Crash­Course

1978 Open had last­ing ef­fects on Kite, Cren­shaw

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Kevin Rob­bins

On a sum­mer day in Scot­land in 1978, two for­mer col­lege team­mates from Austin ar­rived in St. An­drews to com­pete in the old­est cham­pi­onship in golf, the Bri­tish Open.

Tom Kite had seen the Old Course be­fore. He played in the 1971 Walker Cup am­a­teur matches against Great Bri­tain and Ire­land, and on the bus from Glas­gow he asked other mem­bers of the Amer­i­can team if an­cient St. An­drews was a hilly course like the ones he knew in Texas.

The play­ers told Kite, then 21, they had no log­i­cal re­ply.

“It’s a flat course that plays hilly,” Kite said his team­mates told him in 1971. “I didn’t quite un­der­stand their an­swer un­til I saw the golf course.”

Ben Cren­shaw, who played with Kite at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas, knew the Old Course only from maps, film, pub­lished ac­counts and his own dreams. He came to St. An­drews in 1978 hav­ing earned five PGA Tour ti­tles and a fleet­ing brush with Bri­tish Open glory the pre­vi­ous

sum­mer, when he fin­ished tied for fifth on the high cliffs of the west Scot­tish coast at Turn­berry.

Cren­shaw in­stantly was charmed by the vast, rip­pled fair­ways of the most fa­mous course in the world.

“I was just fas­ci­nated,” Cren­shaw said of his first en­counter with the linksland on St. An­drews Bay. “It’s ba­si­cally a very flat golf course from some per­spec­tives. But when you get out and play it, it’s any­thing but flat. It’s just a sea of very minute and in­ter­est­ing un­du­la­tions. “I still mar­vel at them.” Against that back­drop of mys­tery and in­trigue, Kite, 28, and Cren­shaw, 26, set out that Thurs­day in July to com­pete in their first Bri­tish Opens con­tested at St. An­drews.

The bunker-laden course of dou­ble greens and dra­matic creases, evolved of wind and wa­ter and graz­ing an­i­mals, had been the scene of 21 pre­vi­ous Bri­tish Opens, known be­yond the U.S. as the Open Cham­pi­onship. Some form of golf had been played there since 1552. Tom Kidd won the first Open Cham­pi­onship in 1873 with rounds of 91 and 88. Later vic­tors in­cluded Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and, in 1970, Jack Nick­laus.

Eight sum­mers later, Cren­shaw opened with a 2-un­der­par 70. Kite tied for 26th in the first round at even-par 72.

In the sec­ond round, both of them shot 69.

Cren­shaw started the piv­otal third round that Satur­day in a tie for first place with Isao Aoki of Ja­pan and Seve Balles­teros of Spain. Two shots be­hind, Kite was tied for sixth.

“My con­fi­dence was up,” Cren­shaw re­called. “I was in great po­si­tion. I’d done some nice things there at St. An­drews.”

Kite shot a steady 72 in round three. Cren­shaw played the course at a shot over par, 73.

Cren­shaw re­mem­bered the round as “a lit­tle loose.” He fin­ished with a share of third place, a shot be­hind the lead­ers, Peter Ooster­huis and Tom Wat­son.

Up for grabs

Kite started the fi­nal round two shots out of first and in a tie for sev­enth. He’d made up a stroke on Cren­shaw, who be­gan his Sun­day round tied with Simon Owen of New Zealand, who shot a 67 in the third round, and the last man to win at St. An­drews: Nick­laus, who went around the Old Course that third-round Satur­day in 69 swings.

The cham­pi­onship was any­one’s.

“It’s a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery time you go there,” Kite said. “You have to re­fresh your me­mory as to where all the haz­ards are, be­cause they’re not out there for you to see.”

On that Sun­day in 1978, Kite drove the green on the par-4 12th hole. He made birdie.

He said a thought oc­curred to him at that moment. That he could win. Kite evaulated a 15-foot putt for birdie on the 13th hole. He pro­duced a “beau­ti­ful putt,” he said, that missed. He had a sim­i­lar-length putt for birdie on No. 14. He missed that, too.

“At St. An­drews, you don’t get the ball close to the hole very of­ten. The greens are so huge, the bounces are so er­ratic, that you don’t al­ways feel like you have to­tal con­trol. That par­tic­u­lar day,” Kite said, “I had a num­ber of putts that were in the 15-to 20-foot range. And I didn’t make any of them.”

Cren­shaw suf­fered early but en­joyed bet­ter for­tune later in his round.

He made a dou­ble-bo­gey on the 480-yard par-4 fourth hole. He shot a 3-over 39 on the out­ward nine holes.

But the un­du­la­tions and folds in the land that en­chanted him so much be­came friend­lier to his cause on the in­ward side.

Cren­shaw shot a 4-un­der 32 on the last nine holes. He fin­ished with a four-round to­tal of 5-un­der 283. And so did Kite. The two child­hood friends and ri­vals sat on the steps of the Royal and An­cient Club­house and waited for destiny.

Nick­laus and Owen held it in their hands, but Owen made a se­ries of er­rors late in the round when he bo­geyed the 16th and 17th holes.

Nick­laus fin­ished with verve and pa­tience. His last ob­sta­cle was the no­to­ri­ous Road Hole, the par-4 17th. He made par there. “When Jack got past 17, you kind of felt like he was go­ing to win,” Kite said.

Nick­laus shot a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive 69 to claim an­other Claret Jug at the Old Course. Kite and Cren­shaw fin­ished in a four-way tie for sec­ond with Owen and Ray­mond Floyd.

The Tex­ans went on to play other Open Cham­pi­onships at St. An­drews. In 1984, they shared 22nd place. In 1990, Kite missed the cut; Cren­shaw tied for 31st.

In 1995, Kite tied for 58th. Cren­shaw, in his last Bri­tish Open on the Old Course, tied for 15th.

Tiger Woods won his first Open Cham­pi­onship at St. An­drews in 2000. And Kite played his last one there, open­ing with 72-72 to make the cut be­fore he fin­ished with a share of 70th place.

Con­nected deeply and in­deli­bly by place, time and tra­jec­tory, Kite and Cren­shaw went on to Hall of Fame ca­reers in the game. Each earned 19 ti­tles on the PGA Tour. Cren­shaw won a pair of Masters. Kite won a U.S. Open. They now com­pete on the Cham­pi­ons Tour but yearn, in their own ways, for the dom­i­nance and do­min­ion they once ex­er­cised over the game that was for­mal­ized cen­turies ago on St. An­drews Bay. They now de­sign cour­ses of their own. They live still in Austin.

Their sec­ond-place fin­ishes in 1978 re­main their best in the old­est cham­pi­onship in golf.

“I still think it’s the most in­ter­est­ing and think­ing golf course in the world,” Cren­shaw said of St. An­drews. “There’s an in­fi­nite amount of ways that you can play the golf course.”

Cren­shaw calls the Old Course “the most demo­cratic golf course in the world.”

There are no in­tim­i­dat­ing, nar­row lanes of fair­way hemmed by dense rough or cor­ri­dors of trees.

Noth­ing tells the player how to play the loop of holes that be­gin and end in nearly the same spot.

In fact, much of the course ap­pears as open and lim­it­less as the imag­i­na­tion.

“If you’re a be­gin­ner, you can play it,” Cren­shaw said. “If you’re an ex­pert pro­fes­sional, it holds your at­ten­tion.”

“St. An­drews gives you tons and tons of op­tions,” Kite said. “More op­tions that any golf course that’s been de­signed.

“There it is,” Kite said. “Go fig­ure out how to do it.”

That’s what they did in 1978. That’s what the field will do to­day, the 28th oc­ca­sion the Open Cham­pi­onship com­mences on the Old Course, the home of golf.

TOM KITE

1978

72-69-72-70–283 (-5)

1978 AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jack Nick­laus, left, hugs cad­die Jimmy Dick­in­son af­ter Nick­laus shot a fi­nal-round 69 to win the 1978 Bri­tish Open by two shots over Ben Cren­shaw, Tom Kite, Simon Owen and Ray­mond Floyd.

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