Carl Jackson: Augusta’s most experienced caddy on Ben Crenshaw
Every summer in the late 1950s a truck would arrive in the Augusta neighbourhood. The majority of the young kids would jump on and spend the day picking cotton to make some extra money, Carl Jackson chose to go to the golf course.
Jackson’s caddying life began at the nearby Augusta Country Club but, before too long, he started working full time at Augusta National having quit school at the age of 13.
He has been back there for over 50 Masters since.
His big break came at the age of just 14 when he picked up the bag of a member called Jack Stephens, who would become the Masters chairman in 1991.
Stephens, who died in 2005, employed the young caddy all summer and would go on to play a huge part in Jackson’s life.
He encouraged the youngster to earn his high school diploma through home study, after prompts from the original Masters chairman Clifford Roberts and former president Dwight Eisenhower, and Jackson moved to Arkansas in 1973 to work for Stephens as a live-in handyman, caretaker and caddy.
Their sons grew up as star linebackers on the same team.
“Mr Stephens was a very kind man, he liked something about me and always treated me well,” explained Jackson.
Jackson’s first Masters came in 1961 where he caddied for a ceremonial player Billy Burke – “he spent the whole week showing me how to move around and when to do my job and when to get out the players’ way” – and, after going close with Bruce Devlin in 1964, got another big break when he took over Gary Player’s bag in 1970.
After Player’s regular Augusta caddy, Arness Nipper, received a death threat due to South Africa’s apartheid policies, Jackson stepped in.
“It wasn’t a difficult choice. For a player like him, he was a world-class player and had already won the Masters. I dreamt about caddying for a player of those abilities.”
The pair were tied with Billy Casper standing in the middle of the 72nd fairway, with the 1961 champion needing a par to take the American into a play-off.
“I suggested a five iron and he thought it was a little less, he felt pumped-up and strong and there was nothing that I could do.
“He hit a great shot but it just didn’t work out and ended up in the front bunker, sitting like a fried egg. He hit a great bunker shot but it just ran on and he didn’t make the putt coming back.”
In 1976 Stephens pointed a young Ben Crenshaw in the direction of Jackson. The pair hit it off straightaway, finishing second, albeit eight shots adrift of Ray Floyd, in their first outing together.
Jackson had a colleague to thank for not standing in the way of what was meant to be.
As he recalled, with a typical chuckle: “It was a hit from the beginning. The caddy that he had before me, Ben was really fond of and the caddy was my good friend but he just didn’t have the golf experience.
“Even the caddy, as I was trying to apologise to him, said to me ‘if I was Ben Crenshaw I would pick you too’.
“Augusta set up so well for Ben’s game. It was no secret that his driver would go astray at times but he made up more than his share on the greens.
“They never counted the number of pars that he saved to keep a round going, or to stay in the tournament, but he was just magical on the greens, he had such perfect touch.”
Come 1984, Crenshaw had amassed five top 10s in their eight starts together. Going into the last round they were two behind Tom Kite but the Texan was on the charge having birdied both eight and nine.
His approach to the 10th, though, came up 60 feet short. Cue one of the Masters moments of all time…
Jackson’s first Masters came in 1961 where he caddied for a ceremonial player Billy Burke – “he spent the whole week showing me how to move around and when to do my job and when to get out the players’ way” “Anyone would struggle to two-putt. It was so tough and the hardest part was the last 20 feet. I did my suggestion and he went into that area, it was just the perfect speed.
“If it had missed he would have only had a two-footer coming back, but it didn’t.”
Shortly after, Crenshaw was within 4-wood range of the par-5 13th but appeared to be pacing around and playing for time.
“I’m stood up at the ball waiting for Ben to get about his business and knock it on the green and he is playing spectator for a minute.
“I didn’t know it at the time but he was waiting for Kite to hit his tee-shot at 12 and, when he hit it in the water, Ben just said ‘8 iron’ and we laid up.
“We did the same at 15 and ended up winning by two. I was very in tune with my bible training at the time so I was not much for celebrating, I was in a different mindset at the time,” added the 63-year-old, again with a deep chuckle.
The pair threatened again in 1987, 88, 89 and 91, each time finishing inside the top four, but, in 1995, there was to be a second Green Jacket. And in the most trying of circumstances.
A week before the Masters, Crenshaw’s mentor, coach and lifelong friend Harvey Penick passed away. The 90-year-old had given his pupil one last putting lesson only weeks before his death.
“We were trying to fit in a practice round as Ben would have to go back to Texas for the funeral. On the 9th he went to the tee and I waited down the fairway, in my usual spot, and looked back at Ben and his swing was right out of position.
“He hit his tee-shot and I looked at him and gave him my serious look and said ‘I think I just saw something and we need to go the practice tee’.
“We finished the hole and then he said he had some work to do, we went to the practice tee and I gave him what I thought the answer was and it was like magic.
“It was good that I had the day off when he was at the funeral, I could think about what help I could give in certain situations and I had to pay real attention to Ben as a lot of people would be yelling out their condolences.
“I had to keep him focused as they were causing him to think about something that was very painful to him, you could see it in his eyes at times that he was in mourning.”
After three rounds Crenshaw moved into a share of the lead and a closing 68 was good enough to hold off a fast-finishing Davis Love III, whose own father had been taught by Penick.
The image of Crenshaw finally breaking down as the final putt was holed is one that will live with anyone who witnessed it.
“It was a very sentimental moment. I just bent down and said ‘Ben, I understand, but it’s going to be OK, you’ve just won the Masters.”
This year would be Jackson’s 50th straight Masters but he missed one tournament, 10 years ago, though for a very good reason.
In January 2000, he was diagnosed with colonic cancer. He spent the whole year having treatment but has now fully recovered, with a helping hand from his old friend Crenshaw.
“When Ben got news of it I was at the hospital and had already had surgery.
“He called me and said ‘you tell them no matter what it takes, or what it costs, they need to do whatever it takes to get you well’.
“For someone to do something like that gives you the will to live and here I am today.”
Crenshaw now turns up at Augusta more for the experience than to contend. Unless, that is, it because especially firm and fast.
“That will bring in a lot of shorter knockers into the tournament.
“The course has been wet more often than not in recent years and a hard course brings in another 30 per cent of the field and tests your whole game. Can Ben still contend there?
“I would just love to have that chance to find out.”
• For more information on Carl and his foundation visit www.carlskids.org