By Vartan Kupelian
Gentle Ben At
His Own Game
It was a bomb, 50 feet at least, and it crashed into the hole on the first playoff hole at the 1979 PGA Championship. Surely, Ben Crenshaw, the finest putter of his generation, had twisted the dagger with the unlikely par. Certainly, it was over now.
David Graham faced his own par putt, from 20 feet,
and after what had transpired moments before, what
were the chances the Australian would make the putt
and prolong the playoff?
Remember, too, that this was on the South Course
at Oakland Hills Country Club, the famous Monster
of the 1951 U.S. Open. If Augusta National Golf Club
has the best, most difficult set of 18 greens in golf,
Oakland Hills can’t be far behind. The Monster has
large greens with big undulations and breakneck
speeds. Not even professional golfers can make a
living off 20-foot par putts.
Graham, four shots behind Rex Caldwell to start
the final round on one of the world’s great courses,
rallied to take a two-shot lead onto the 72nd tee. On
the final hole, he made double-bogey and enabled
Crenshaw to reach a sudden-death playoff. Nobody
was more surprised to have this opportunity than
Both men had played brilliantly. Graham shot 65
despite the double-bogey finish. Crenshaw had 67.
The 72-hole total for both men was 8-under-par 272.
Given Graham’s collapse, what were the chances
he could pull himself together now, especially after
Crenshaw’s enormous putt on the first extra hole, and
extend the playoff by making the putt? But make it he
did and they moved to the second extra hole.
There, Crenshaw made birdie and again left
the stage to Graham, who was faced with topping
Gentle Ben’s birdie or going home. Graham made the
On to the par- 3 third hole they went. It is the Monster
replica of the Redan Hole. The original Redan resides
at North Berwick, Scotland. Both men hit the green.
Crenshaw, again putting first, missed his birdie attempt.
Graham had 10 feet for birdie, the victory and the
He drained it. The best putter of his time, Crenshaw, had been beaten at his own game. He had
been outclassed on the greens. How often has that
With the victory, Graham became the fourth Australian to win a major championship, joining Jim Ferrier, Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle. Graham went
on to win a second major championship at the 1981
U.S. Open at Merion, where a final-round 67 erased
a three-shot deficit and enabled him to win by three.
Graham’s competitive career came to a sudden
end at age 58 when, in June, 2004, he collapsed over
a putt. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
There is one more historical footnote concerning
the 1979 PGA Championship: It was the last major in
which Sam Snead, then age 67, made the cut. Snead
shot 73-71-71-73 – 288. He tied for 42nd and won
$1,050. In the process, Snead beat Jack Nicklaus, a
man 28 years younger, by six shots.
The best putter of his time, Crenshaw, had been
beaten at his own game. He had been outclassed
on the greens. How often has that ever happened?