Craig Stadler, One Year After : He Throws in the Towel Over Last Year's Incident

Times Staff Writer

Done in by home viewers, in his own hometown, no less. Imagine that.

All these years, Craig Stadler had heard how his thinning hair, bushy mustache, bulging waistline and fitful temper made him the professional golfer for Everyman.

Much of his constituency would just as soon plop itself down in front of the tube with a cold one for an afternoon of viewing than walk 18 holes on a Sunday morning.

These were Stadler guys. The couch potatoes.

Well, last year, some of these stay-at-homes ruined Stadler's weekend at Torrey Pines Golf Course, the course of his teen-age years at La Jolla High School. And they cost him $37,333.33.

That was what Stadler would have earned for finishing in a three-way tie for second place behind winner George Burns at the Shearson Lehman Brothers Andy Williams Open. But he was disqualified after the final round because of a rules violation he had committed a day earlier. The violation probably would have gone undetected had not Professional Golfers Assn. officials at the tournament been alerted to the infraction by television viewers who called to report it.

Stadler left the course that day without commenting to reporters on his disqualification. A year later, as he prepared this week for the start of the Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open today, the subject remained a sore spot.

"Skip it," Stadler said firmly, waving his arms for emphasis but smiling enough that he did not appear still to be raging. "It's been a year. Let a dying dog die."

Or, in this case, kneel, boy, kneel. Because that's what got Stadler in trouble in the first place.

Stadler was disqualified for an infraction that occurred during the third round, after he and Burns shot tournament-record-tying, 13-under-par 131s for the first two. On the 14th hole, Stadler placed a towel under his knees while hitting a shot from a kneeling position. The ground was damp from an overnight rain, and he apparently wanted to keep his pants dry. But the act came under a new U.S. Golf Assn. rule interpretation that viewed such action as the improper building of a stance.

The violation carries a two-stroke penalty. Because Stadler failed to declare the penalty after the round, and therefore signed an incorrect scorecard, he was disqualified.

"It bothered me for a little bit," Stadler said, "but it is a done deal now. Done and over with."

He would have no more of the subject. But although Stadler preferred not to talk about his misfortune, he was not so sensitive that he could not joke about it. Even with the Torrey Pines crowd.

Known more for his club-throwing temper tantrums than self-effacing humor, Stadler played along with the crowd and fellow players who seemed to get a charge out of bringing up the terrible towel incident during a tournament-sponsored exhibition earlier this week.

When he found himself facing a tricky shot from under some low branches, Stadler reached into his bag and tossed a white towel on the ground. The gag brought laughs from the crowd and a slight smile from beneath Stadler's bushy mustache, which, when combined with his burly, roundish appearance, has earned him the nickname "The Walrus." It is a handle that he appears to embrace, right down to the puppet-like walrus covers on his woods, despite his many protestations about those who dwell on his weight.

When the laughter subsided, Stadler quickly turned to business. He stepped up and knocked his second shot on the green of the 447-yard 4th hole. He two-putted from 25 feet for par.

It was a nice recovery and typical of what was a strong exhibition for Stadler. He completed the first eight holes of the South Course in three under par before he was eliminated on the next-to-last hole of the event, which knocked one player out after each hole.

The abbreviated round was encouraging to Stadler, who is coming off a tie for 48th Sunday in the Hawaiian Open, his third tournament of the season. He missed the cut in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic four weeks ago and finished in a tie for fourth two weeks later in the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Stadler needed a birdie on the final hole at Pebble Beach to qualify for a playoff for the championship but made bogey instead.

"My game has been pretty good," Stadler said. "It's just my putting that hasn't been that good."

That is where Torrey Pines might help. Stadler grew up playing his high school matches and practice rounds here. And although it has been 17 years since Stadler, now 34, was a senior at La Jolla, he knows the course's twists and turns as well as anyone in the 156-player field.

"There are a few of them, a couple that I'm familiar with," Stadler said, smiling. "The greens should be (an advantage). Normally, there are a lot of guys who have trouble with the greens here, but if you play them enough, you get used to them.

"The tournament is going to be a matter of who can putt. Either you putt real well here or not at all. The greens are a little bumpy, but if you don't worry about it, you can make some."

A main reason for the less-than-ideal greens is the heavy traffic Torrey Pines receives as a municipal course. It is one of only two municipal courses that play host to a PGA Tour event. (The Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale, host to the Phoenix Open, is the other.)

"They run so darn many people through here," Stadler said. "They had a million people here (Monday). They never gave it a chance to rest."

Torrey Pines was once his favorite course, but now he rarely plays it, although he lives but a few miles away in Rancho Santa Fe.

"Other than six holes (Monday) and nine (Tuesday), I just about never play here," Stadler said. "I don't look forward to six-hour rounds. Especially when I'm at home, and I'm hardly playing golf at all."

Stadler has devoted more and more attention to his family in recent years. He said he will limit his appearances to about 21 or 22 tournaments this year, allowing him more time with his wife, Sue, and their sons, Kevin, 8, and Christopher, 5.

The family was able to go on two skiing vacations this winter, and Stadler found some time in the fall for one of his favorite sports--game hunting. Stadler was introduced to the sport in 1981 by his father-in-law. "He took me once," Stadler said, "and I've been hooked ever since."

None of this is to say that Stadler has turned golf into an avocation. But he certainly has cut back recently, and the results have been mixed.

He finished 39th on the PGA money list last year with $235,831, an improvement from his seven-year-low 53rd placing ($170,076) in 1986 but far from his 1982 earnings of $446,462. That was the year Stadler moved into national attention with four victories, including the Masters.

He has since won only one PGA Tour event--the Byron Nelson tournament in 1984. His best finish last year was a second in the Hawaiian Open. In 22 tournaments in 1987, he finished in the top 10 six times and missed the cut in five others.

His only victories since 1984 have been two overseas events, including the 1987 Dunlop Phoenix tournament, the most prestigious in Japan. He topped a field that included Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson.

"I didn't go without winning," Stadler said. "I just didn't win on our tour, which is a big difference from not winning at all.

"But that was the first real, big, major tournament I'd won since 1984. It was tough, tougher than winning my first, really."

After he left USC, Stadler took almost four years to gain his first PGA tour victory--the 1980 Bob Hope Desert Classic. He won in 1980 at Greensboro and in 1981 at the Kemper Open, but it was not until 1982 that the public was widely introduced to him.

Stadler's success drew attention because at 5-feet 10-inches and 200 pounds, he presented quite a different appearance from the tall, thin, well-tanned faces that dominate the PGA Tour. That image remains essentially unchanged.

While most players wore trim fitting trousers and stylish shirts and sweaters for the midweek exhibition, Stadler wore a peach golf shirt, a blue sleeveless sweater and a pair of ill-fitting blue pants with too much room in the seat.

And while many of the players joked openly during the round, Stadler remained relatively quiet. There were none of his well-documented displays of temper. The only time he threw a club was in mock anger at a water cooler after he outdrove the field on the seventh hole.

Stadler knows his image and is not afraid to poke a little fun at himself. It's just that if he ever makes another mistake on national television, he hopes those couch potatoes are too lazy to pick up the phone.

Tournament Notes

A team led by pro Fuzzy Zoeller that included actor Kevin Dobson from the television show "Knot's Landing" won the Celebrity Pro-Am on the South Course with an 18-under-par 54 Wednesday. One stroke behind at 55, but finishing fourth on a match of cards, was a team led by pro Roger Maltbie that include Charger quarterback Dan Fouts. Zoeller also was the low pro on the South Course, with a 7-under-par 65, three shots better than Nick Price, Chris Perry and Curt Byrum. A team led by pro Woody Blackburn won the Celebrity Pro-Am on the North Course with a 17-under-par 55. Donnie Hammond, Ken Green and Doug Tewell tied for low pro honors on the North Course with 5-under-par 67s. . . . Bob Hope, who frequently plays less than a full round in such events, played 18 holes as his team finished with a 60, five strokes behind Blackburn's team. Also on Hope's team were pro Dave Stockton; former Padre Steve Garvey, and Charger owner Alex Spanos.

Tournament Facts

Event: Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open.

Site: Torrey Pines Golf Club, South Course (7,021 yards, par 72) and North Course (6,659 yards, par 72). Final two days on South Course.

Format: 156 players to play one round on South Course and one round on North Course today and Friday. Field cut to low 70 and ties for final two rounds Saturday and Sunday.

Times: First tee time 10 a.m. on both courses, 1st and 10th tees, today and Friday; 8:30 a.m. on South Course Saturday and Sunday. Purse: $600,000 ($150,000 increase from 1987); $117,000 for first, $70,200 for second, $44,200 for third.

Defending champion: George Burns, 63-68-70-65--266 (record).

Tickets: At the gate, $15 per day, $50 for the tournament. Specials: juniors (any day) $2; senior citizens, 60 and over (Thursday and Friday only), $7.50 with proof of age.

Parking: Available for $3 per day at Torrey Pines Glider Strip, -mile west of intersection with Torrey Pines Road. Shuttle service to main gate provided.

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