In the glass memorabilia case in the men's grill of Augusta National, the famous clubs of the great Masters champions of the past are lovingly enshrined. These golf weapons, dating back almost 50 years, are burnished like sacred heirlooms. The wooden shafts of the '30s clubs still glisten and you can see your reflection in the faces of the mashies and niblicks.
The most recent clubs are the putters of the renowned players who have been champs in the '80s: Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson and Craig Stadler.
The blades of Watson and Ballesteros are in mint condition. That of Stadler, who shot a 69 today, looks like it has been run over several times by a bulldozer. All parts of the putter, including the face, are lined and creased with scars and scrapes, nicks and dents. You stop counting the marks at about 40 because you can't even see the back of the club.
"Proves I really used the thing," said Stadler, twitching his rusty walrus mustache. "Left my trademark on it."
This year, the holder of the green jacket will use a new putter. He spotted one of Ben Crenshaw's Wilson 8813s--his brand--last month and liked its feel. Mostly, Stadler liked the way it looked: new. "Ben may not get it back," said Stadler. "It's about the same as mine, except it's got about 48 less cart-path grooves (on the bottom) and 20 less spike marks on the face."
In moments of trial and disgust, Stadler beats the earth and the trees upon it with his putter. He wacks his bag so loudly with it that spectators jump and, at the slightest pique, will kick the infernal thing with his spikes. Strange treatment, considering that the putter is easily Stadler's best, not his worst, club.
Some will never develop a taste for Stadler. In the sedate world of golf, he will always impress some as being too fat, too emotional, too defiantly styleless, too earthy, too working-class, too much a blunt wise guy who loves to see through exactly the sort of pretentions that the Masters cultivates.
Within the golf community, it is considered the height of irony that Stadler would win the Masters in '82, and that his game, long off the tee, high and soft into the greens, and deadly on the short grass, is just the sort that may make him a winner here a couple of more times.
When Stadler finished his first practice round here this week, he and his playing partners walked into the grill and ordered lunch. This sounds normal, but here it isn't. In this class-conscious setting, the grill is for the run-of-the-mill players, agents, relatives, even reporters. Directly above is the Champions Room; through those swinging doors pass only the folks who own green jackets. You can go years without seeing Nicklaus, Palmer, Snead or Watson in the grill.
When Stadler ordered his burger and beer, "they looked shocked," Stadler said of his partners. "Well, I played with 'em. I'm not going to go upstairs and eat by myself."
On the general subject of how much time he spends in the Champions Room, Stadler said, "Big as I am, I don't need to climb any more stairs." Stadler knows that the Masters brass was less than ecstatic about a hot-tempered fellow with a pot belly winning their snappy affair last spring. At first, he lost 20 pounds, then decided what the hell and put it all back on. Everybody knows a walrus can't climb stairs; it's hard on the flippers.
Stadler does not disdain the Masters pomp, but he's doing a nice job of keeping it at arm's length. For instance, asked about the current condition of the hallowed course, Stadler said, "There's more grass on the greens this year. Even the 12th green, which has never been any good, is fantastic. The fairways are spotty, but plenty good enough."
The 12th green, the most famous hole here, "has never been any good"? The fairways are "spotty." What is this, the Joe Garagiola-Tucson Open?
This year, the Masters has allowed the players to use their tour caddies, if they wish. Stadler, who has a clear sense of fair's-fair, is sticking with his Augusta caddie, although he says his regular tour caddie "is probably cussing me out."
Asked if it was true that winning the Masters brings a fellow an extra million dollars in outside income, Stadler said, "Who says it does? Arnold? No one came knocking on my door with a check for a million. Over the years, it will have an effect . . . maybe a million dollars, maybe $500."
Last year, Stadler refused to change his post-Masters schedule just to make a buck. The people to whom he'd promised his time got his time, even if they couldn't pay him top dollar. "If I'd taken everything I was offered, I'd have beat myself into the ground," said Stadler. "I came close to doing that, anyway."
While Stadler likes to take pokes at the Masters mystique here ("Strategy? I don't have any strategy."), he also has respect for Augusta National's genuine traditions. "I've very much enjoyed the past year, the recognition," said Stadler. "(The victory) has gotten a lot of (my) thinking time . . . reliving the thoughts. It's all very enjoyable . . .
"Somewhere in those first one to four weeks that followed (the playoff win), it hit me. I can't remember the exact moment, but I'm sure, when I was layin' in bed, I thought, 'My God, I did win that sucker.' "
The eyes of the Augusta official running the interview got slightly larger. "My God, I did win that sucker." Heavens, how uncouth.
Not the way Robert T. Jones would have phrased it, perhaps, but good enough for the grill, if that's the sort of place you prefer.