Ben Crenshaw's 1984 Masters title a chapter of long friendship with music star Larry Gatlin

Inside the board room at Austin Golf Club hangs the April 16, 1984, edition of the Augusta Chronicle, which contains a note from Ben Crenshaw to Larry Gatlin, now in faded black ink.


Forty years ago, Larry Gatlin, a Grammy Award-winning musician, boarded a flight to the Cayman Islands for a family vacation.

It was the week of the 1984 Masters.

Gatlin and Crenshaw had first met in 1969, when Ben arrived for a recruiting visit to the University of Houston. Gatlin, a wide receiver on the Cougars football team, was tasked with hosting the teenage prodigy.

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“I was the best recruiter on campus,” Gatlin said. “All the coaches knew it. So Dave Williams, our golf coach, comes running to Baldwin House Dormitory and says, ‘Gatlin, Gatlin, Crenshaw’s coming to visit and we have to get him. Here’s $25 bucks, go buy him a beer and a cheeseburger.’”

Larry’s blue Morris Minor convertible sped to the athletic department, where he greeted Crenshaw with a handshake.

“Everyone knows you’re going to the University of Texas,” Gatlin told Gentle Ben, “but let’s get a cheeseburger and a beer.”

In the years that followed, Crenshaw won three NCAA individual titles for Texas and turned professional in 1973. Gatlin was a rising music star living in Nashville. The two went a half-decade without speaking until Gatlin was asked for a pairing preference at the 1975 Atlanta Classic Pro-Am.

At the pre-tournament gathering, Crenshaw spotted Gatlin from across the room and blurted, “Hey, Larry! I know you’re going to Texas, but let’s grab a cheeseburger and beer!”

From that point on, the Pro-Am pairing became a staple.

Crenshaw and Gatlin; Gatlin and Crenshaw.

The Lone Star kids had climbed the ranks of their respective professions, and as important to both, they developed a bond.

"There are certain people you get around and you don’t have to explain anything to," Gatlin said of his connection with Crenshaw. "Some people you gotta explain ... to and some people you don’t. That’s the friendship we have. It’s a real friendship. You know, we use that word too much. Friend. I think we water it down. Some people aren’t friends, they’re an acquaintance. Well, Ben’s a damn friend.”

During Saturday’s round at the 1984 Masters, Larry and his wife, Janice, watched Crenshaw birdie No. 13 from an outdoor bar in the Cayman Islands as lightning crackled Augusta National. A hailstorm ravaged play at 5:36 pm, forcing 19 players to finish Sunday morning.

Crenshaw was an arm's length from the jacket, but this was nothing new. He’d nestled in the top eight on five occasions since 1976. He was runner-up the previous April.

But Janice sensed this was different. Less than 48 hours into their getaway, Mrs. Gatlin looked at her husband.

“Larry, go home,” she said. “He’s gonna win it.”

Larry packed his bags and caught connecting flights from George Town to New York to Atlanta.

He arrived in Augusta on Sunday morning.


Larry was scooped at the airport by his brother, Steve Gatlin, who had accompanied Crenshaw in his rental home all week.

Steve understood his role as roommate: to keep Gentle Ben at ease. Less than a month prior to the 1984 Masters, Crenshaw and his wife, Polly, had divorced, and Crenshaw arrived in Augusta needing friends.

Paired with an up-and-comer named Nick Faldo, Crenshaw played Sunday’s first eight holes in 2-under par before seizing the lead with a slippery 12-footer at the ninth.

Then, when his second at No. 10 landed 60 paces short, Crenshaw made eye contact with Larry Gatlin in the gallery.

“I mouthed to Ben, ‘Just two putt, I’m going to pee,’” Gatlin said. “I’d been drinking beer. So I’m doing my business and I hear a roar, as only they can roar in Augusta. I’m zipping my pants, halfway tinklin’ on myself.”

Larry bulldozed the door and saw patrons sprinting towards Amen Corner.

At Augusta National, running is prohibited with minimal exceptions. Nicklaus’s second nine in 1986; Hogan’s 66 in 1967; Crenshaw’s bomb at 10.

Larry engaged a sprinter, wondering if the ovation belonged to Ben or Faldo. Deep down, Larry knew.

“The fan looked at me,” Gatlin said. “And he goes, ‘God almighty, Crenshaw made one from half a mile.’”


Larry waited beneath the clubhouse oak tree as Crenshaw tended to jacket duties. The sun disappeared as trash crews made a final collection when a cart engine approached. Ben was the passenger in a vehicle driven by Charlie Yates.

Yates, whose member number at Augusta National was three, behind only Bob Jones (one) and Cliff Roberts (two), invited Gatlin aboard.

The men went to the press building, where Larry stood in the back as Ben controlled the podium. Their next stop was the locker room, where Yates connected dots. Without hesitation, he abandoned his role as chauffeur and sang.

Just a closer walk with Thee

Grant it, Jesus, is my plea

Daily walking close to Thee

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

“We all start singing with him,” Larry said.

After a first melody, Yates encored. Their next chart topper was “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.”

By the concert’s conclusion, Yates had asked Larry to return in 1985 as his guest.

Midnight neared as Crenshaw and Gatlin returned to their Augusta home. They popped cold ones and ate a slice as Crenshaw fielded congratulatory calls.

They awoke Monday to read the Augusta Chronicle, where the sports section displayed Crenshaw in an Onion Creek Country Club polo watching his 60-footer on No. 10.

Ben searched the kitchen for a pen and scribed a note on the upper left corner.

To Larry,

Bob Jones once said that friendship may even transcend love …

All my best —


This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: 1984 Masters: Ben Crenshaw, Larry Gatlin friendship steeled in green jacket day