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Kids, little things tug at Crenshaw

Tour golfer wants to polish his game without being an absentee dad

It doesn't tell the entire story, and Ben Crenshaw isn't using it as an excuse.

But there's a conflict in the golfer's life as he embarks on his career on the Champions Tour, one that only a parent can fully understand.

Crenshaw is 51. His daughters are 15, 11 and 7. Honing a golf game takes hours and hours of work, and the tournament schedule takes him away from his home in Austin, Texas, for weeks at a time. When he's gone, he misses his children's activities. Crenshaw wants to play to the best of his capabilities, but he doesn't want to be an absentee father, either.

'I need to play more, but it's very difficult for me because of the family situation,' Crenshaw says. 'It's hard to leave my girls. I miss being with them. I'm a late father compared to a lot of these guys out here, whose kids are up and grown. I think about my daughters a lot, and I miss them a lot when I'm gone.'

So Crenshaw, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, one of the true greats of his era, struggles with his game. Last year, his first on the Champions Tour, he earned $204,528 in 20 tournaments and finished 204th on the money list. In 14 events this year, he has made $170,965 and ranks 57th on the money list.

Loses some confidence

'I feel like my game is good at times, but I'm having trouble tying up loose ends,' Crenshaw says. 'I'm posting too many 71s, 72s, and that just doesn't cut it out here. You have to shoot in the 60s consistently, and I haven't done that. And as a result, I haven't played with as much confidence as I'd like.

'It is extremely competitive out here. These guys are proficient. Because they play so much, they are sharp all the time. One of these days I hope to put some things together, because I feel like I'm capable. I have to take baby steps. I would like to get into the hunt.'

Crenshaw accomplished that last week in the 3M Championship in Blaine, Minn. He posted scores of 69-67-71 for a 9-under-par 207 that was two shots behind winner Wayne Levi. He tied for fourth and won $85,750, his best showing as a senior.

Crenshaw, whose last win came at the 1995 Masters, led with seven holes to play but double-bogeyed the par-4 14th.

'I just had to execute on 14,' Crenshaw told the media. 'It has been awhile since I had that feeling inside.'

Crenshaw's short game was revered on the PGA Tour, where he scored 19 victories, including a pair of Masters. Last year, in his rookie season on the Champions circuit, he ranked third in putting average, going 281 holes without a three-putt in one stretch and finishing with only three three-puts in 61 rounds.

This year, 'I haven't seen enough putts go in at the right time,' Crenshaw says. 'I'm hitting good putts, but I just want to see that ball disappear more often.'

What else in his game needs to get better?

'You name it,' he says. 'I hit good shots around the course, then I will hit a loose drive or a bad pitch shot. It's a matter of putting things together.'

Peers pull for him

Crenshaw's peers are watching with interest.

'Ben is very dedicated to working at it,' says close friend Bruce Lietzke, the leading money-winner on the tour this year. 'He's working with different equipment. He still has that great short game, and I think his swing is OK. When he finds a driver and a set of irons he's ready to go with, he will play his way out of this thing.'

Adds Bob Gilder: 'Ben wasn't playing well for quite awhile, but he's shooting some scores every now and then. He just hasn't put three rounds together. We are all rooting for him, believe me.'

Crenshaw served as captain of the U.S. team that made the unforgettable comeback to win the Ryder Cup in 1999. It was a unique experience, one that he's glad is behind him.

'I won't do it again,' he says. 'That took years off my life. It's such an emotional kaleidoscope. Watching our team go out that last day and win was one of the greatest feelings I have had. It was absolutely electric. It meant so much to have pulled it off, but that's it for me.

'There's so much mental strain. You go through two years of planning, and there are so many things to do as far as taking care of the players. There's a lot of lost sleep at night trying to think about how you are going to pair your players. There were a million details to take care of, and it just wore me out.'

Crenshaw will play in four or five more events this year, including the Jeld-Wen Tradition, Aug. 28-31, at the Reserve in Aloha. The strong performance at the 3M Championship was a step in the right direction, but he yearns for more.

'I want to win,' he says. 'There's only one thing that matters in this game. They put your name on that scoreboard, followed by your score.'