April 22, 1996
April 22, 1996

Table of Contents
April 22, 1996

Golf Plus


When the ax fell last Friday afternoon at Augusta National, you
could fairly hear a generation topple. Four of American golf's
most celebrated champions--Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Curtis
Strange and Tom Watson--missed the 36-hole cut, and a fifth,
Lanny Wadkins, never even got to drive down Magnolia Lane,
having failed to qualify for the Masters for the first time in
18 years. The early retirement of these fortysomething stars
left an uncomfortable void on the leader board and raised an
unavoidable question for these old warriors: Was this their last

This is an article from the April 22, 1996 issue Original Layout

Sure, there will be other Masters and other majors, and there is
always the possibility that these veterans will find a way to
reinvent themselves one more time. (A 42-year-old Gary Player
did that by winning at Augusta in 1978, and Crenshaw did it last
year at 43 with his second Masters victory in 11 years.) But
until then, all that's left is the jolt of their slipping on the
banana peel at the same time.

"The game is built on momentum, and these players have lost
theirs," says swing guru David Leadbetter. "Every time they play
poorly, the pressure increases because time is slipping away."

Crenshaw's stirring victory last year at Augusta secured his
place in golf history, but a 77-74 this time around had Gentle
Ben throwing tantrums as well as golf clubs. After drowning two
tee balls on the par-3 12th hole on Friday, Crenshaw slammed
down his seven-iron in one of his most solid swings of the week.
For Crenshaw it was only the third missed cut in 25 Masters, and
it finished off a disconcerting 12 months. Since donning the
green jacket last April, Crenshaw, now 44, has sputtered badly,
missing 7 of 21 cuts and finishing in the top 10 of a tournament
once. He also put up a doughnut in three matches at last
September's Ryder Cup. Much of this can be traced to the
emotional hangover from the Masters victory, which had been
immediately preceded by the death of his mentor, Harvey Penick,
but even Crenshaw is concerned. "Sure it's discouraging," he
says. "Every week I'm finding a new way to lose strokes."

In fact, Crenshaw's play has been ragged for several years. "It
doesn't seem so bad because I've capitalized on the
opportunities that have come along," he says. But this is the
most prolonged slump yet, and Crenshaw can't get the funk out of
his game because of poor balance brought on by a sore toe in his
right foot; dissatisfaction with a swing that, as he says, "just
isn't in flow"; and, most ominously, a lack of confidence. "I've
felt it slipping away for the last four years," he said on
Friday, "and I can tell you the last two days here didn't
exactly help."

Ditto for Watson. When he bogeyed the 36th hole to shoot 75-72
and miss the cut by a shot, one of the most remarkable streaks
in golf came to an end. Watson, 46, had made the cut in all the
other Masters he had played in as a professional, 21 straight,
second to Sam Snead's 24. Circled by a pack of sharks with
notebooks after Friday's round, the two-time Masters champion
was asked if he was aware of the streak. "Obviously you are," he
shot back.

But if Watson was a grumpy older gentleman, who can blame him?
Since his last Tour win, in 1987, he has fought bravely against
oppressive putting problems, showing perhaps more heart than he
did when he was blitzing the Tour for 32 victories, including
eight majors. But last Thursday at Augusta, Watson hit rock
bottom. At the par-3 16th hole, he became the first person to
five-putt at the Masters. He started with an uphill 60-footer,
which he blew six feet past the cup, leaving a slick downhill
comebacker. Watson blasted the putt by the hole, and it didn't
stop until it was 40 feet down the hill. His third putt was
again too strong, by four feet. He slashed this one two feet
past and tapped in for a triple-bogey 6, which was all the more
devastating because he had just birdied the par-5 15th to scrap
back to even par on his round. "It's as disappointing a round as
I've had in a long time," Watson said afterward.

So what now for the proud champion? "Keep on working," he says.
"You can get it all back if you just keep on working."

It is the same mantra that has steeled the 46-year-old Kite
during his 24 years on Tour. If blisters were birdies, Kite
would be unbeatable, because he's still the game's hardest
worker. However, Kite has not won in three years and had only
one top-10 finish in '95. His 75-77 marked the first time he had
missed back-to-back cuts at Augusta, a hard pill to swallow
considering that during one 11-year stretch Kite had nine
top-six Masters finishes. After the second round he pronounced
himself happy with his swing and placed all the blame on his
flat stick. "I putted horribly," Kite said with a nod to 68
ghastly putts over the two rounds. "I'm at rope's end. Honestly
I don't know what to do. I'm buffaloed."

Kite has tinkered with his stance and put in the requisite hours
on the practice green, but as his putting woes mount, the
specter of Watson looms large. "It's the nerve factor," says
Leadbetter. "These older players have been to the well so often,
and now the well is dry."

Kite waves off such talk and points out that he putted poorly
through much of 1991 and came back to win the '92 U.S. Open and
two tournaments in '93. The difference now is that Kite has only
a narrow window of time to rediscover his old form because his
energies will soon be drained by the demands of captaining the
1997 Ryder Cup team. The 46-year-old Wadkins's game fell into
the abyss the last two seasons as he prepared to lead the '95
team. Ever the battler, Kite insists that not only will he get
off the schneid but that he'll also be bossing himself around
come 1997. "I'm still dead set on playing my way onto the Ryder
Cup team," he says. "I haven't seen anything yet to convince me
I can't."

Speaking of the Ryder Cup, Strange's expressed goal for 1996 was
to redeem his reputation after his evisceration last fall at Oak
Hill. But after shooting 71-77 to miss his first Masters cut
since 1983--his sixth missed cut in 10 starts this year--the
41-year-old Strange was leaning on an enlarged perspective. "At
the start of the year I was trying to prove something to people,
but no more," he says. "That's no way to live, and that's no way
to play golf. I'm just looking for self-satisfaction."

That is also the very thing he is battling. Strange has won 17
tournaments, including the U.S. Opens in 1988 and '89, the
latter being his last victory. Like the other luminaries who saw
their stars dulled at last week's Masters, Strange is
financially secure, married with children and has a wealth of
business opportunities working on the side. Who can blame him or
his contemporaries for growing fat and happy? "When you reach
that age, there's a certain pause in your life," says
50-year-old Hale Irwin, who at 46 shattered four straight
mediocre years with a stunning win at the 1990 U.S. Open. "I'm
not saying it's a midlife crisis, but after playing so hard for
so long, there is a natural tendency to lose the focus and the

Hogwash, says Strange. "Playing golf is my work, my love, my
passion," he says. "The game has not passed me by; I've got too
much inside of me. It would be a mistake to write me off now."

Adds Crenshaw, "Golf hasn't killed any of us off. At least not

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Getting sandbagged in a practice round was a bad omen for Watson, who missed his first Masters cut in 22 years. [Tom Watson in sandtrap]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Crenshaw was on the wrong side of the tee at the par-3 and the wrong side of the cut on Friday. [Ben Crenshaw]

This is an article from
the April 22, 1996 issue