AUGUSTA, Ga. — They made history, but only one made birdies. The first father and son pair to play in the same Masters went their own ways on the scoreboard, which, according to others, is what they’d already done in their lives.
Craig Stadler, the dad, and Kevin, his first-born, were separated by 40 minutes Thursday on the pairing sheet of the 78th Masters and were separated by 12 strokes when the first round was over.
Maybe that’s why Craig, 60, was less than enthusiastic when a reporter seeking one of those warm and fuzzy family tales asked if he had watched Kevin tee off.
“No,” was the one-word response.
Told that Kevin, 34, among the leaders with a 2-under par 70, “did pretty well today,” Craig followed with, “Did he? Good.”
Kevin was in the third group, at 7:56 a.m. on a morning that would warm as hours passed but was chill when he began. Craig went off at 8:40 a.m.
When he finished, Craig went off in a different manner, proclaiming, “I played like a moron.”
Craig, the 1982 Masters winner, shot 82 with only a single birdie, on the par-5 13th. That would upset anyone.
So perhaps would the seeming estrangement in the Stadler family, with Craig divorcing Kevin’s mom and remarrying. Neither Kevin nor his younger brother attended the wedding.
When Kevin finally broke through for his first victory in 239 tournaments, the Waste Management Phoenix Open at Scottsdale in February, to qualify for the Masters, reporters asked him about the relationship with his father.
“It's fine, but I'd rather not talk about it,” he said, then later adding, “I'm just not as close to him now as I used to be, but he's still my dad. I still love him.”
Craig announced immediately he would enter the Masters for a 38th and final time, to join Kevin, and they held a joint conference call arranged by the PGA Tour.
Earlier this week, they did appear together in the Masters media room. Craig conceded the week would be emotional and Kevin recalled when, as a toddler, he would whack plastic balls around the house the family rented during Masters week.
“I’m so proud of the way he’s played the last three, four years,” Craig said of Kevin. “This is a very cool thing, and thanks to Kev, I’m here.”
They did play a few holes of practice together, but for the most part, there wasn’t a full display of being the best of buddies, because they’re not.
Kevin asked Craig for a few hints about the Masters course, Augusta National, which, with its rolling greens and steep fairways, is supposed to be impossible to conquer for first-timers.
“He’s driving it really good,” Craig said Monday after they’d been acting like a couple of golf pros as well as, for the moment, father and son.
“He’s evolved into a wonder iron player,” Craig explained. “He hits it high. So he does what you need to do around here, and it’s just a matter of how friendly his putter is day in and day out, I think.”
Craig grew up in La Jolla, the ritzy suburb of San Diego, went to USC and, despite heft and bulk, was magic with the wedge and putter. The 1973 U.S. Amateur winner could be sarcastic with the press, but that only added to the package.
His size, embellished by a droopy mustache, brought about the perfect nickname, “Walrus.” That’s how he was known as he continued his quest as a senior on the Champions Tour.
The younger Stadler followed his father to USC and then to the Tour. It’s never easy taking up the same line of work as your dad, particularly when he is successful and famous. And never home.
“I don’t see him very often,” said Craig, when asked how much he and his son were together. “We’re always traveling one way or the other. I’m here, and he’s there, and we never cross paths. We’re usually at opposite ends of the country.”
This week, in the first major of 2014, they’re basically in the same place, in the same Masters, even if the scoreboard might not indicate as much.
Someone in the media asked Kevin what it was like, seeing his father’s name on the board and then playing through with the old man, the Walrus, still on the course.
“I don’t know,” said Kevin. “It was nothing out of the ordinary. I’m used to seeing his name up there. They put the scores up for us everywhere we do.”
But they’ve never put them up at the same time at Augusta National.
No matter how father and son attempted to act as if it was routine, it was not. On the contrary, it was history at a very historical place.
Art Spander, winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from the PGA of America, is covering his 150th major golf championship. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.