In a sport where athletes have traditionally been known as straight-laced competitors who rarely cut up on the golf course (or away from the game, for that matter), PGA veteran Ben Crane is certainly a rare bird.
Notorious for his slow style of play, the five-time tournament champion has produced a series of viral videos (collectively seen over 15 million times) that highlight his equally iconic deadpan sense of humor including the wildly popular parodies featuring Golf Boys (with fellow PGA Tour buddies Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, and Hunter Mahan).
But despite his wacky public persona, Crane is dead serious about some vitally important things such as his faith, his family, and his commitment to living with integrity. In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Crane talks about all of those topics and shares some of his favorite (and not so favorite) aspects of golf:
Chad Bonham: What’s your favorite thing about golf?
Ben Crane: I love how it resembles life so much with the way it ebbs and flows.
Bonham: What’s your least favorite thing about golf?
Crane: It’s so hard. Just when you think you have it under control and you’re playing real good, it doesn’t end up working out that way. It’s an incredibly humbling game. That’s one of these things I love the most but also hate.
Bonham: What’s your favorite course?
Crane: My favorite course would have to be St. Andrews. I don’t like blind tee shots and it has a lot, but coming into that course and playing those greens, how firm they are no matter if its rainy or sunny, it just teaches you everything you want to know about playing golf. What a fantastic experience it was to play in the Open Championship in 2010. I learned so much. When you make the turn and the winds just whipping, those holes are so challenging and you have to play so many different shots just to fight the ball into the wind. It’s just a fantastic course.
Bonham: What’s the toughest hole you’ve ever played?
Crane: Number 10 at Bethpage Black during the U.S. Open in 2009. It was a par four and I remember getting there and the wind was blowing into us and it was raining. It was about 240 yards to the fairway and it was so cold. The ball was hardly going anywhere. I stepped up to the tee and thought, “Man, I’m going to have to hit super hard and hit it good just to get it past the long grass.” It was one of the toughest starting holes we’ve ever had. I don’t think they expected it to be that cold and that wet and that difficult.
Bonham: With what golfer do you most enjoy being paired?
Crane: One of my favorite pairings is Stewart Cink. I played with him in at the final round of the 2003 Atlanta tournament, which I won. The previous week I had confided in him about fear. I’d really been struggling with fear on the golf course. Stewart just gave me a lot of great advice and really helped stir my affection for the Lord and directed me how to pray and how to turn it over (to Him). As God would have it, the very next week after I talked to him about that at the Players Championship, it was Atlanta and I got paired with him the last day. He just really encouraged me coming down the stretch and I ended up shooting 63 the last day and eagled the last hole to win by four. That was a fond memory.
Bonham: Stewart is one of the guys on tour especially noted for his faith and integrity. When did you make a conscious decision to strive for integrity in your own life?
Crane: I started doing that in college. I started meeting with a couple of guys and we just decided we were going to get together and pray once a week and let it go from there. Out of that little prayer group of four or five guys, one of those guys came out and caddied for me when I had just turned pro and was playing the mini tours. We were holding each other accountable while we were traveling on the road. That was one of my biggest steps of faith.
Bonham: How does the game of golf challenge your integrity?
Crane: One of the things in golf that’s hard to do is call penalties on yourself when no one else sees. I’ve touched the sand before when no one else saw it. All of the sudden, your heart knows it because it starts beating faster. I’ve dropped my ball on my coin before. At Tampa one year, I was getting ready to walk away from my coin and all of the sudden the ball dropped out of my hand and it landed on my coin and the coin moved. So I had to call an official over and say, “Hey, my ball dropped and hit my coin and moved it. Is that a penalty?” And he said, “Yeah, that’s a penalty.” That’s hard to do, but we’re always better off in the end because of it.
Bonham: In general, what does golf teach us about integrity?
Crane: Golf teaches us that the more that we develop integrity in our lives, the more joy we’ll experience in life. We have nothing to be ashamed of, because if we’re operating out of the truth, the truth will set us free.
Bonham: Who taught you about integrity?
Crane: I had great parents growing up. My parents, my grandpa, who ultimately taught me about golf, and a pastor and friend of mine Ron Mehl all taught me about integrity. Ron took my wife Heather and I under his wing through our dating years and the first part of our marriage and just showed us what it looked like to love well without any agenda. I think that really started to develop integrity in us.
Bonham: Why do you think integrity still matters, especially in a culture where relativism is becoming more pervasive?
Crane: Because it’s what God calls us to. At the end of the day, if we don’t have our integrity, then we’re not walking in a right relationship and we’re not letting God prune us. If we’re allowing God to prune us and make us more like Him, then we’re on the greatest walk of life and the greatest journey. That’s where we experience true joy and contentment and the filling of our cup. God also desires us to live with integrity so we can be a light for Him—so we can be a light in a dark world. When people live with integrity, they absolutely stand out.
Bonham: What has the Bible taught you about integrity?
Crane: The Bible is full of stories and one that comes to mind is Job. You think about Job and how incredible his life was and how faithful he was and then it was all taken from him. Yet God trusted him through it all. At one point, his wife says, “Curse God and die.” Job remained so faithful. He lost his family. He lost his health. He lost everything—all of his wealth and absolutely everything and he still remained faithful. You look at how many chapters where Job goes through pain and sores and in the end, what does God do? He blesses him more than He blessed him before because of his integrity and because of his desire to worship God alone. That’s one of my favorite stories.
Bonham: At different moments in your career, you’ve received some negative feedback because of your deliberate pace on the golf course. One situation with Rory Sabbatini back in 2005 was particularly newsworthy at the time. Talk about what happened that day and how your faith helped you respond in a constructive manner?
Crane: I was playing extremely slow at the Booz Allen Classic at Congressional and Rory got frustrated. Judy Rankin was interviewing me afterwards and she asked, “What’s going on?” I thought of Proverbs 15:1. It says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” That scripture popped into my mind. That was a defining moment for me because it was something that I needed to work on and I think a lot of people originally thought it was about Rory, but it was much more about me and what I could learn from it from my perspective. I wasn’t mad at Rory. I just realized that I needed to start playing faster and I realized that every time you apply God’s word to your life, it works out perfect.
Ben Crane (along with several other PGA golfers) is featured in the book Life in the Fairway: What Golf Teaches Us About Integrity.
(Photos: Stan Badz/PGA Tour; Ben and Heather Crane; Chad Bonham)