Ben Crane’s biggest splash over the last four years came off the course in the form of a red unitard and a bike helmet. Along with PGA Tour bros Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, and a hillbilly’d out Bubba Watson, Crane generated “The Golf Boys” music videos that made the foursome an internet sensation. The University of Oregon grad was at the head of it. The first video “Oh, Oh, Oh,” which as of this writing has over 7 million views on YouTube, debuted on Crane’s channel. He posted a series of other clips in which he answers questions sporting the famous red getup he wore for “Oh, Oh, Oh.” He was also last year’s “Bubble Boy”.
But while Crane was making strides away from the course, his golf struggled on it. A back injury and swing changes severely hampered Crane’s effectiveness. He won four times on Tour by the close of 2011. He hadn’t won since and had finished in the top ten just eight times in that span. As Crane’s Golf Boys cohorts continued their ascent to stardom, he soon became an afterthought.
That is, until this weekend. Crane led wire to wire at the FedEx St. Jude Classic to capture his first Tour win in three years on Sunday with -10, one shot victory over Troy Merritt. It was performance that few saw coming. Crane entered Memphis on a streak of five cuts in his last seven events. His best finish in 2014 was a T9 way back at the Humana Challenge in January.
Crane turned back the clock on a soggy weekend. He came out Friday with a blistering 63, and responded with a second round 65 despite battling wind and rain. Sunday’s final round was made even longer, not just because a nervy Crane dialed up the waggles, but also because the third round was completed in the morning. His 69 gave Crane a comfortable cushion he would not relinquish.
In fact, he won the tournament without making a single birdie over his last 18 holes. It was a performance worthy of a U.S. Open even though Crane won’t be there in Pinehurst.
You could see how much this victory meant to Crane, who was justifiably emotional in his post round interview. He entered 18 with a two shot lead over the surprising Merritt. What did Crane do? Challenge the water on the left with a booming drive? Make sure to get his birdie so as to pun an emphatic stamp on his win?
No. He played his drive well right of the hazard, laid up into a bunker, and two-putted for bogey. It was safe golf, but under the circumstances, smart golf, proving that Crane may have lost his ability to win but he remembered how to do it.
There was a bit of a lesser field in Memphis. That’s usually the case the week prior to a Major. Merritt, whose second place represents the best finish of his career, was just one of a collection of unheralded golfers who found themselves on the leaderboard. Former Missouri Tiger and Tour rookie Peter Malnati shot 65-68 before fading on the weekend. Still, for a man who’s missed eight cuts in 12 events, a T19 marks progress.
Andrew Svoboda finished in the top ten, as did James Hahn, Matt Every, and Brian Harman. But there were a few stars sprinkled in. Phil Mickelson posted three rounds in the 60’s to spark hope going into Pinehurst. U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson closed with a 66 to claim third place. And the fiery Ian Poulter blitzed a difficult course for a 64 that will have him playing confidently next week. Can Poulter become the second straight Englishman to win the U.S. Open?
Perhaps. But that’s looking too far ahead. Right now let’s celebrate Crane. It’s not easy to sit back and watch your friends enjoy success once promised to you. It’s more difficult when injuries rob you of the chance. Crane has endured his fair share of setbacks over the past few years, but he’s always taken them in stride. Now he’s made his well-deserved return to the top of the leaderboard.