Gentle Ben's golf game has gone into hibernation. He's not sure if, or when, it might awaken.
“I'm struggling - struggling with everything,” Ben Crenshaw said yesterday, as he hit ball after ball on the practice range at Inverness Club in preparation for today's start of the U.S. Senior Open.
“I'm not putting up good scores. I haven't been confident in the way I've been hitting the ball for a while. But I've been working at it. I just haven't seen any results to get any confidence.”
Crenshaw, 51, a two-time Masters champion, is winless on the Champions Tour since joining the senior circuit last year.
His best finish this season is a tie for 20th at the Bruno's Memorial Classic in early May. He has made just $70,040 in 10 events, placing him 70th among the money leaders with the 50-and-over set. And his scoring average is an uncharacteristic 73.46.
Crenshaw had only one top-10 finish in 20 senior events a year ago. His best effort was a tie for eighth at the Kroger Classic.
“It's frustrating,” he said. “I'm at a point where I need to play more, but I can't. I won't do it. I've got three young daughters at home who I want to spend time with. I'm a late father. I can't stand being away from my family and not being able to travel with them.”
In addition to spending time with wife Julie and his three children - Katherine (15), Claire (11) and Anna (5), Crenshaw is involved in golf course design, and he has other responsibilities.
Plus he had several years in his late 40s when, as captain of the victorious 1999 Ryder Cup team, Crenshaw had his energies directed away from his own game.
“I just haven't been able to get things together,” said Crenshaw, who won 19 times on the PGA Tour. “I need to start playing better. I want to try to be competitive as long as I can. If I don't soon start seeing some results I may have to go about things in different ways.
“I think people underestimate some of these guys out here. Most of the guys out here play really well and are sharp playing mostly every week.”
Two of Crenshaw's most memorable moments came at Augusta National Golf Club, where he captured his first Masters title in 1984 by two strokes over Tom Watson. Then he won again in 1995 - his last win of any kind - one week after the death of his beloved teacher, Harvey Penick.
One of Crenshaw's most bizarre moments came in the 1986 PGA Championship at Inverness. After hitting his approach shot to the 18th green during the third round, he reacted by flipping his club up into the air.
This time, the club came down not so gently on Gentle Ben's head.
“It just looked like a little cut, but there was blood all over his shirt,” said then playing partner Don Pooley, who is the defending U.S. Senior Open champion.
Crenshaw parred the hole, then was taken to Toledo Hospital, where the wound required three stitches.
The next day, members of the Golf Writers Association of America in attendance, with the cooperation of the Mud Hens, presented Crenshaw with a personalized batting helmet with his name on the back.
He finished in a five-way tie for 11th at Inverness that year, just as he did in the 1979 U.S. Open. He tied for 61st in the 1993 PGA.
“Inverness is a marvelous place,” said Crenshaw, a noted golf historian. “It's a wonderful, complete test of golf. It's a course that you have to play with your head. Obviously you've got to play straight golf and hit the fairways to try and get yourself in position for a decent putt.”