Craig Stadler's image takes a hit

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Now, the apology makes a lot more sense.

When Craig Stadler showed up a half-hour late for media day for the Ford Senior Players Championship at the TPC of Michigan on June 1, the former Masters champ tucked his head under the table sheepishly as if to joke about his embarrassment for the delay. Minutes later, he apologized in front of the crowd of reporters, then answered every question in the typical, happy-go-lucky sort of way that has made "The Walrus" one of golf's most popular figures.

Through it all, Stadler managed to keep his poker face intact. Turns out, the real story didn't leak out until he had skipped town. Stadler was arrested for drunken driving on his way from Grand Rapids to Dearborn the night before.

The day after the news conference, he pled guilty to operating a vehicle while impaired and withdrew from the Farmers Charity Classic, the Champions Tour event in Ada Township near Grand Rapids.

So much for the streak of success that Stadler's been riding since becoming the first golfer in history to win a Champions Tour and PGA Tour event in the same season in 2003.

"I very much regret what happened," Stadler said in a statement released by the Farmers Charity Classic. "I take the offense very seriously. I'm embarrassed and feel awful about it. I can assure you I will not repeat my mistake."

As part of the sentence, Ionia County District Court Judge Raymond Voet ordered Stadler to pay $900 in fines and court costs, participate in an alcohol awareness class, and attend a victim impact panel, according to the Associated Press.

The Detroit media are sure to make a big deal of the incident when Stadler returns to defend his Ford Senior Players Championship title on July 5-11 at the TPC of Michigan. Especially after the way he duped the press at the conference.

You have to wonder, will this tarnish Stadler's image and bother his play? Or will it just toughen his resolve to succeed and walk a straighter line?

There's no doubting Stadler's status as one of the Tour's good guys. Fans love that an out-of-shape, non-athletic-looking everyman who looks more like Santa Claus than Tiger Woods can hit a big ball and smile while doing it. It takes real talent, and quite a distinctive swing, for the 5-foot-10, 240-pounder to play golf as well as he does.

Stadler, who turned 51 on June 2, just two days after the incident, has been playing extremely well since last year's big breakout in back to back weeks, when he won the Ford event and the B.C. Open, his first victory on the PGA Tour since the 1996 Nissan Open. He ended the 2003 season with two more Champions Tour wins, the Greater Hickory Classic and the SBC Championship, to earn rookie of the year honors.

Ironically, Stadler wasn't looking forward to the B.C. Open. He said he only went because his son, Kevin, was given a sponsor's exemption. His youngest son, Chris, was on the bag when he won the B.C., which included a 63 in the final round.

"This (Ford Senior Players Championship) was the tournament that got my year kick-started," he said. "I came out (to the Champions Tour) at the right time. I just had one of those dream weeks for putting. It was an odd week where you aim at the hole and it goes in. For 10 to 12 years, I got over the ball and couldn't decide if I wanted to miss it left or right. I usually ended up doing both."

Putting has been Stadler's only nemesis in an otherwise brilliant professional career. Before turning pro, the 1973 U.S. Amateur champion was a two-time All-American at the University of Southern Cal. He's earned nearly $11 million in his career, thanks to 13 PGA Tour victories, including the 1982 Masters and the 1991 Tour Championship.

He's also a two-time Ryder Cupper who clinched the U.S. victory in 1983 with his 3-and-2 win over Ian Woosnam in a tight 14 ½- 13 ½ match.

Stadler, who currently lives in Denver, said he now feels comfortable over the flat stick. He was third at this year's Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.

"The putting has been more consistent," he said. "My poor days aren't as bad. Thirty-one (putts) is usually my worst day, instead of 36. I am making up about 10 shots a week."

Stadler has split his time between the two tours this season, playing in eight Champions Tour events and five PGA Tour events, but that will change drastically soon. He plans on playing the regular tour just twice in 2005, the Masters and the AT&T Pebble Beach. At this year's AT&T Pebble Beach, Stadler played a memorable round in front of the cameras with son Kevin, a mini-me version of his father who is still trying to play his way onto the PGA Tour.

"I don't miss it (the PGA Tour)," Stadler said. "I did it for 27 or 28 years. My game went to hell for four of five months last year, but it came back. I'm looking forward to the change (to the Champions Tour), to play with the guys I used to play with and the different venues."

Fast Fact

Craig's father introduced him to the game when he was 4 years old. His favorite golf course is Harbour Town in Hilton Head. His favorite athlete is Wayne Gretzky.

What's in the Bag Driver - TaylorMade R500 8.5-degree
3 Wood - TaylorMade 200 Tour 13-degree
Irons (2-9) - Tommy Armour 845c Silverback
Pitching Wedge - Tommy Armour 845c
Sand Wedge - Titleist Vokey Design 56-degree
Lob Wedge - Cleveland CG10 60-degree
Putter - Kevin Burns Signature Series 9304
Ball - Nike TA2-LNG

Personal Stats

Born: June 2, 1953, San Diego, California
Family: Married, two sons.
College: University of Southern California
Special Interests: Snow skiing, hunting.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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