For two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, this entire week has been about reflection and family.
On Friday, we all watched on as his playing career at The Masters wound to a close. Over the course of 44 appearances, he was the low amateur twice, finished in the Top 10 on 11 occasions and took home a pair of the greatest feeling, worst fitting jackets imaginable.
As he finished up on No. 18, he personally made the rounds with dozens of the reported 200 friends and family members in attendance in an emotional display. He raised his hat and bid farewell to the crowd.
However, as tear-jerking as the lengthy embrace with longtime caddie and friend Carl Jackson was, Wednesday was a more purely jovial occasion. The Par-3 Contest is often painted as a lighthearted affair and it is. There’s plenty of yukking to be done by a bunch of folks who rarely get the opportunity to let their guard down and enjoy the leisurely nature of the game.
It’s a celebration of people more so than anything.
Crenshaw has been the center of that celebration all week, and at the Par-3 Contest he found himself in the group that every player dreams of finding themselves in as he teed it up alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
Though a generation removed from competing at each of their peaks, Crenshaw played against both Nicklaus and Player during the early portion of his career, with Crenshaw taking his first jacket in 1984 and Nicklaus seizing his last in 1986. However, the longtime competitors were nothing but friends on Wednesday.
As the 75-year-old Nicklaus jammed in a hole-in-one–the first of his storied career at Augusta National Golf Club–and the crowd went nuts, it was Crenshaw’s reaction that stood out the most. The 63-year-old Texan was utterly awestruck.
He looked more like a kid than a guy who’d made the cut 23 times, and yet it seemed apropos of the Par-3 Contest.
Across the way, on the sixth at the Par-3 Course, Zach Johnson and his group heard the roar and turned in time to catch the ball rolling into the cup. They whooped it up for the man we widely recognize as the greatest of his era and quite possibly the greatest of all-time.
And that was as accurate of a portrayal of the Par-3 Contest as anything you’ll ever see.
It’s a quick nine holes with some old friends you might not have seen for awhile and might not see again for some time with your friends and loved ones–or, a 13-year old with cancer realizing his Make-A-Wish dream like in the case of Kevin Streelman and Ethan Couch–on the bag, sharing the experience. Oh, and there’s thousands of fans and national television cameras.
Because they’re not just sharing a moment with one another behind the shuttered doors of their personal clubs, they’re doing it on golf’s grandest stage.
And there’s a reason that the winner of the Par-3 Contest has never gone on to win The Masters. It’s because it simply doesn’t matter.
You let your grandson hit a putt. You spin one off the green and into the water because you’re trying to hole out to wow the crowd and one-up your buddies. You wear a DQ like a badge of honor because you’re making the day of someone in the crowd or on your bag.
It’s not about a win or a loss. It’s about a shot here and there. A handshake. A hug.
It’s about enjoying yourself, and you could certainly make the case that nobody did more of that than Ben Crenshaw.
He watched somebody he competed against and undoubtedly watched growing up in golf score the first ace of his Masters career. He smiled and laughed with his friends and his family.
Afterwords, he walked calmly up to the fourth green and rolled in a 15-footer for birdie like he’s done a million times. The crowd roared, albeit more delicately than they just had, and Jack nodded approvingly.
The two on the scorecard might not have mattered, but it sure was fun.