Ben Crane: Inside the Mind of a PGA Tour Winner

Ben Crane did just enough to win his fifth PGA Tour victory, the 2014 FedEx St.Jude Classic at the TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee. Just enough. He began the fourth round at 13-under with a 3-shot lead over Troy Merritt. Crane shot 3-over, Merritt shot 1-over and those further behind were unable to close the gap. Crane -10, Merritt -9, checkmate Crane.

There were some very nice rounds in the face of the pressure the last group was feeling. Webb Simpson shot 4-under to get to 8-under and T3. Ian Poulter shot 6-under to get to 7-under and T6. James Hahn shot 3-under to also get to 7-under with Poulter. And further down the board, Ben Martin shot 5-under to get to 5-under and T13 with due credit for fattening his check substantially ($82,167 more than having shot even par).

But it was Ben Crane who put on yet another show for us with his stream-of-consciousness comments in his post-victory media session. Here’s the context for all of this: 

  • He was a solid player whose last win came in the 2011 The McGladrey Classic
  • He developed debilitating, chronic back problems that finally came to a head when he withdrew from the first round of the Playoffs after a first-round 67
  • He wondered if he was ever going to be able to play again. Stated another way, he came face to face with his golf mortality
  • He decided that his faith in God was preeminent and that if this was God’s intention, he was at peace with a life outside of professional golf
  • He fundamentally changed his golf swing to alleviate back stress, but it literally reversed everything he “knew” about where the ball was going
  • No one was more surprised than he was when he shot a first-round 63 to take a 1-shot lead. He knew it was coming, he just didn’t know that it was going to be today

So keep in mind that with all of that going on in the background, the adrenaline was still pumping.

“This has been a really tough year and I know you guys know about the changes and stuff I made in my game but it’s really — really came out of life issues of okay, I mean I had to finally become okay with golf not being in the picture; just felt like things were going in that direction and so I just got to the place where I just said, ‘Lord, if it’s not golf, I will love You.  But if it is, that would be really fun, but I know You’ll provide something else that will be just as meaningful.'”

“So, I love the game but the game is hard and sometimes the harder you try the harder the game gets.”

“But I just really simplified everything at Byron Nelson week and just got a little momentum going, finished 37th place but that felt like just a huge lift to me [after a slew of missed cuts and high finishes] and then I went to the U.S. Open qualifier after two weeks off.”

“I didn’t get in The Colonial which is like one of my favorite tournaments and so that was a bummer.  I went to the qualifier after two weeks off and I played terrible.  It was a wake-up call.”

“I really buckled down and did a lot of imagery work in my head, talked to my mental coach and really tried to get ready for Thursday here and I did not expect the hole to open up like that, start making putts from everywhere.  Just hit a lot of quality shots and obviously built a nice lead to start out with.”

“[At which point he started to come out of it.] Sorry I got wordy.”

This next passage is very interesting because with his afternoon very fresh in his mind, he recited what he was seeing in his mind’s eye as the day unfolded:

“Yeah.  I mean I had every thought going through my head.  I had the thought of hey, let’s try to build this lead, hey, let’s just try to hang on to this lead.  You have every thought.”

“But it’s like at the end of the day, it’s like all you can do is just buckle down on this shot and do your best and then that’s it.  I tried — one of the things I try do after every shot was imagine had I hit the previous shot perfectly what it would have felt like.  That’s something my mental coach taught me because it really affects the rest of the day, how you feel, stuff.”

“I really tried to do a lot of, okay, I know that shot went over there, but had I hit it perfect it probably would have felt like this.  The last thing that goes across your mind is really a positive thing.  That really helped me hang on to the lead.”

This idea of calling up kinesthetic memories to supplant feelings from messy shots is a powerful tool for staying on track because — everybody!! — the mind is a powerful thing. In the same way that it can concoct affecting dreams that can seem all too real, it can recreate the stored feel of a good shot without actually having to hit it. And that then becomes the takeaway.

And then reality intruded in the media session again:

“I have a couple text messages on my phone here.  Are you kidding me?  Oh, my gosh, this keeps going.  How many can a phone hold?  That’s so fun right there.  Okay.  Anyway.”

And then his attention was drawn back to what was going on in his mind as he made the turn to the back nine and how he managed that. Keep in mind that this is a seasoned, four-time winner on the PGA Tour with all of this stuff blazing through his mind:

“I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard all day.  I never knew the scores other people were at.  Twice the leaderboard caught my eye, I saw my name at the top.”

“So — but I didn’t know if that was — if they were 1 behind, 3 behind.  I didn’t even know after two rounds, I had no idea where I stood.  I just knew I was leading.”

“I knew Phil Mickelson was out there.  Phil is a good friend and, you know, he kind of gave me that, ‘I’m coming after you,’ you know, and so, yeah, it’s hard playing with the lead.”

“I barely slept last night.  I think I probably got I mean 150 minutes of sleep last night.  I mean just so nervous, so excited, so thrilled that my game has come around and, you know, short period of time like this and couldn’t sleep so I did a lot of praying, lot of thanking God for some fun couple days.”

The overarching concept of this thanking of God is to live life in gratitude and that whatever is going on in your life is God’s hand whether it be the very summit of your wants and desires or those troughs in life that teach us valuable lessons we need to know.

In Crane’s case, he shared the troughs of his recent golf ordeals in describing how much his caddie, an old college friend at Oregon, meant to him:

“Very important.  He’s unbelievable.  I wouldn’t be here without him.  He believed in me when I certainly didn’t believe in myself.  Many times I just felt like cashing it in, calling it a year.”

“He stayed so positive through it all.  So, I mean thousands of — just never anything negative, always positive.  I mean what’s that worth?”

So with this newly-minted fifth victory, how does he see his future unfolding?

“I’ll say this:  A lot of people win tournaments and expectations go up and lot of people win Major Championships. And I pay attention and things get a lot harder.  Sometimes in rare situations it really propels them.”

“So, I really — I wrote down six things at 1:00 in the morning saying if I win today I want to stay true to these things. And because it is — you forget how hard it is.  You forget how much practice went in.  You start to think you deserve things sometimes.”

“And I’ll pull up my notes…if people will stop texting me I could get to them (laughter).”

“Just to continue to work on things mentally, to stay thankful, to continue to do a lot of mental reps, they’re more important for me than physical reps.”

“Everyone has their battles.  My battle is letting my mind relax and obviously [famously] comes out in pace of play and, so, that’s something that I need to continue to work on.

“So, anyway, I just — this win is different, different for me.  I want to treat it differently and I really want to enjoy it.  I don’t want to act like there’s five more behind it.  I want to celebrate it with my friends and my wife and my kids.”

And with his mention of his friends and wife and his kids he got a little closer to being back in the world and away from the bubble he had secluded himself in. It was very generous of him to vicariously take us along for the ride.

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One Response to Ben Crane: Inside the Mind of a PGA Tour Winner

  1. Guy Ruthmansdorfer says:

    Just wondering if you ever think about the fact that golfers spend endless amounts of time on the range working on the their swing and mechanics but usually when you see some great improvements it usually comes because they have made a mental adjustment. Ben Crane finally realized that golf was not that big a deal in his life and found peace and then found his golf game again. Paula Creamer is another great example of once she found her soulmate and got married she found peace and thus her golf game. I was always a pretty good golfer but recently the last 2-3 years playing golf with my now 11 year old twins I have really started to play consistently much better breaking par more then ever. Golf mirrors life in many ways but the biggest way is that the harder you try the harder you make it. Sounds like a great article to me. What does peace of mind mean to your life and your golfing.