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Crane puts friend first, tour second

Golfer skips two PGA events to spend time with ailing pastor

Pro golfer Ben Crane went back to work this week, although he left Portland with his heart still by a friend's bedside.

Crane had skipped the past two PGA Tour stops, both near his new home in Texas, to be with his gravely ill friend and pastor, the Rev. Ron Mehl of Beaverton Foursquare Church.

Mehl, 59, has long suffered from leukemia, and friends and family have gathered by his side at Providence Medical Center.

Mehl has been at Beaverton Foursquare since 1973, spoken before weekly congregations of nearly 5,000 at the church on Southwest Walker Road, written spiritual books and been the host of Christian radio programs.

Crane and Mehl met at Portland Golf Club. Mehl joined in 1987. Crane has been a member since his junior days and through his competitive years at Beaverton High School and the University of Oregon.

'They became close, especially since Ben became a serious golfer,' Doug Crane, Ben's father, says. 'Ron talked about Scripture and God, and it made an incredible impression on him. He mentored him on the spiritual side of life the past five or six years.'

The two would talk three or four times a week, says Portland Golf Club pro Rick Lamberton, Crane's primary teacher for eight years. 'Ron's been like a second father to Ben,' Lamberton says.

Mehl held a 14 handicap but played only seven or eight times a year, club officials say. 'It drove everybody crazy,' the Rev. John Taft says. 'He wouldn't play for eight months and then go out and shoot in the 70s.' Well, at least in the low 80s, Lamberton says.

'He's probably the nicest and most humble man I've met in my life,' Lamberton says of Mehl.

Crane, 27, entered the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, this week after withdrawing from the Byron Nelson Classic and the Colonial tournament. Crane took second at the Nelson last year and has met with his new Dallas area neighbor: Byron Nelson himself.

'But Ben felt he needed to be with his friend,' Doug Crane says.

Earlier this year, Ben Crane won his first PGA Tour title, the BellSouth Classic at Duluth, Ga., by shooting 64-63 in the final two rounds. He earned $720,000 and has already topped $1 million for the season.

He and his wife, Heather, had bought property near Dallas but weren't going to build on it 'until he secured his (PGA) card for next year,' Doug Crane says. The win assured that Crane would keep his card.

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