Ben Crane: A retrospective look at the frazzled mind of a champion

One of the things I really like about reading the player transcripts at tournaments is that they tend to be much more personal, much more intimate than the two and a half minute “standup” just outside of scoring. The whole scoring area is set up for running the players through the gauntlet, ending with them standing in front a draped background blazoned with the tournament logos.

Because it’s one question thrown from the gaggle at a time, there’s not real relatedness established between the player and his inquisitor. The questions are invariably a one-shot attempt to encapsulate why the player did this or did that. And everybody knows that the clock is ticking.

In the media center, everybody is in a seat, the player on the dais with the Tour moderator. Everybody knows that it can go as long as fifteen or twenty minutes; nobody’s trying to cleanly compartmentalize the conversation. And because of that, it’s more of a conversation. And because of that, sometimes when a player relaxes and just falls into the moment, he will just go off with a stream of consciousness that remembers moments from the past and then talks about them like two guys sitting on the back deck drinking a couple of beers at sunset.  

That’s what happened to Defending Champion, Ben Crane in the media center at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis. It was made all the more poignant because he’s not had much of a run since that victory. He’s been hurt, a problem with his hip that his doctor insisted could be fixed with physical therapy instead of an operation. Turned out he was right and Crane is now healthy and ready to go.

But because the past year has been so tough, his victory in Memphis shines very bright in his mind. That’s when the good stuff flows:

Yeah, it certainly is great to be back and see a lot of friends and remember a lot of great shots.  When you win, you hold on to those memories, a lot of those memories on Sunday of critical shots you made, things that my caddie and I were talking about, friends that were walking with us, certainly a lot of people that work here at the tournament we celebrated with.

And it was just very special to win in our home state and then to have the connection with St. Jude like we do and the privilege it is that we have to go and be with the kids and be able to be a little boost of encouragement to them, and what they end up doing is encouraging us because the joy that they have in the midst of facing so many life‑threatening illnesses and just their perseverance and character and joy in the midst of that is something that is amazing to see. It’s just great to be back.

He got into the details of the physical problems that have led to his dismal season this year: 15 tournaments, 6 cuts made and just $154,000 in winnings.

I’ve had — a few months after I left here, my right hip started bugging me, and I really thought I was going to have surgery on my labrum, and I was going to be out for six months to a year with that.  But I had a great doctor actually in Nashville, Dr.Byrd, who just kept not operating on my hip, and I kept going in there going, hey, I really think we need to do something.  He just kept getting it a little bit, a little bit better with a lot of physical therapy, and now my hip is healthy.  That’s just — I’ve probably only had a healthy hip maybe the last three to four weeks.

I’ve been playing because I haven’t been hurting my hip, but I also haven’t had a lot of expectations.  It’s a year where I’m obviously exempt because of the win last year, so you know, we decided we’d continue to play through it, but now I’m just starting to feel healthy again.  It’s been really frustrating on the swing side because I’ve been working so much on my golf swing, I haven’t spent as much time on the short game.

I was in a similar place last year where I just came in with really kind of being defeated a little bit and discouraged and wondering if I was going to be able to get it back and persevere with a lot of hard work.  It certainly came a lot quicker.  I felt like we were making baby steps, but I jumped out to a big lead after the first couple rounds [63, 65].

And it’s really hard not to think about winning when you haven’t won in a while, you haven’t been playing well, and you obviously want to capitalize on the situation.  But the way it went last year, every time we had a weather delay, every time we went back out, every single time I either made a 30‑footer or a 20‑footer or I chipped in.  It was just my week. It’s pretty cool to just remember that.

In then he talked about a wild Saturday night where he wasn’t able to sleep, he called his wife a couple of times through the night and she straightened him out. God bless the women who love us:

I had a pretty — I think I told you guys, but my wife gave me an encouraging message on Sunday morning.  I couldn’t sleep at all Saturday night, I was so nervous about leading the tournament and wanting to go out and finish it off.  I had 30 holes to play and couldn’t hardly sleep.  Woke up at maybe — I was up at about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and I called my wife, and I’m like, look, your turn to pray, I’m done.  I’m tapped out.  I’m like, maybe if you start praying I’ll be able to go to sleep.

I was able to get just a couple hours of sleep, but I woke up just discouraged.  I was like, this is no way to lead a golf tournament.

So I called my wife, and I’m like, wow, man, I slept for two hours, maybe three, whatever.  She’s like, don’t you get it, you’ve been so faithful, you’ve encouraged so many of your friends, and you’ve just gone through this rough season, I think you’ve gone through it really well, and you’ve continued to love other people, and she was really like — just gave me a dose of encouragement.  She’s like, now it’s your turn.  I really think today it’s your turn.

I’m like, wow, my wife doesn’t normally talk that freely like that, and I was like, okay.  And I was like — and I walked out, it’s 5:00 in the morning, maybe 4:30 in the morning and I’m staying with Chesson Hadley and Cameron Tringale and Joel my caddie is there, and another couple friends, and I walk out, and I’m like, Glory to God, and I was just like yelling, like I was so excited.  Just my mindset completely shifted after she did that.

That was just a dose of encouragement I needed to go out and just grind away on Sunday.

You know, just a lot of little things that I remember like that that are just super encouraging.

One of the things he didn’t remember was that he played like gangbusters for 43 holes building his lead…and then just hung on to the end making no birdies along the way. It’s not very often that you can do something like that.

Yeah, man, I didn’t even know that stat.  You know, I played — I felt like I played a little more conservative those last 29 holes.  Yeah, I chipped in on my first — as we go out, I had 30 holes left, I chipped in, and it sounds like no birdies from there.

You know, I don’t know, but I remember a conversation happening with someone talking to Chris DiMarco a number of years ago, and they were saying something like, yeah, but Tiger, he did this or that, he barely won, whatever, and he looked, and he goes, and he always barely wins, right?

I’m like, it doesn’t really matter how.  A lot of times when I’m watching my friends or someone get to the last hole and they’ve got a lead, it’s like, dude, hit 6‑iron off the tee, just win.  Nothing else matters, just win.

And so, you know, thankfully I was able to take that mindset a little bit like, okay, I can play a little bit conservatively.  I thought I only had a one‑shot lead going into 18.  I drove it right of the bunkers on 18, and Retief Goosen goes, “great shot.”

Retief doesn’t say a lot, so when he said that, I’m like, maybe I’ve got a two‑shot lead.  So I was like, okay, and then I tried to play it in the right bunker, was able to do that, and I felt comfortable from there, I could get it on the green, take a couple putts and win.

My putt was probably a foot or six inches or whatever but I couldn’t wait to hug my caddie, Joel, because these guys are in the trenches day in and day out.  They’re your sports psychologists, they’re your swing coach, they’re your friend.  I mean, Joel a lot of times will come over and just help me get ready.  He’ll make me breakfast or whatever.  He just does whatever he needs to do to help us get ready to play golf that day, and I just saw him be so positive when he had every reason in the stretch where I was playing terrible golf to not be positive, like he just wouldn’t give up on me.

And so just to be able to hug him and just say thank you, whatever, like great job, was really cool.  It’s something I’ll never forget.

And finally, he dealt with the unfolding drama down the stretch and how he trusted his caddie to watch the leaderboard and make strategic decisions so Crane wouldn’t have to. It’s a nice insight on the trust and communication between a player and his caddie under the gun.

Yeah, we had that conversation before we teed off on Sunday last year.  I said, you’ll be watching and you’ll be making decisions based on what we need to do.  He said, absolutely, I got it.  I’m like, okay.

And so we got to the 17th hole, and really we didn’t really have a lot of course management decisions to make until we got to 17 — he obviously knows we were two up, we got to 17, and I was going to try to cut a 4‑iron in there and try to get to that right pin, and he said, hey, man, let’s just get the ball on the green, let’s just hit a 5‑iron to the left front of the green, try to take our two putts, and I was like, okay, I was thinking I had a one‑shot lead so I was thinking I was going to play a little more aggressively, but he was being a little more conservative, so that was like, okay, let’s do that.

And then certainly I got to 18, drove it in the right rough, which was maybe the perfect place to drive it over there right of the bunkers, and I looked down, and I said, do we need — can we make bogey here or do we need par, and he said, you can make bogey.  I said, okay, let’s play to that [greenside] bunker over there.

It’s fun to be able to kind of play around — I don’t know, you’ve seen so many champions over the years who have done just what they’ve needed to do, taken as much risk out of it as they possibly can.  It was cool to be able to do that.

And it was equally cool for him to share all of this with us.

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