SAN DIEGO — As much as television means to athletes these days, it would not be wise to extol its virtues to golfer Craig Stadler.
The magic of instant replay triggered a freakish set of circumstances that cost Stadler a check for $37,333.33 in the Shearson Lehman Brothers Andy Williams Open at Torrey Pines Sunday.
When Stadler, who lives in nearby Rancho Santa Fe, holed out a birdie putt on the 72nd hole, he thought he had finished the drizzly day in a three-way tie for second place behind George Burns. Moments later, he was told that he had been disqualified for violating the newest in a long line of obscure rules laid down by the Professional Golfers Assn.
The infraction occurred Saturday, but wasn't discovered until Sunday, and then only because several TV viewers called in to bring it to the PGA's attention.
While playing the 14th hole of Saturday's third round, Stadler had found it necessary to play a stroke from a kneeling position. Because the ground was wet from Friday night's rain, Stadler pulled out a towel and placed it under both knees. Presumably, he just wanted to keep his trousers dry, but in doing so he also violated rule 13-3 1/2.
Such a deed, which the PGA defines as building a stance, carries a two-stroke penalty. Had Stadler admitted it by adding two shots to his scorecard Saturday, he would have been in the clear. Because he didn't, and thus signed an incorrect scorecard, he was given the heave-ho.
Stadler has one of the hotter tempers on the PGA Tour, so his reaction to the punishment was predictable. He vented his wrath on the PGA officials who gave him the bad news, then ducked out without talking to reporters.
Strangely, there are two precedents for the misfortune that befell Stadler. Even more strangely, both also occurred in San Diego County--in the Tournament of Champions at La Costa.
In 1980, Tom Watson gave Lee Trevino a piece of advice, and TV fans overheard him. He was assessed a two-stroke penalty, but still won the tournament.
In 1982, Ron Streck broke a branch off a tree to clear his path. He, too, was reported by people watching at home and was penalized two shots.
Each time, the violation was discovered the same day. Stadler just was not that lucky.
Burns was Stadler's playing partner Saturday. Asked to comment, he said: "I didn't see him do it, to tell you the truth. But I wouldn't have used a towel. I just feel real disappointed for him."
In Stadler's absence from the interview room, Glenn Tait of nearby La Mesa, a member of the PGA rules staff, gave the official version of what happened.
"The TV network (NBC) had some clips from yesterday that they showed today," Tait said. "Several people called our office in the press room and asked, 'Is this legal?' It is not. Stadler signed his scorecard for lower than he should have, he was disqualified.
"The rule is new this year. It was drafted in April of '86. I'm sure he didn't realize he was violating the rule, but it's his responsibility to know the rules.
"I can't tell you all the philosophies involved in the decisions in golf. Sometimes they appear strange. I think what we're saying is that a pair of trousers is something you wear and that a towel is a piece of equipment. It's like using your golf bag to align a shot."
Tait was asked if Stadler's act had been any worse than playing a shot barefooted to keep his shoes dry.
"I don't see the connection," Tait said. "You're allowed to play with your shoes off."
Tait was asked how long Stadler would have remained vulnerable to disqualification. In other words, if he hadn't been caught Sunday, could the PGA have rifled his wallet at some future time?
"No," Tait said. "Once the competition is closed, he's safe."
It is reasonable to assume, then, that Stadler's sin would have gone unpunished if he had committed it Sunday instead of Saturday.
Although Stadler's refusal to talk to the press told how he felt about his disqualification, Tait insisted that he had accepted it well.
"He took it like the great man he is," Tait said. "Obviously, a man is going to express some disgust when a thing like this happens, but he took it like a gentleman."