LINKS LETTER, AUGUST 2002

FROM TROUBLE TO TRIUMPH

Ben Crane with Jim Hiskey

After signing my card and missing my third straight cut at Hilton Head, I asked myself: Am I going to make another cut? Am I good enough to play out here?

My parents had flown all the way across the country to watch me play. My fiance Heather Heinz, too. It was supposed to have been a South Carolina spring vacation.

To worsen things, I didn’t have a regular caddy. Or a golf instructor. Being without a capable caddy or a golf coach didn’t leave me much hope.

That Friday night in April was probably the lowest night of my golf career.

Really I shouldn’t have been surprised that I had such self-doubt. After graduating from the University of Oregon, with less than a standout career, I knew deep in my heart that it would take a miracle for me to make it on the PGA Tour.

I realized that most of those who are successful enough to qualify for the Tour don’t make it past the first year. And every week more than half the field fails. Only two or three players from Oregon had ever made it on the PGA Tour. Ever.

Out of 168 who get to play on Thursday, only 70 plus ties make the weekend grade. The PGA Tour is a place of failure. I knew that before I began.

But I had had a dream about playing the PGA Tour since I was 10 years old. During college and immediately thereafter I worked hard. I made it to the PGA Tour. That week at Hilton Head I spent more time on the practice tee than anyone else in the field.

But it didn’t help.

After dinner Dad, Mom, Heather and I met in the living room of the condo I had rented.

I am close to my parents so I decided to tell them how I felt.

As I opened up, Heather began to cry. She knew how much I loved golf. I doubt she’d ever thought that I might fail and might lose the life I’d always dreamed of. I cried, too.

We all did.

A silence fell upon us. Except for sobbing, I don’t think anyone knew what to say. Then I remembered that Mom had brought Heather and me a book that my pastor, Ron Mehl, had written, A Prayer that Moves Heaven. I got the book and began to read. The last two pages really spoke to me.

It’s easy to worship after the battle has been won, after the spoils have been gathered. It’s easy to praise God after you’ve received the answers to your prayers…

I’ve seen lots of people praise God when the promotion comes…when the cancer tests come back normal…when the marriage is restored…when the unexpected check comes in the mail….But it’s not as common to hear those same songs of praise from a throat constricted by weeping…when the promotion hasn’t come…when the doctor’s report isn’t so good…when the marriage is still struggling…when the bill collectors are knocking on the door….

The book of Hebrews calls that “a sacrifice of praise,” and the aroma that rises from such an offering is very, very fragrant in the courts of heaven.

Remember Paul and Silas, deep in the bowels of that Philippian prison? It was midnight dark. Their feet were in stocks. Their backs were deeply bruised and running with blood from a severe beating. Their ministry was at a standstill. They had no idea when or even if they would be released.

And what does the Scripture say? “At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.” (Acts 16:25)

Something happened that night. The earth shook. Chains shattered. Prison doors swung open. Prisoners walked free.

You might say that the prayer of faith moved heaven.

And you would be right.

As soon as I finished reading, something strange happened. I was almost excited that things were bad.

I knew right after I graduated and turned pro that my only hope was in God.

Even though I’d won twice on the Buy.com Tour, shot six rounds in the 60s at the PGA Qualifying Tournament, worked hard and persevered, I knew that to keep my PGA card it was going to take God’s help.

After discussing the ideas from Pastor Mehl’s book, the spirit of gloom began to lift. We began to thank and praise God. We also prayed specifically for a good caddie.

I slept like a log that night.

En route to Greensboro the next week, Steve Hulka, a brother in Christ who caddies for Pat Bates, put me in touch with Brandon Luckett. Brandon, a recent college graduate, had played on his college golf team and been mentored by Larry Moody and Dave Krueger, two of the chaplains on the PGA Tour. I sent Brandon to see Craig Welty, who had done a great job caddying for me earlier this year, for a quick education before the tournament began in Greensboro.

When I teed off I was pumped. But right out of the box, I double-bogeyed the fourth hole and tripled the fifth.

I never recovered.

After missing my fourth straight cut—and just about shooting my temperature—I pulled Brandon aside. “You did a great job,” I said. As I packed my clubs to leave Greensboro, I thought, I can win a tournament with Brandon on the bag.

But it wasn’t going to be in New Orleans the following week.

The deciding hole for that tournament came on the 15th on Friday. I had a hunch before the round began that I would have to play the par-five hole well. When I came to the lake-fronted green, I thought, Birdie, par, par, par and I’ll make my first weekend in five weeks.

The hole measures 542 yards. If you go for the green on your second shot, you have to hit a good tee ball to position yourself for the difficult shot across the lake. I pounded my drive. Perfect. 205 from the flagstick. The wind was helping, so all I had was a five-iron to the green. Not a real hard shot. But I came out of the shot too soon and sent it right. I couldn’t look.

The self-doubt returned. I hit a new low and all the feelings I had at Hilton Head returned.

Heather called me right after the round. She hadn’t heard from me and I usually call immediately.

“How you doing?” she asked.

“Not good.” I didn’t want to talk.

“It’s okay, Babe,” she said, trying to soothe my wounds.

“No. It isn’t.”

We hung up. Two hours later she called again.

“I’m worried about you,” Heather said.

“Five straight cuts.” I tried not to act down.

But Heather knew better. “Really, you’ll be okay.”

Her words were like clear oil. I was so much in love with this woman. I wanted to be strong.

I answered, “I remember what Rick Patino said, ‘Success is a choice.’ That’s what I’ve got to do.”

We talked for nearly an hour. She told me I sounded worse than I did at Hilton Head. But after we talked, I felt much better. I voiced to her my commitment to “Choose success,” which meant not giving up. Persevering. More hard work.

When we got to Dallas, Brandon and I made another commitment. We would play the tournament for one purpose only, to honor God—to pray the prayer that opens heaven and thank Him no matter how difficult things got. I reminded Brandon of something Pat Bates had told me: “We’re not out here to play the PGA Tour, but we’re out here to be made more like Jesus Christ.”

I also made a commitment to myself that I would release all my expectations for the week and the future to Him. And stay in the present. One hundred percent. One shot at a time.

During the practice rounds at the TPC at Los Colinas where we were playing the Byron Nelson Classic, I played poorly. But I still had peace of mind. I remembered what Eric Liddell said in Chariots of Fire, “God made me fast and I feel His pleasure when I run.”

I felt His pleasure, too. And His peace and power. On Wednesday before the tournament began, I told Brandon, “I’m not hitting it well. So let’s do our best to manage ourselves well.”

This time the defining hole of the tournament didn’t come in making the cut, but afterwards on Saturday.

I was five-under, putting super, when I approached the uphill, 554-yard par-five, 16th hole. We were playing into a 25 mile-per-hour, gusting wind.

I hit the longest drive of the day. No one was getting home in two. My ball was sitting well. I opted for a driver off the fairway.

I cracked it right on the screws and it came out hot. A bunker protected the front right of the green. “Carry that bunker!” I shouted to Brandon. (I have no idea why we talk to the ball, but I was sweating it out until I heard the crowd start applauding.)

They continued to clap as we hurried up to the green to find the ball eight feet, right under the hole. I made the putt for eagle, then parred 17 and 18, which were both playing tough. I was tied for third, two shots ahead of the defending champion, Tiger Woods.

I couldn’t believe it.

The next day I was paired with Ernie Els, twice a U.S. Open Champion and another one of the world’s best.

I wondered, Can I maintain my own game plan? Stay 100 percent in the present? Not think of anything? Anything, except the shot at hand? Not whom I’m playing with? Not what Tiger is doing? Just manage myself, and my game, to the best of my ability?

I didn’t know.

I did well for 10 holes.

I never looked at the scoreboard, so I didn’t know where I stood. But with birdies at two, three, eight and ten and no bogeys, I knew I couldn’t be far behind Shigeki Maruyama, who led me by five shots before we teed off for the last round. I parred 11 but on the 12th, I had a long, big-breaking putt that I three-putted. After a par at 13, I put my second shot on the downslope of the bunker on 14. My blast rolled 20 feet by and I two-putted. Another bogey.

On 15 I hit a wild shot off the tee. Oh boy, I thought, I’m starting to slip.

The feelings of self-doubt came creeping back. I told myself, Stay in the present. Get this next shot on the green.

Brandon and I had been sharing verses of Scripture all during the round. Even though my play was shaky, I felt God was there with me.

Strangely, I wasn’t nervous. I felt one verse, Ephesians 3:20, was taking place right then, right on the course. God was doing something “infinitely more than I could ever dream to dare, ask or imagine.”

I reminded myself, Praise God during the difficult times. Praise God during the difficult times.

I dug my six-iron into the rough and flew the ball onto the green. Two putts. Par. I felt like the bogey string was broken.

But I needed to play 16 well.

As I was walking to the 16th tee a fan said, “You eagled it yesterday. Do it again.”

I felt strong over the ball, as I got ready to drive. Like Saturday, I hit my best tee shot of the day, leaving me 238 yards to the pin, which was in the back right corner of the green. I played a cut three-wood which caught the right back fringe, but only 20 feet away.

When I stroked my putt, I knew it had a chance. With four feet to go, I knew it was going in. The adrenalin started to flow. The crowd screamed after I made my eagle putt, second in two days.

My iron shot to the par-three 17th covered the hole, but it ended up 20 feet past. When Brandon and I were standing behind the ball, lining it up, I knew I had a perfect read. And when I got over the ball, I thought, Get this started on the right line and it’ll go in.

It did.

Birdie, two.

Paul Stankowski told me I looked like a ballet dancer when I headed toward the hole to pick up my ball.

As I was walking to 18, I thought, Now I’m five under for the day, 10 for the tournament.

Par on 18 gives me 65.

I don’t know what Tiger is doing. I don’t know what Maruyama is doing. But I’ve got a chance to win.

After pushing my tee shot a bit to the right, I faced a major decision. I had told Brandon I wouldn’t look at a scoreboard unless it was one of the final holes and I had a chance to win.

“Am I in it?” I asked Brandon as we were looking under the tree toward the green.

“You’re right in the thick of it,” Brandon said.

My choice was to gamble or chip out. My ball was sitting near a tree root, which was directly on my line of flight to the green. If I went for the green, I had to keep the ball above the tree root and under some overhanging trees.

Maruyama was two shots ahead of me. Even if I birdied, unless he bogeyed 18, I still wouldn’t win.

Brandon and I agreed on the shot.

I chipped out.

Then I just about holed my seven-iron from 168 yards. I made my putt, signed my card, watched Maruyama make a par, grinned a moment or two as I stared at the scoreboard to see my name on top of Tiger’s, signed autographs, and then a PGA official whisked me away to the media center where I was put on the stand for questioning.

It was a soft, sofa chair and the questioning was pure fun.

Most of the reporters had never heard of me. They were fascinated when they found out I was marrying Heather that following Saturday and wanted to know what I would do with my prize money. I remember one asked me something like, “Do you know you made enough to secure your PGA card for 2003?”

“I wasn’t sure,” I said. I was feeling such joy that I had to restrain myself from laughing out loud.

“Do you know how much you won?” he asked. I didn’t know the money breakdown, but I did know second place was a sizeable check.

“$518,000.”

I shook my head. “I had no idea.”

That was twice what I had won in two entire years on the Buy.com Tour.

Then another reporter, who obviously had checked my stats and noticed this was the first cut I’d made in six weeks asked, “How’d you do it?”

“You really want to know?” I asked.

He nodded.

I lifted both arms straight to the ceiling. I thought to myself, God has done infinitely more than I dreamed to dare, ask or imagine.

Jim Hiskey, former PGA Tour player and Links Letter Editor, assisted Ben Crane in writing this article. Excerpt from A Prayer that Moves Heaven used by author’s permission.

COPYRIGHT 2002 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • Ben Crane

    5 PGA Tour Wins: 2003 BellSouth Classic, 2005 US Bank Championship, 2010 Farmers Insurance Open, 2010 CIMB Asia Pacific Classic, 2014 FedEx St. Jude Classic