AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He is no longer the sweet-faced kid out of Texas with the limitless future, the 20-year-old who won a PGA event his first time out of the tee box. The years of struggle, both personally and professionally, seem to be behind him as well.
A lot has changed for Ben Crenshaw since he won the Masters in 1984. A different wife. A different putter. A different attitude.
"I think I appreciate it a lot more now than I did then, and I know how much I appreciated it then," said Crenshaw, who was tied for the lead with Brian Henninger going into today's final round.
But one of the most profound events in Crenshaw's life took place last Sunday night back home in Austin. While it didn't come as a surprise, the death of Harvey Penick was still a jolt to those who knew him. And few in the golf world knew the 90-year-old teacher better than Crenshaw.
Crenshaw met him long before Penick wrote "Harvey Penick's Little Red Book," long before he wrote any of the sequels or did the instructional video that turned the former Austin Country Club pro into an international cult figure for everyone from weekend hackers to world-ranked players.
Asked Friday when Penick gave him a lesson for the first time, Crenshaw smiled.
"Actually, I was 6 1/2 or 7, really," Crenshaw said. "He put my hands on the club and my grip hasn't changed. One of his friends gave me a little blade putter and a sawed-down mashie, so those were the two clubs that I had.
'He said, 'You go off the side of the green, and you chip this ball up on the green and you putt it in the hole. That's golf. You're
playing golf. One ball.' So that's what I did for a good while. He'd be watching me always. But there were always [only] a few words."
Unlike Tom Kite, who moved to Austin a few years later and also became one of Penick's disciples, Crenshaw, 43, was considered a natural. Seeing this, Penick pretty much left him alone, giving him a few tips here and there. But he'd always end one of their talks with the same words: "Take dead aim."
"It's pretty simple, but there's a great deal of psychology in that statement," said Crenshaw. "It means a lot more. It means trust yourself."
Crenshaw said that he didn't quite appreciate Penick's advice until he was nearly a teen-ager and saw high-ranking pros of the time, from both the PGA and LPGA tours, come through Austin to see him. Crenshaw recalled that the only players whose swings Penick wouldn't touch were Mickey Wright, Don January and George Knudson.
Knudson, a Canadian with a syrupy swing, came by Austin on his way to a Texas tour stop. He wanted to have Penick take a look. It wasn't a long look.
"He hit about 10 tee balls, and George said, 'What do you think?' " Crenshaw recalled. "Harvey said, 'I think you ought to take your clubs and put them in your trunk and go on to San Antonio.' That was his lesson with George Knudson."
As Penick's stature grew to legend in his later years, so did his clientele. Crenshaw said that he once got a call from a noted golfaholic from Chicago, a basketball player of some note with a passion for the game. Not that Penick had ever heard of him.
"Helen, his wife answered the phone," said Crenshaw. She said, 'It's Michael Jordan from Chicago.' He said, 'Who?' She said, 'It's the basketball player from Chicago.' So he got on the phone. Michael said, 'Can I come see you? And what do you charge for your lesson?' Harvey said, 'I'll be happy for you to come see me. The charge is $5 and you've got to get your own balls.' "
Jordan never came, but others flocked to Austin. For lessons that weren't always about golf. They came last week when Penick, who died of natural causes after never fully recovering from pneumonia this winter, was buried. Crenshaw and his wife, Julie, heard the news during dinner in the clubhouse at Augusta National Sunday night.
The call, which came from Kite, was nearly expected.
"We dreaded this day for a long time," said Crenshaw, who along with Kite served as pallbearers at Wednesday's funeral. "But he was in pain for the last 10 years. I don't know how he made it as long as he did. It has been emotional. You're losing someone you owe your life to. Whatever Tom and I have accomplished, we owe it to to him."
Kite, a former U.S. Open champion who missed the cut here, is the game's all-time money winner, with more than $9 million in earnings to go along with 19 victories. Crenshaw has won 18 times, and his $6.2 million in earnings ranks ninth all-time. His only major championship came here, with his 60-foot putt on the 10th hole Sunday remaining one of the most memorable shots in Masters history.
Crenshaw has had some chances since, but a closing-round 74 in 1987 left him one shot out of a three-way sudden-death playoff won by Larry Mize. He finished fourth again the next year, three shots behind Sandy Lyle. He finished tied for third in 1991, two shots back of Ian Woosnam. He came into yesterday's round two shots behind second-round leader Jay Haas.
"I didn't really have a lot of indication of what to expect this week," said Crenshaw, who has missed the cut in three of his last four events after top-five finishes in his first two tournaments this year. "I came here Sunday and played Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The practice sessions got better.
"No one needs keying up to play here. I just simply started playing better. I needed to see some things happen with my putter. As Harvey always said, there's nothing that can boost your confident like holing a couple of putts. So I'm hopeful that will continue. But I'm working very hard on my rhythm and my swing."
It was a swing that Penick left virtually untouched since the first time he gave little Ben -- the player, not the putter -- his first lesson. The last lesson came two weeks ago today, in the living room of Penick's home. It was a putting lesson. "Right on the carpet," Crenshaw said.
A funny thing happened when Crenshaw left. Penick stuck out his hand to say good-bye, but for the first time since Crenshaw could remember, he didn't offer his usual parting words. "For some reason, he didn't say, 'Take dead aim,' " said Crenshaw. "Maybe he figured I knew it by now."