Fate isn't a word to be tossed around lightly. Those who use it constantly diminish its meaning because few can find fate around every corner.
Ben Crenshaw, on the other hand, knows how to pick his spots. Crenshaw said "fate'' intervened on his behalf during the 1995 Masters when he won his second green jacket only days after he served as a pallbearer at the funeral of his long-time mentor, instructor and friend Harvey Penick.
"I believe in fate,'' Crenshaw said after one of the most emotional victories in the storied history of the tradition-filled major championship. "It was like someone put their hand on my shoulder this week and guided me through.''
Penick's spirit, he said, acted as the 15th club in his bag.
Fast forward to the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. There was Crenshaw, the United States captain, playing the fate card once again as he faced the media on Saturday evening. With his team staring at a daunting, 10-6, deficit heading into Sunday's 12 singles matches against a red-hot bunch of Europeans, Crenshaw left the media something to chew on in his final remarks.
"I'm a big believer in fate,'' he said. "I have a good feeling about tomorrow. That's all I'm gonna say.''
Crenshaw took his leave and the next morning his team took a fateful flight, rallying from the largest final-day deficit to stun Europe and the golf world, 14½ to 13½.
As fate would have it, Payne Stewart was one of the emotional leaders of the U.S. team that made Ryder Cup history. Tragedy struck a little more than a month later when Stewart died in a plane mishap as he headed for the 1999 TOUR Championship in Houston.
The PGA TOUR's Policy Board created the Payne Stewart Award in 2000 to perpetuate the memory of Stewart, who won three major championships among his 11 PGA TOUR victories. And as fate would have it, Crenshaw, one of golf's truly old souls who lives in the game's present but is strongly connected to its past, became the fourth recipient of the award in 2001, following three golf legends -- Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus -- who shared the inaugural award.
Golf historian that he is, Crenshaw understood the significance of having his name etched on the award following those of the late Nelson, Palmer and Nicklaus.
"It's humbling, daunting when you have people who mean so much to the game honored before you,'' Crenshaw said of the honor. "The way they went about things is the way every professional golfer should try to emulate.''
Crenshaw also took time to remember his good friend and fellow competitor Stewart at the ceremony.
"I've thought many times in the past few days of the things that set Payne apart,'' he said. "He was always fun, but he was a hell of a competitor, too.
"He was such an individual, such a prankster. He carried it off so well. In many respects, his golf swing emanated his style -- it was long and flowing. It wasn't a tight, mechanical swing. Bernard Darwin, the great writer, once said Bobby Jones' swing had a touch of poetry in it. Payne's had a touch of poetry, too. ... It was the simple things that made him what he was.''
In many ways, understanding Crenshaw is just as easy. Take his nickname, Gentle Ben. It fits as perfectly as a new cabretta glove. Crenshaw is true gentleman and goes about his business while maintaining sportsmanship and integrity. He also is more than a fair-to-middlin' golfer, underscored by his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002. He won 19 times on the PGA TOUR, including his very first start as a professional. He led Texas to the NCAA championship and also claimed the first of three straight individual titles in his first opportunity in 1971. The United States Golf Association presented him with its prestigious Bob Jones Award in 1991.
A silky smooth putting stroke that was the envy of the majority of his peers is what set Crenshaw apart on the golf course. And fate likely was involved in his development on the greens. Crenshaw's father Charlie purchased a putter for his teenage son from Harvey Penick's golf shop. It was the Wilson 8802 blade that came to be known simply as "Little Ben.''
The late Charlie Crenshaw Sr. remembered the day he bought it.
"It was just a putter in Harvey Penick's shop,'' Charlie Crenshaw said in the book "Texas Golf Legends.'' "Ben felt it, waggled it around for a while for a while and said, 'Dad, I'd like to have it.'"
As fate would have it, the elder Crenshaw complied, paying $20 for the club.
"That club's been the best provider in the family,'' Crenshaw said.