Scholar of Golf

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Ben Crenshaw has been one of golf’s most popular players almost from the time he turned professional in 1973. Since then, he has won 14 tournaments, including the Masters, earning more than $4.4 million in prize money and a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable students of golf’s history and lore. In a recent interview, Crenshaw discussed the joys and the problems of the game:

Q : It is difficult for amateurs to relate to you and your peers, making marvellous shots on courses they can only dream of playing.

Crenshaw: In fact, the courses we play and the new courses now being built are part of the problem. There is too much emphasis on power, on high, soft shots that pros hit. The game is now played in the air, and that makes the new courses inaccessible to the average player. You only have to go to any of the great old courses in the United States or Scotland to see that the game is also supposed to be played on the ground. Excessive use of water in course design, especially around the greens, is largely to blame. The rolling approach shot is taken away from the average player. Designers of the old courses took the natural land available and made courses that every player could enjoy, not just the pros.

Q: And aren’t the new courses expensive to maintain?

Crenshaw: Yes. Any of the new, modern courses require millions of gallons of water to sustain. That can’t continue. What watering the great old courses in Scotland and the fine courses in Australia receive is through rainfall. Conserving water is one of the keys to the future, and courses have to be designed with that in mind.

Q: How do you describe the game?

Crenshaw: Sometimes, as an exercise in futility. So many things can go wrong, for a handful of reasons. The great Jimmy Demaret once told me that golf is about saving shots. You go out and try to save one shot a day. During a tournament, that’s four shots.

Q: Why do people become hooked on golf?

Crenshaw: There is no greater mental exercise. You have two main opponents: you play against yourself but you play against the natural elements, too.

Q: What is it that has made you known throughout the world as one of the game’s best-ever putters?

Crenshaw: I really don’t know. But I do think that the pace of the putt is the key. Everyone can read a putt, to a certain degree. But if the pace is wrong, then it doesn’t matter how well you read it. I simply concentrate on how fast I want the ball to roll.

Q: What is the feeling when you’ve hit that perfect shot?

Crenshaw: That is one of the attractions of golf. Everybody who has ever played the game usually has one shot a day that they hit and they say, `God, that’s what a really fine shot feels like.’ That’s what keeps them coming back. My feeling about a certain shot that I play is really no different than anybody else feels.

Q: You just have a lot more of them.

Crenshaw: That’s because we play so much more. But the feeling and the emotion is the same. It’s that feeling of elation, making a stationary object go and do what you want it to do. Our emotions aren’t much different than anybody else playing. We’re just playing on a different level.

Q: Is golf accessible enough to the average person?

Crenshaw: No. Right now, the emphasis is on private golf courses, and I think that public facilities really ought to be presented and upgraded much, much more. Take St. Andrew’s in Scotland, a public golf course. It can happen. Cities around North America can set aside nice tracts of land and have somebody come in and really do a fine golf course. And the need for it is there.

Q: Do you agree that golf shouldn’t be a six-hour game?

Crenshaw: That’s right. I’m not against carts in a huge way, but people should discover golf when they walk. You also play so much better when you walk. You play two shots better at least every day when you walk.

Q: Really?

Crenshaw: Absolutely. I’m not kidding you. You have more time to think about it.

Q: You may start a whole revolution with that line.

Crenshaw: I’m telling you, you play better when you walk. You really do.

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