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

February 18, 1988|CURT HOLBREICH | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — 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."

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