Ben Crenshaw was to have been golf's Golden Boy of the 1970s, a sure-fire superstar who would slip on the game's royal vestures as surely as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus had.
Until last week's Masters tournament, however, the well-mannered Crenshaw kept lagging up on greatness. Then finally, after 12 years on the pro tour, he rammed home the biggest victory of his career at the most appropriate site, Georgia's Augusta National Golf Club.
The course, designed by the legendary Bobby Jones, is home to the Masters, and thus occupies a major place in golf history, of which Crenshaw is an avid student. With an 11-under-par total of 277, he carved out his own niche there with a crowd-pleasing, two-stroke victory over Tom Watson that left TV announcer Pat Summerall choking with emotion.
It was another Tom - Tom Kite - who nipped at Ben's heels during much of the final round. During the early 1970s, Crenshaw and Kite had been teammates at the University of Texas, where Ben won two outright college championships and shared the '72 crown with Kite.
While still a heralded amateur, he outshot playing partners Palmer and Nicklaus in the first two rounds of the '73 Masters. Later that year he turned pro, won his first tournament (the San Antonio-Texas Open) and finished second at the World Open the very next week.
The tour wasn't quite the snap it appeared, however, and he waited three years before winning again. His three victories in 1976 still are a career high. After finishing second on that year's prize money list, he became a fixture near the top, but not the dominant player some predicted he'd be.
In 1982 he slumped badly, dropping to 83rd on the tour, but rebounded last year, when he finished seventh and was co-runnerup with Kite in the Masters. At the 1979 PGA Championship, he had come even closer than that to winning a major, only to lose to David Graham in a playoff, one of five he's lost.
Some observers have joked that the 5 ft. 9 in. native of Austin, Texas, has never met a putter he didn't like. On Sunday, his deft putting touch was easily visible, as he curled in 60-footer on the 10th hole to open up a comfortable lead, bagged a 15-footer at the 12th, and basically locked things up with a tremendous lag putt down a long, steep incline on the l6th.
Toward better basketball finishes
The last minutes of many college basketball games are problematic. With no shot clock, a team playing catchup must foul to stop play and force rebound opportunities. This disrupts the game's flow and causes a boring parade to the foul line.
Seeking to cut Georgetown's lead in this year's NCAA championship game, Houston repeatedly fouled the Hoyas in the waning moments. Because Georgetown made most of its free throws, the strategy didn't bring the desired result, but it did make for a long and tedious finish.
If this ''foul for profit'' approach had worked, of course, there may have been howls of protest about rules that seem to encourage, even reward, fouling. That, in fact, is exactly what happened the previous season, when North Carolina State milked the one-and-one situation for all it was worth en route to the NCAA title. In the final, the Wolfpack elevated strategic fouling to an art form in a come-from-behind victory over Houston, a notoriously weak free throw-shooting team.
That helped convince the NCAA to change the rules governing the last two minutes, dumping the bonus situation, and going to two-shot fouls. This unburdened referees of having to distinguish between common and intentional, two-shot fouls, and placed a steeper penalty on fouling generally.
The rule underwent no experimentation and proved so unpopular that it was scrapped halfway through the past season. Instead of discouraging excessive fouling, the rule only paved the way to a form of abuse in which teams fouled the opposition's worst shooter. He became fair game regardless of whether he had the ball or not, leading to overly physical play.
The college game still must do something to prevent the sleep-inducing free throw processions, yet be fair to both teams. The answer seems to lie in a shot clock, which would give the team that's ahead a reasonable chance to sit on its lead without using an all-out stall. The NCAA intends to go to a 45-second clock, but has put off its adoption another year until details can be worked out.
Some advocate turning off the shot clock in the last minutes of play; others prefer utilizing it throughout. Only in the latter case, of course, would the clock help alter foul-happy finishes, and perhaps not very noticeably with 45 seconds in which to hold the ball. A 35-second clock would be considerably more effective, yet coaches prefer taking a conservative approach.
They are reluctant to legislate away their ability to protect late-game leads. For that reason, strategic fouling is a concern, one some feel can be controlled by giving the team that's ahead an option in the last two minutes. It could either shoot the one-and-one or elect to retain possession.