Biography of Hall of Fame Golfer Ben Crenshaw

The Journey From Masters Winner to Golf Course Designer

Ben Crenshaw follows his ball during the 1982 Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic golf tournament.
Ben Crenshaw pictured in 1982. Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images 

Ben Crenshaw was a "golden boy" of golf in the 1970s, then a respected elder statesman and keeper of the game's traditions by the time he reached his 50s. He won two Masters Tournaments, and later became one of the most-respected golf course designers. Throughout, he was known as one of the best putters in the game.

Crenshaw, whose nickname is "Gentle Ben," was born on January 11, 1952, in Austin, Texas. That city played a large role in Crenshaw's golf life, linking him forever with golf instructor Harvey Penick and fellow PGA Tour pro Tom Kite.

Crenshaw was involved in two of the most emotional events in pro golf during the 1990s: The second of his two Masters wins came just days after the death of his mentor, Penick, in 1995; and in 1999, Crenshaw captained the historic come-from-behind win by Team USA in the Ryder Cup.

Crenshaw's Win Totals

  • PGA Tour wins: 19
  • Major championship wins: 2

Crenshaw's major championship wins were both in The Masters. He won his first Green Jacket in 1984 and added the second in 1995.

Awards and Honors for Ben Crenshaw

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1981, 1983, 1987, 1995
  • Captain, 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team
  • Recipient, USGA Bob Jones Award, 1991

Crenshaw's Start in Golf

Ben Crenshaw's father was a scratch golfer who introduced him to the game early. By the fourth grade, Ben had already won his first tournament. It helped that Harvey Penick—who decades later co-wrote The Little Red Book, the highest-selling golf book ever—was the golf instructor at Austin Country Club, where the Crenshaws were members.

Crenshaw's development was also helped by competing against fellow Austinite Tom Kite in junior, city, state and eventually national and international golf tournaments from age 10 on.

By age 15, Crenshaw won his first state tournament, and his first national tournament win happened at the 1968 Jaycees Junior Championship.

Crenshaw and Kite both began playing on the University of Texas golf team in 1970, and Crenshaw won three consecutive individual national championships from 1971-73. In 1972, he was co-champion, sharing the trophy with Kite.

Kite and Crenshaw were inextricably linked in their golf careers, from Austin junior golf to that shared NCAA title to pro golf: Each won 19 PGA Tour titles, each made the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Crenshaw Goes Pro, Wins His First Masters

Crenshaw turned pro in 1973 and won his very first tournament as a professional, the Texas Open. His "golden boy" image and boyish looks led to a strong following among female fans, whose ranks were dubbed "Ben's Bunnies" or "Ben's Wrens."

Crenshaw wasn't just one of the PGA Tour's most popular golfers in his early years, but also a very successful one. His best year in terms of wins and earnings was 1976. That season Crenshaw won three times, finished runner-up three more times, had 14 Top 10 finishes (a number he matched in only one other year, 1987) and had his highest money-list finish (second).

He won consistently through the 1970s and into the 1980s, but Graves Disease, a thyroid condition, did affect his play during this period.

Crenshaw had five runner-up finishes in majors, including a playoff loss at the 1979 PGA Championship. It took longer than he and most golf fans expected, but Crenshaw finally won his first major championship at the 1984 Masters (where he was aided by a phantom).

The 1988 season was the last one in which Crenshaw finished inside the Top 20 on the PGA Tour money list.

Career Slows, But Biggest Moments Come

As the 1990s dawned, Ben Crenshaw's PGA Tour career was slowing down. Less and less was he contending in tournaments. For example, from July 1992 through April 1994, Crenshaw finished inside the Top 10 in only three tournaments ... but he won each won of those.

Crenshaw's victory at the 1995 Masters (his last on tour) was one of the most emotional in that major's history. It took place only days after the death of his mentor and friend, the legendary golf teacher Harvey Penick. Crenshaw was a pallbearer at Penick's funeral on a Wednesday (as was Tom Kite), then teed off in The Masters on Thursday.

Four days later, Crenshaw was Masters champion. After his final putt, he collapsed into the arms of his caddie while the tears flowed.

He won that tournament in his signature way: great putting. On the fast, tricky Augusta National greens, he didn't have a single three-putt.

In 1999, Crenshaw was Ryder Cup captain at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where the U.S. team was far behind following Day 2's matches. "I'm a big believer in fate," Crenshaw said that night. "I have a good feeling about tomorrow. That's all I'm gonna say."

The next day, Team USA staged its greatest Ryder Cup comeback ever, culminating in a raucous celebration on the 17th green when Justin Leonard's long putt sealed it for the Americans.

Ben Crenshaw, Senior Statesman

Always a student of the history of golf and a protector of the game's traditions, Crenshaw, as he headed into his 50s, became one of the game's senior statesmen.

He became eligible for the Champions Tour in 2002, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. And he served as an ambassador for the Hall from 2003. Crenshaw also took over for Byron Nelson as master of ceremonies at the Masters' Champions Dinner once Nelson was no longer able to attend.

Crenshaw never won on the Champions Tour and had only 12 Top 10 finishes total. By 2016, he was mostly gone from tournament golf.

Ben Crenshaw's PGA Tour Wins

Crenshaw's 19 career wins on the PGA Tour, listed chronologically:

  • 1973 San Antonio Texas Open
  • 1976 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am
  • 1976 Hawaiian Open
  • 1976 Ohio Kings Island Open
  • 1977 Colonial National Invitation
  • 1979 Phoenix Open
  • 1979 Walt Disney World National Team Championship (partnered with George Burns)
  • 1980 Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic
  • 1983 Byron Nelson Golf Classic
  • 1984 Masters Tournament
  • 1986 Buick Open
  • 1986 Vantage Championship
  • 1987 USF&G Classic
  • 1988 Doral-Ryder Open
  • 1990 Southwestern Bell Colonial
  • 1992 Centel Western Open
  • 1993 Nestle Invitational
  • 1994 Freeport-McMoRan Classic
  • 1995 Masters Tournament

Crenshaw also won once on the European Tour, at the 1976 Irish Open.

Ben Crenshaw's Golf Course Designs

Crenshaw has also gained fame as a golf course architect. Since 1986, he has partnered with Bill Coore in the Coore & Crenshaw design company. Among the golf courses the duo has designed since then are some of the most critically acclaimed modern courses in golf.

Among their better-known layouts are Kapalua Bay Resort in Hawaii, where the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions is played every year; and Colorado Golf Club, which has hosted a Senior PGA Championship and the Solheim Cup.

In the 2017-18 Golf Digest Top 100 Courses in America rankings, Coore & Crenshaw's Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska was rated the ninth-best course in the United States.

Other C&C designs that have made the Top 100 includes Friars Head in New York, Old Sandwich Golf Club in Massachusetts and Bandon Trails, part of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. In the magazine's 2018 ranking of the Top 30 courses in Canada, Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia, which opened only in 2016, was rated No. 1.

Ben Crenshaw Fast Facts

  • Full Name: Ben Daniel Crenshaw
  • Nickname: Gentle Ben
  • Occupation: Golfer 
  • Born: January 11, 1952 in Austin, Texas, USA
  • Education: University of Texas
  • Key Accomplishments: Two-time Masters Tournament winner (1984 and 1995) with 19 career PGA tour wins. 
  • Spouse's Name: Polly Crenshaw (1976-1985); Julie Crenshaw (1985- )
  • Children's Names: Claire Crenshaw, Anna Crenshaw, Katherine Crenshaw
  • Famous Quote: “Not winning a major for my first 11 years was difficult to accept given the number of good chances I had. But in the end, the tough losses made my victories at Augusta even sweeter.”
  • Offbeat Fact: Crenshaw's "Gentle Ben" nickname was acquired in childhood and was actually a dig: Crenshaw had a bad temper on the golf course in his youth.