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If ever anyone should have had an easy road in golf, it was Ben
Crenshaw. He was born with transcendent talent, guided from
boyhood by a master teacher and blessed with a warm, humble
manner, a handsome face and a sharp mind. And he wielded, with
perhaps the smoothest putting stroke ever, his own version of
Wonderboy -- Little Ben. The game simply had to be good to Ben

But competitive golf is never easy, and with Crenshaw's tal ent
came massive expectations. When he finally encountered failure,
the shock led him to question the gifts his teacher, Harvey
Penick, had implored him to trust. Somehow, much too quickly,
Crenshaw's road turned rough. When he won, it was because he was
supposed to. When he lost, he disappointed destiny. Crenshaw found
out how heartless the game can be.

His inspirational triumph two weeks ago at the Masters gives the
43-year-old an honorable total of 19 PGA Tour victories,
including two major championships, but Crenshaw was supposed to be
better than that. A legend as a junior golfer in Austin, Crenshaw
went to the University of Texas, where he won three consecutive
NCAA individual titles, then went straight to a 12- stroke win
over the field in his first Tour qualifying school and to victory
in his first tournament as a professional, the 1973 San
Antonio-Texas Open. The next Nicklaus? Crenshaw would be even

For some haunting reason he never fulfilled that promise. Perhaps
Crenshaw's road changed at the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah, where,
tied for the lead on the 71st hole, he mishit a two-iron into the
water and double- bogeyed. At the Masters in 1977 he was tied for
the lead after three rounds and shot 76. At the 1979 British Open,
again tied for the lead on the 71st tee, he made another double
bogey. Two weeks later at the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills,
Crenshaw watched David Graham hole putts of 25 and 15 feet to stay
alive on the first two holes of their playoff and was beaten on
the third.

Crenshaw's early aura was such a vague memory when he won the
1984 Masters that even then the victory was seen as the crowning
achievement of a fitful career. The next year he contracted a
near career-ending case of Graves' disease, and by the time he
had overcome it two years later, he was a gaunt, less powerful
player. At Augusta in 1987 Crenshaw led on the back nine but
bogeyed the 71st hole to miss a playoff by a stroke, and in '89
he bogeyed the 72nd to miss yet another. In the '87 Ryder Cup he
lost a crucial singles match to Eamonn Darcy on the final hole
after holding a one-up lead with two to play. Despite all the
putts he holed, Crenshaw came to be regarded as a tragic golfer,
an opinion supported by his 0-8 record in playoffs.

But Crenshaw endured. He kept his pain private and never became
bitter. ``I really do feel in my heart [that] in high school and
college I played my best golf,'' he said in 1993. ``I don't know
why. Maybe I didn't think. I just did. . . . But it doesn't bother
me anymore that I didn't turn out to be whatever.''

What Crenshaw did turn out to be was a giver. His victories have
always been for his friends, and his losses occasions for
regretting how much he let them down. When Crenshaw's boyhood
rival, Tom Kite, won the 1992 U.S. Open, it was the eloquent
letter Crenshaw wrote him that moved Kite most. When, at the
behest of the players, the Masters stopped requiring that
competitors use caddies from the Augusta National's all-black
staff in 1983, Crenshaw bucked the trend and kept Carl Jackson,
the same caddie he tearfully embraced on the 72nd green this year.
The courses he designs are agronomic paeans to classical
architecture. His public assessments of the game and its players
are informed, measured and edifying. Though Crenshaw can castigate
himself mercilessly on the course, he is a man of grace and

While Crenshaw would be embarrassed by the comparison, he has
followed the model of his idol, Bob Jones, of whom Herbert Warren
Wind once wrote: ``As a young man he was able to stand up to just
about the best that life can offer, which isn't easy, and later he
stood up with equal grace to just about the worst.''

This year at Augusta, Crenshaw gave again. By trusting himself to
play with passion and instinct, and by closing out victory with
the courage to take dead aim, Crenshaw offered the most compelling
gift possible to the memory of Harvey Penick. And when it was over
and he wept, it was because the heartless game had never been so
good to him.

COLOR PHOTO:JOHN IACONO [headshot of Ben Crenshaw]