Craig Stadler comes to Congressional Country Club next week looking for a third straight victory in the Kemper Open golf tournament. He also is looking for his right mind. He says he lost it on the 18th green here the other day. He began The Memorial with a 77, added a 79 and set a PGA record for number of times wanting to throw a club without doing it. You've heard of lust in your heart. This was rage in his heart.
In 1982 Stadler was the tour's leading money winner with $446,462 on four victories--Tucson, Masters, Kemper and World Series of Golf. He cashed checks in 23 of 25 tournaments with 11 top-10 finishes.
By the time he came to the 18th tee here Friday, Stadler figured he needed a hole in one to qualify for the last two rounds. The 18th being a hellhole six miles long, Stadler's tee shot landed in a creek, not in the cup. He reached the green with his fourth shot, 25 feet below the hole.
From there, with maybe 20,000 spectators on the hillsides around the green, Stadler four-putted.
He hockey-sticked the last two putts, scraping them at the cup, and took a quadruple-bogey 8.
Stadler hasn't won a tournament this season. His six top-10 finishes are offset by the six times he missed the cut. With $116,099 earned so far, he can pay the light bill, but the Craig Stadler who hockey-sticks it at Jack Nicklaus' playground is not the Craig Stadler seen rising to greatness a summer ago.
"I lost my head at the last hole," Stadler said. "I don't know what I was thinking about."
After signing autographs for a small crowd of youngsters outside the scoring tent, Stadler brushed off a white-haired man who asked, "Craig, would you sign this 'To . . . '?" The name was inaudible.
"I don't even know how to spell that," Stadler said, walking on until his wife Sue snapped at him, "Craig. Do it."
Stadler did it, forcing a smile as the days of his discontent keep turning darkly. For the first time in nearly three years, he has missed the cut two straight weeks. Not only that, he finished "maybe 40th" in a Japanese tournament this month.
Stadler insists he plays by feel.
No paralysis by analysis for the Walrus.
These days, the feeling is gone. The first round here, Stadler, a wonderful wedge player, dumped a simple wedge shot into a creek. Later he put a four-iron shot in a pond. He needed two swipes to get out of a bunker and bladed a chip shot. The second round, he three-putted twice before the four-putt finale.
"My iron play was pathetic the first day," Stadler said. "I think I hit five greens."
It was six. The second day, he hit 11 as his wandering irons betrayed perfect drives. He reached three par-5 holes in two shots, making birdies, but he didn't come close to another birdie.
An early sequence Friday seemed symbolic of what Stadler calls his "roller coaster year."
He reached the 531-yard fifth with a three-wood, setting up an 18-foot eagle putt to go one under par and only four over for the tournament. "It would have been a turnaround," Stadler said.
He missed the putt, settling for a birdie, and then botched the next hole.
A four-iron approach disappeared in deep rough behind the green. "I was dead there," Stadler said. His first chip went two feet. A bogey there moved Stadler to slam his wedge into his golf bag, ker-blooommmm.
Which reminds. The weather satellites, if they're worth a dime, must have reported unusual atmospheric activity over Ohio this week, because smoke curling from Stadler's ears created cloud formations heavy enough to ground small planes.
Some golfers rage against fate, certain in their belief that the gods of bogey have it in for them. These men suffer in such whimpering fashion that one wishes they'd do the right thing and step under the next Amtrak to Hackensack.
Some golfers in masks of detachment hide emotions because they believe too much of anything, be it joy or suffering, is destructive. These mechanical men often compare a round of golf to a day at the office. These men operate on four C batteries.
But, ah, Craig Stadler is our hero. Because he is stronger than iron in his shoulders, hands and legs (as all great golfers are), it is foolish to say he resembles ordinary folks. Yet the equatorial girth and ample rosy cheeks say, "Here's a guy who'll share a six-pack and a large pizza."
The best part, though, is that Stadler gets angry without causing offense. It is clear he is mad at only Craig Stadler, who deserves it when bad shots add up. He calls it "self-disappointment." He gives lip readers in the gallery a thrill, he flips a club in disgust, he rips his golf glove off and stuffs it in his pocket--all with a walrusian scowl that would frighten the fishes of the seas.
"I get excited when I succeed," Stadler said, "and when I fail--when I don't produce--that shows, too. It's showing right now."
Right now, in the players' lounge?
"Right this minute."
"Nothing for us to talk about. Something that's bothering me off the course. All it is is a matter of me getting my mind in shape. These two days here, I've just made stupid mistakes caused by a lack of thinking."
There's nothing wrong, Stadler said, that going to Congressional for the Kemper can't fix up.
"I've had a roller-coaster year, and I'm having trouble getting started. Maybe I'll get started next week. Obviously, Congressional is good for me. I've done well on long, difficult courses. It's a matter of confidence, and it helps your confidence to be going somewhere where you know you've done well in the past.
"It's also a factor that other players say they can't play Congressional or they won't go there because it's 'my' course. When I hear that, I say, 'Good, let's make it be my course forever.' "
Stadler smiled oh-so sweetly.