AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Craig and Kevin Stadler are the first father-son duo ever to play in the same Masters, and it looks as if Kevin may well be in contention this week in his first try at Augusta National. His dad, the 1982 champion, posted a 10-over-par 82 in what he has said will be his final Masters and almost certainly won’t be around to play on the weekend.
Kevin, 33, won the Phoenix Open for his first tour victory earlier this season and managed a 2-under 70 on Thursday. He was delighted to see his name on leaderboards all around as he finished his opening 18 and at the end of the day, he was two shots off the lead of Bill Haas and tied for fifth place.
Kevin played several practice rounds with his father and also the par-3 contest on Wednesday, but they were not paired over the first 36 holes of the tournament.
Asked if his dad had given him any advice, he said “not a whole lot.” The two reportedly have had something of a strained relationship since Craig and Sue Stadler, Kevin’s mother, divorced in 2006.
“I think he was really wanting me to find my own way around here,” Kevin said. “Not wanting me to overthink everything and telling me where and where not to go, just letting me figure it out your way.”
As for his opening 70, “I’ll take 2-under all day, every day the rest of my life.”
Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said the club is considering a number of options on whether to replace the famous Eisenhower Tree on the 17th fairway felled in February by a destructive winter ice storm.
This week, practice-round visitors who walked up that fairway were told that a single pine cone marked the now grassy area on the course where the tree once stood. One of the options is simply to leave the hole as is. Another could involve placing a memorial plaque on the spot.
Payne said the club would closely study the hole’s statistics to see if the absence of the tree had any significant effect on tee shots or scores. The tree was named for former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who often hit it with wayward shots and was so exasperated, he once asked original Augusta National chairman Clifford Roberts to have it removed. Roberts, a dictator on these grounds, promptly vetoed the request and the tree just kept growing.
In recent years, it was not much of an obstacle to the game’s longest hitters, but it certainly did claim more than a few victims.
“I was very sa\d to hear it,” 2008 champion Trevor Immelman said. “I thought it was a big deal. To me, one of the beauties of Augusta National and one of the reasons why there are only two or three courses on the planet that are held in such esteem is because the minute you drive through the front gate, everything is symbolic of something.
“The Eisenhower Tree was symbolic. When you got to the 17th tee and if you’ve never been there before, the story would get told. That’s important. It’s one of the reasons why everybody has such a love affair with Augusta National.”
Arnold Palmer was back in Augusta this week to hit the ceremonial first ball Thursday morning with fellow Hall of Famers and past Masters champions Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. He also celebrated the 50th anniversary of his fourth and final Masters victory in 1964 and candidly admitted he probably should have won more than his six career major championships.
“Disappointed, yes,” he said. “I played some of the best golf I ever played in major championships after the ’64 Masters. The Open, three or four times and didn’t win. The PGA [which he never won] once or twice. I played good here a few times and my short game didn’t hold up to the standards that I had set up for myself.
“I kind of figured out why those things happened to a degree, and I looked at it more as a psychological downfall as anything. It had something to do with the fact that I got over a hump. I climbed over the hill and satisfied some of the deep desires and ambitions I had. It may have caused a letdown. Had I had the same driving desire to win as before, I might have won a few more Masters or a few more Opens or a couple of PGAs. Who knows? Psychologically, it affected me.”
Palmer, 84, was asked how long he’d like to continue in that ceremonial first-tee role.
“I think the chairman [Payne] makes that decision, and if he wants me to hit that first tee shot and I have to crawl, that’s what I’ll do.”
Goodell a member
Yes, that is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell strolling the grounds during the tournament, resplendent in a green jacket he can now wear as a member of Augusta National. Goodell said he has always been an occasional golfer and was asked to join the exclusive by-invitation-only club last fall.
He said he already has made several trips to play the course and has thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
So far, he has been able to wander around the course virtually unnoticed by golf fans far more interested in watching the action inside the ropes. Just another guy in a green jacket.