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Historic father-son duo at Augusta National

4/8/2014

By Chip Towers

By Chip Towers

McClatchy-Tribune

AUGUSTA, Ga. —  There have been fathers and their sons who have played in the Masters. But in the 80 years since this invitational tournament was formed at Augusta National Golf Club, there never has been a father and son playing in the same Masters.

Until now.

Craig Stadler, 1982 Masters champion, and his son, Kevin Stadler, are both participants in the 2014 Masters. And it promises to be a historic moment when they tee off in the first round on Thursday. The elder Stadler, 60, has hinted that this “probably” will be his last competitive round at Augusta National. He decided a while back that if he ever had a chance to play to with his son here, it would be a good time to bow out.

“I can’t think of a better way to do it than playing with your son in the same tournament,” said Craig Stadler, who sat next to Kevin in the Augusta National interview room Monday afternoon. “I mean, it’s awesome. I never nudged him. I gave him a little crap about it once in a while, probably. ‘Come on, hurry up.’ ... But actually I’m looking forward to not playing.”

Said Kevin: “He’s had his part done for 35 years now. But it’s not the easiest golf tournament to make your way into, unfortunately.”

Craig Stadler hasn’t made the cut at the Masters since 2007 and he has averaged a hair over 80 strokes in his last four rounds. He won his green jacket in the first one-hole playoff in Masters history in his fourth appearance as a pro. He has four top-10 finishes but none since 1988.

“Thanks to Kev here, I was able to get back in the press room for the first time in about 20 years,” his father cracked. “I haven’t been here since it was built, I don’t think.”

Kevin Stadler, 34, has been fighting like mad to get into the field. A 15-year pro, he has come close to qualifying via the FedEx Cup playoffs. Last year he had three top-10 finishes, including a tie for third at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

He finally broke through in February when he rallied from two strokes down to beat Bubba Watson and Graham DeLaet and win the Waste Management Open in Phoenix.

“I think I remember eight or nine years ago, he said he wanted to get here on his own,” the father said. “I think that was a pretty good answer.”

Father and son have played together here just once before this week, on a cold January day back when Kevin was “about 18 or 19.” They intended to play 18 holes together on Monday but got in only two before strong storms forced them and tens of thousands of patrons off the course. They’ll give it another go Tuesday.

Now stands the question whether the Augusta National pairing committee will place father and son together in the first round.

“God, I hope they don’t put them together,” said Curtis Strange, one of ESPN’s golf analysts. “... I just think they need to go their own way. Kevin is playing well. Can he win here? I don’t know. But his experience, his first time at the Masters, he should have his own life and his own story to tell and separate it from his dad.”

It seems as if the experience would be more emotionally taxing for father than son. Craig talked of getting choked up on Saturday after registration when he noticed their names next to each other on the giant Masters scoreboard next to No. 1 fairway.

For Kevin, he said it’d be just another in what have been hundreds of rounds of golf with dad.

“There’s no distraction about it,” he said.

There have been just 11 fathers and sons who have played in the Masters at different times, and lots of relatives over the years: 27 brothers (18 at same time). Jay and Billy Haas have come close to qualifying in the same year. But nobody has come closer than the Nicklauses, Jack and Gary.

Gary, then 31, tied Phil Mickelson for the 54-hole lead in the 2000 BellSouth Classic at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga.,  the week before the Masters. With the final round washed out by weather, they chose to settle the tournament with a one-hole playoff on the par-3 16th hole. Nicklaus’ tee shot plugged in the sand near the front of the guarding bunker, leaving him an impossible up-and-down. Mickelson holed a birdie putt to win for the second time that season and Gary Nicklaus never again came as close.

“I must say,” Craig Stadler said, “this is a very, very cool thing.”