2005: PGA Tour - Crane sets pace, and no one catches him

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Milwaukee

Ben Crane won the U.S. Bank Championship by four strokes with a record-tying total. His wire-to-wire victory at Brown Deer Park showed he is over back problems that plagued him much of the first half of the year. And his skillful play while weathering two days of long storm delays and high wind and temperatures Sunday showed he is one of America’s best players under age 30.

At the same time, his reputation as perhaps the PGA Tour’s slowest player was enhanced as well. Crane knows this and says he is working on speeding up. That includes consulting with a psychoanalyst weekly. Nonetheless, his group was put on the clock for being out of position on the back nine of both weekend rounds. Crane expressed remorse for putting fellow competitor Scott Verplank, the runner-up, in that spot.

“I hate to be on the clock,” Crane said after his second Tour victory, on a day the heat index reached 105. “There’s nothing good about it. Again, I wish I could flip a switch and play fast.

But it’s a process. Over the next six months, I think I’ll be at a place I’ll be comfortable with and be in position.

“It stinks for Scott. Unfortunately it’s the way it happened. I feel terrible about it.”

Crane’s pace was called into the public eye at the Booz Allen Classic in early June, when Rory Sabbatini lost his patience and walked ahead to play shots before Crane arrived at the 17th green and 18th tee during the final round. Afterward, both apologized – Crane for his slowness, Sabbatini for his behavior.

Crane said he told himself after that runner-up finish, “Now I’m going to play fast.” But he changed his mind after talking with psychoanalyst Dr. Preston Waddington. He said Waddington asked him, “You’re not going to go out and play fast, are you?”

They devised a plan to speed up “over time.” Waddington, he said, has helped him understand why he’s slow. “I’m trying to hit it with my head instead of with my body,” said Crane, whose first victory came at the 2003 BellSouth Classic.

Crane walks quickly to the ball but takes longer than normal during his preshot routine and over the ball. It was common for spectators in Milwaukee to comment on Crane’s pace. Some timed him. Some counted his waggles and head turns. Some muttered, “Hit the ball.” One Tour wife watched him and said, “I’m a big fan of Rory Sabbatini now.”

The only time Crane played fast was while running to his ball Friday night, trying to finish Round 2 before darkness fell.

Verplank, a four-time Tour winner and former Ryder Cupper, often looked away and took the blame for letting it negatively affect him.

“It’s a nuisance being on the clock, but I kind of expected it,” Verplank said, later adding that Crane is used to it because he has been on the clock much of the year. “I think he’s trying to play fast. He’s a nice guy. I like him and most people do, but it’s hard to watch.

“He’s just very fidgety. He stands over the ball and bobs and weaves and swivels around. I think I’d pass out. . . . It’s good he’s a great guy. If he wasn’t, he’d have a hard time with the players.”

Players who receive 10 bad times get fined $20,000. Verplank, for one, says the rule needs to be changed.

“We need to single out players,” he said. “Everybody knows who consistently holds everybody up.”

Players endured weather delays that totaled9 hours, 24 minutes on Thursday and Saturday. Crane dealt well with that and stuck to his painstakingly meticulous routine even though he knew it bothered others.

“I’ve been praying with my wife for peace this week,” he said after 54 holes. “The Scriptures say God will give you peace beyond all understanding. Certainly, there have been reasons to get uneasy.”

Verplank seemed a bit uneasy leaving Round 3 down two strokes.

“One day Ben is either going to get heavily fined or he’s going to play faster, I guess,” he said. “He’s working on it. . . . Hopefully he’ll work on it some more tonight and tomorrow. . . . I think maybe he needs to do just a little bit more.”

Crane zoomed ahead with an opening 62, went 65-64 in the middle and needed a closing 62 to break Tommy Armour III’s 72-hole Tour scoring record. As it was, his final-round 69 for a 20-under 260 total was plenty good enough in the heat and wind that gusted to 25 mph. When he finished, Crane had gone through 20 gloves for the week because of weather.

Crane chipped in for eagle on the 556-yard sixth for a five-stroke edge on Verplank and never let him get closer than three. He won largely on the strength of his putter. He led the field in two categories in which he tops the Tour – average putts per round and putts per green in regulation.

He played the final round without looking at the leaderboard. He won despite waking up at 4 a.m. Sunday thinking about the final round; he ate some cereal and went back to sleep until 8:30. And he won with a new swing he had to adopt because his old one progressively caused so much back pain that he couldn’t play as recently as February. In helping Crane take pressure off his back, instructor Butch Harmon got him to improve his swing’s width and post up on his left leg.

“Basically I sprained my back over and over again swinging,” Crane said. “I used to stand up and arch my back at the top of the backswing.”

You might say the quick fix has paid quick dividends. As he said, he’s trying to get faster.

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