Whenever Ben Crow played a tournament, whether in junior golf, high school, or college, his father Ken would be right there, walking nearby and watching. Every time father and son would get in the car for the drive back to their home in Pinehurst, N.C., Ken would start conversation with the same line:
“What was your best shot today?”
Start with the positive, that was Ken Crow’s way. Begin with what went right, and then work back to figure out what went wrong.
Ken Crow succumbed to cancer on August 23. Last Thursday, the day after Ken’s memorial service, Ben — now a senior at UNC Greensboro — and his mother Melody walked Pinehurst’s Cradle course with heavy hearts.
The Cradle is a nine-hole short course, with no hole longer than 127 yards. It’s perfect for an outing when the goal is the walk, not the scorecard. Although he’d grown up playing Pinehurst since he was three years old, Ben hadn’t spent much time on the Cradle.
The round was Ben’s first time swinging a club since his father’s passing. Melody, who met Ken decades before when he was a golf instructor at Pinehurst, had given up the game when Ben was born. But on Thursday, she and Ben worked as a team — he teed off on every hole, and she putted her choice of ball once they got to the green.
They reached the final hole of the round. The pin was about 101 yards away, and Ben dropped two balls — a Srixon 4 for his mother and a 3 for himself — onto the tee box. He’d seen this pin location before, downhill from a small ridge, and with a gentle right-to-left breeze, he knew exactly where to place his shot.
He swung his 52-degree wedge and the arc was perfect, landing just atop the ridge and then slowly rolling downhill, 30 feet into the center of the cup. It was the third ace of Ben’s career, and he and his mother exulted, along with the group behind them, for about 30 seconds.
“Then I looked down and saw the other ball was already sitting right there,” Ben told Yahoo Sports, “and so I went ahead and played that one.” The second shot landed within about three feet of the first, and followed the same path ... right into the hole.
The odds of a decent golfer of Ben’s caliber hitting a single ace are about 5,000-to-1. Back-to-back in consecutive strokes? That's a whole order of magnitude tougher. There aren't many examples of back-to-back aces — John Hudson, a European Tour pro, did it on two consecutive holes in 1971, and a Wisconsin couple did it last year — and Ben's story now ranks up there with theirs.
Once Ben’s second shot found the cup, the surrounding group exploded, and observers up on Pinehurst’s porch shouted in celebration. Melody began crying, and Ben put his arm around her.
“Everyone was celebrating around her, and she couldn’t speak,” Ben recalled, “When she finally did, she said, ‘You have no idea…’”
Ken Crow hadn’t just been a rock in their lives, he’d been a part of Pinehurst, too. He began as an instructor and worked his way up to director of golf operations at the club, which is now part of a burgeoning U.S. Open rotation. He would go on to manage numerous high-level courses in North Carolina, all the while keeping the kind of positivity that Ben maintains to this day.
“I work at junior golf tournaments, and when the kids come in off the course, the first thing I ask them is, ‘What was your best shot?’” Ben said. “If you’re not out there on the golf course having fun, what are you out there for?”
Ben is a member of UNCG’s golf team, where he acknowledges he’s not the best — more “middle to back of the pack.” He doesn’t have any illusions about his skills; he plans to go into the golf world on the business side rather than as a player. But he intends to keep the same work ethic and attitude his father instilled in him in all those car rides home.
Flaunting tradition for those who notch a hole in one, Ben didn’t get a chance to buy the clubhouse a customary round of drinks — or maybe two rounds, in this case. He’s taking his classes online while spending time with his mother, and he had to rush home for a Zoom meeting.
But that time will come, and when it does, Ben will be able to look back on a remarkable day, when his best shot was the best it could possibly be.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.