It’s a little over 1,000 miles from Austin, TX, to Augusta, GA, and the two cities are different in a lot of ways. Austin prides itself on being weird and Augusta is wholly traditional; however, the two cities do have a couple of important things in common this week.
Ben Crenshaw and Jordan Spieth.
Both players were NCAA champions as freshmen at the University of Texas-Austin and now both players are among the ranks of Masters champs, as Jordan Spieth put an emphatic end to what looked more like a four-day fastbreak than a golf tournament, tying Tiger Woods’ 18-year-old tournament record with a score of 270 (-18). And there’s a bit more to the connection than the fact that they both went to the same school and now they both have the same color sport coat.
The two are truly kindred spirits–with hands as gentle around and on the greens as their demeanors. They’re mentor and protege.
The 21-year-old Spieth has been attached to the hip of the 63-year-old Crenshaw for the past two Masters, and the relationship has been fruitful. Last year, in his first trip to Augusta he found himself in the final pairing and finished second behind Bubba Watson.
This year, it’s symbiotic that Spieth emerged as the next megastar in golf (because he’s already a certain superstar) as Crenshaw competed in his 44th and final Masters. It couldn’t have been more fitting.
Spieth made a habit of discussing his play at the end of every day with Crenshaw, decompressing by talking a little shop with someone who understands what he is going through better than anybody before shutting the door on golf completely and surfacing refreshed the next day.
Even their caddies were close.
Crenshaw turned his bag over to the legendary Carl Jackson in 1976, and save a bout with colon cancer in 2000 and sore ribs that left him unable to walk the course this year, he never gave it back, though it’s not as if Crenshaw would have let him. He was more of an extension of Gentle Ben’s game–easily worth an extra five or six clubs and an indescribable number of shots he didn’t know that he had–than the man carrying his clubs.
As Spieth’s caddy, Michael Greller (a sixth-grade math teacher in Washington state as recently as three years ago), worked his way around the course this week to take notes and circled back to Jackson, who’d add his own input and give the young caddy tips about how to play a course that requires an intricate knowledge to understand.
Nobody has more intricate knowledge of the Augusta National Golf Club than Carl Jackson.
He began caddying at Augusta in 1958 and caddied his first Masters in 1961, working the bag of Billy Burke. He’d go on to caddy for Bruce Devlin and Gary Player before landing on Crenshaw’s bag and even after The Masters quit requiring players to use house caddies in 1983, he remained on it.
Crenshaw has never been shy about what Jackson meant to his efforts at The Masters, which included nine other Top 10s in addition to the two wins, and if you think a little advice is being blown out of proportion as it pertains to Spieth and Greller’s performance this week, look at his comments in the media the past two seasons.
He putted it magically all week and when asked about his ability to navigate the tricky greens of Augusta National, he stated simply, “We went with Carl’s reads.”
Armed with all the knowledge in the world, a lesser player accomplishes nothing this week. However, with a skillset like Spieth’s and the summit of his efforts in sight as his game trended towards The Masters, that relationship took what would have been a great effort regardless to extraordinary new heights.
Spieth shot a 64 in the opening round, one stroke off the course record. He went on to break the 36 and 54-hole scoring records, and even though he finished in a tie for the 72-hole scoring record, he became the first player in history to hit -19 before bogeying 18 with his knees undoubtedly knocking–knowing that he was moments away from realizing a lifelong dream at a ripe age.
Crenshaw would be the first to tell you that he was nowhere near as mature as Spieth when he was 21, and it’s true that Spieth appears to have the game and the temperament to be even better than his mentor, and that’s a terrifying thought.
On Friday, as Crenshaw’s Masters career came to a close, parts of Austin and Augusta symbolically rose. On Sunday, as Spieth capped a historic performance, they rose again–1,000 miles apart but for four days, often one and the same.