Little Walrus Learns His Lesson


The date was early December, the year was 2003 ' more than over two years ago. The event was the Father-Son Challenge, the speaker was Craig Stadler. Craig sat at the head table with his son and partner, Kevin, addressing a smattering of media.
Everyone expected a few yuks, a joke or two from the old man about the pride he must feel in playing with the kid. Kevin was 23 then. But instead of yuks and a lot of small chit-chat, what the small audience heard was a concerned father talking about how his son hadnt quite learned many of lifes harsher lessons.
It all started with a question: had Craig given young Kevin much advice on how to be a professional golfer?

Theres been a lot probably given I dont know how much has been heard, said poppa with a belly laugh. Pretty much in one ear and out the other. Then I just kind of bagged it for three years. Everything I said kind of set him off a little bit ' which was fine.
The last three years, Walrus said, I havent said a whole lot. If he asks me, then Ill chime in. But hes got his own people he works with. I dont know a damn thing about the golf swing and Ill be the first person to admit it.
Craig must be proud this morning. Son Kevin won the biggest victory of his life over the weekend. Playing on a sponsors exemption in Australia, Kevin won the Johnnie Walker Championship. Its an event that is co-sponsored by the European Tour and the Australasian Tour, and a lot of big-name players were entered ' Adam Scott, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Retief Goosen, Michael Campbell, Ian Woosnam to name a few. Kevin won it on the 72nd hole, a par-5 which he eagled with a 3-iron that stopped a couple of inches from the hole.
Kevin has definitely matured. Being 25 instead of 23 and having to buy your own enchiladas will do that to you. Stadler the Younger has felt his way along, learning the game at a snails pace rather than availing himself of all the advice that his dad could have given him. But ' hes learned.
Seems like my game has really progressed in the last couple of years, Kevin said. I feel like I played pretty well last year and just didn't get anything out of it. Just a little off, there wasn't anything really wrong. I was hitting it fairly well and not scoring. I'm happy with my golf, regardless of where I'm at.
Last week, incidentally, was a good one for the elder Stadler, too. He took a break from the Champions Tour to mix it up with the kids at Pebble Beach. And he made the cut easily, finishing in a tie for 42nd. This week hes back with the elders at the ACE Classic in Florida.
Late in 2003, though, Craig was nothing more than another concerned father, wondering if his son was ever going to take to heart some of lifes lessons.
I think my buddy here next to me is at a time in his life where he needs some pushing, Craig had said. Hes facing decisions on what hes going to do ' whether to improve his golf game and work at it. He plays great at times, and not very good at times.
Ive told him over the years, I think its one of the toughest things to learn ' to convince yourself that you have the ability, you have the talent, and subconsciously, you know, you think about it
Craig isnt by nature that serious, and on this day he realized that. Realizing he probably had been a bit harsh in his lecture, he cut the kid a little slack.
I didnt mean you hadnt learned that ' youve gotten a lot better at it than five years ago, dad said hastily. Youve done a creditable job at it, but theres still things there to fix. Theres a lot of areas in my golf game to fix, and there always will be. If you ever get perfect at it ' keep working!
Kevin said last week that, indeed, much of his golf swing is self-taught. This, though he had an excellent golfer living right there in the house.
I don't know if I was just stubborn or didn't care enough to get a teacher when was young, conceded Kevin. My dad always harped on me about it, but I never really felt like the hard-core instruction was for me.
The two, Walrus Senior and Walrus Junior, have gone their separate ways now. Craig lives in the Denver area, Kevin in Arizona. It seems one of us is always on the road, so I don't get to see him all that much, said Kevin.
But always, Kevin gets asked the question ' what is it like being the son of a celebrated golfer? Kevins stature is the same as Craigs, so the questions come even more frequently. Kevin hardly knows what to say ' its the same as if he were the son of a doctor or lawyer or Indian chief.
But obviously it is different having a father who cares the way that Craig does. That, said Kevin, is very special.
It's obviously opened a lot of doors for me that people might not have. I was exposed to golf at a very young age and what I wanted to do for life. I imagine it wouldn't have happened if he wasn't already out there doing it, said Kevin.
Kevin has had his PGA Tour card already, but had it revoked last season because he only finished 168th on the money list. Poppa Craig, incidentally, finished 185th, though he played only six tournaments compared to 33 for Kevin. But maybe Kevin will get his card back ' and keep his card. He has an awfully good example, and it seems like hes willing to follow now.
Email your thoughts to George White