades, which I later learned were laced with vodka.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
Ben Crenshaw began playing golf at the age of six and after twenty-seven years on the PGA is one of the most beloved figures in sports. He lives in Austin, Texas.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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