New book details wildly different paths that led Ben Crenshaw and his longtime Masters caddie together
Carl Jackson first saw Ben Crenshaw swing a golf club on hole No. 10 at Augusta National Golf Club in 1973.
Crenshaw was competing in his second Masters as an amateur, and Luke Collins, one of Jackson’s fellow caddie friends who was on Crenshaw’s bag at the time, told Jackson he had to see Crenshaw's swing in person.
When Carl saw Ben tee off on the historically difficult par-4 10th, he was impressed. But he didn’t realize he was watching the player he’d caddie for at Augusta three years later, and for the next 37 Masters tournaments.
In Two Roads to Augusta, two drastically different backgrounds intersect at the most storied tournament in golf. Jackson grew up in Sand Hill, a predominantly African-American community located in East Georgia and less than a mile’s walk from Augusta National. Carl and his friends – sometime as many as 15 – snuck onto Augusta Country Club and learned to play with just random assortment of clubs. Over 1,000 miles away, Crenshaw grew up in Austin, Texas with his sights on baseball as his sport of choice due to his father’s collegiate career at the Baylor University as a catcher. Ben would ditch baseball after memorably striking out in a Little League game and focus on golf. Smart decision.
Two Roads to Augusta, written by Melanie Hauser –- who also assisted in the production of Crenshaw's memoir -- deftly weaves two stories within the pages of the 224-page book, alternating Carl’s journey to becoming a trusted caddie within the ranks of Augusta National with Ben’s progression from a dual-sport athlete growing up in Longhorn country to a highly-decorated golfer coming out of the University of Texas up until the two meet at the 1976 Masters.
When Carl was 11, he was shagging balls at Augusta Country Club to make an extra $1.25 a day to help provide food for his family. Two years later, he had moved up to Augusta National where he met Jack Stephens, an investment banker from Arkansas who also served as Augusta National’s chairman for eight years.
“Many times I’ve said Jack Stephens saw in me what my mother and granddaddy saw in me,” Carl said. “The day he hired me full-time to be his caddie, I was only 14 years old. And he fired another caddie, a man about 30 years old to hire me.”
After earning Stephens’s trust, Carl was hired to move to Little Rock to be Stephens’s assistant, or as Carl put it, his title was “Get The Job Done.” That relationship would lead to Carl being assigned to the bag of a rising star in the game for the ‘76 Masters.
Crenshaw's entry into the '76 Masters could also be owed to an elder taking him under his wing.
Harvey Penick, the pro at Crenshaw’s home course of Austin Country Club who would become Ben’s long-time swing consultant, taught Ben how to grip a five-iron in his first lesson at six years old. Even though he juggled golf with football and baseball, Crenshaw was hooked.
The parallelism of the vastly different lifestyles and backgrounds permeates each chapter. The book gives the reader a glimpse into Carl's life while blending it with Ben's upbringing a few pages later.
Ben had “visitors” –- people who entered his life for a moment to help him along his path to discovering his true potential in the game of golf. Carl had a series of “angels” –- elders whose interaction with Carl helped guide him along his journey where he could have easily been derailed.
Carl’s favorite homemade dish? Burgers smothered in gravy with rice, corn and vegetables. Crenshaw grew up on tuna casserole and chicken and rice.
The attention to such details in the first half of the book give the reader a complete image of just how special their respective roads to Augusta truly are.
The combination of Crenshaw's putting ability and Jackson's ability to read the tricky Augusta National greens joined forces at the '76 Masters, the rest is history.
You can pre-order Two Roads to Augusta at Amazon.com.
(Photo: EPA /Landov)