The Clown Prince Gets Serious

A serious thing happened “on the way to the forum.” Ben Crane, the funnyman of the PGA Tour put aside his comedic alter ego to play some seriously outrageous golf in the McGladrey Classic in Sea Island, Georgia.

Notorious for his glacier-like, slow play (that was intended to be redundant), he had taken to producing short YouTube videos that were funny takes on how we all hang on Tour players’ every word. The first one features Crane taking us through his made-up, completely preposterous workout routine. Dressed in amateur wrestling tights and with a leather helmet on his head for protection, he romps through the one-minute video and ends up flailing away with a Styrofoam roller on all of his workout equipment.

He has another on his pre-round preparation where he goes around the course in the early morning “and receives information.” And a third video on slow play speaking about it as if it’s an addiction he has to overcome. And then he conned Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan into cavorting around with him in his “Golf Boys” music video, although it didn’t look like he had to twist their arms too hard. And that begat a tribute video from four Ladies European Tour players. Just Google Ben Crane videos; they’re all there.

All of this to overcome a reputation as a player so inconsiderate of his fellow players with his slow play, that even when Rory Sabbatini stormed down the rough line at Congressional onto the green, played the hole out and stomped on to the next tee while Crane still dawdled over his approach shot back at the top of the hill, nothing seemed to change.

Since then the videos seem to have softened his image as a slack-jawed Neanderthal and recast him as an extremely intelligent and yes, funny, guy. And to his credit, he seems to be getting some acknowledgement for his attempts to speed up his play.

And maybe it’s made a difference. In Sunday’s final round he shot a 7-under, 63. But it was as much about how he did it. He had bookend quadruple birdies to come from nowhere and “no factor” to tie Leading Money Winner, Webb Simpson and then beat him in a two-hole playoff. He birdied 8, 9, 10, 11 and 14, 15, 16, 17 with a bogey tucked between on 12. It was absolutely masterful to be able to keep a string like that going.

All day long, the tournament looked like it was going to be won by either Simpson or Michael Thompson, a great player looking for his first win. At one point, Thompson had a three-shot lead but standing on the 18th tee needing a par to join Crane and Simpson in the playoff, he blew his drive wildly to the right and into the marshy hazard. To his credit, after his penalty drop, he played a great shot some 222 yards to the green to give himself a chance to make his par. But 25 feet was too much of an ask this time.

After the round, the equanimity with which he approached his loss and the philosophical approach he took to his harsh lesson proved not only the greatness of the game, but of Thompson himself. It is absolutely possible to be masterful, even in failure.

Crane won the playoff when Simpson three-putted the second playoff hole from about 35 feet. The second putt looked to be inside of two feet, but pgatour.com’s Shot Tracker had it at about 3½ feet to keep the playoff going.

And in the process, Simpson also proved the lie of the belly putter; he also missed two other putts inside of five feet on 7 and 13. Either one of them gets him a straight up victory, just as happens on almost every PGA Tour Sunday: there are always the ones you left on the table. It would be hard to imagine that this was a big enough loss for long putter aficionados to acknowledge its shortcomings, but they miss just like all the other putters.

Critics continue to rail against the long putters, in particular those that are anchored to some part of the body like the very long ones you clamp to your breastbone with your lead hand or the shorter belly putter where the end of the grip pokes into your belly while both hands extend down the shaft in a two-handed grip.

But slowly coming back to our champion, Crane came out of his first playoff victorious and he and his wife are going to have a new baby Monday by Cesarean. Between those two things and the beautiful day, he was effusive in his acknowledgement of God in his pre and post-round interviews. He talked about the sense of peace he had all day long.

Both he and Simpson are part of the Tour players’ Bible study group. As they all arrived on the first playoff tee, one of the caddies said, “Hey, it’s the Bible Study Playoff!”

Contrary to the long putter, God had hedged his bet.

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