Little did he know that it was just gearing up. When he tees off in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship (TGC, Thurs.- Sun. 5:00 p.m. ET) ' reserved for the crme de la crme of the Champions Tour ' he will do so as the tours leading money winner. Unofficially, he might qualify as the tours happiest fella, to boot.
You know, its nice to be back and be in contention all the time, for one, Stadler says. Its wonderful to be back playing with the guys I started playing with when I first started playing. We are all pretty good friends.
I think everybody will admit, 45-50 and playing the regular tour, you dont really have a whole of fun. Youre not non-competitive, but youre not nearly as competitive as you used to be. That wears on you after awhile.
Stadler leads the Champions Tour money race as the final week of the season begins. That, for starters, makes one feel good about his profession. But, its much more so than just the money.
Its a combination of everything ' just being out here, three rounds, hop in the cart and get around a couple of days in pro-ams it all adds up to a pretty good time and Im really enjoying it, he said.
Ive gotten very used to no cuts very used to waking up Thursday and just kinda, Yeah, Ill play sometime today.
The Champions Tour is seemingly just what the doctor ordered for Stadler. He quickly discovered that you can achieve the most by worrying much less.
You play so-so and you make a good check. You play decent and you make an awesome check, said Stadler.
The beauty of golf is that you can play til you drop, darn near.
And you can excel until you are easily past Stadlers age. Once one the finest players on the regular tour, he has rediscovered that magic to become the best on the older circuit.
Its a different animal. A whole different concept.
And the concept is Champions Tour golf ' which seems to suit him just fine.
I never realized how much I enjoyed three rounds with a no-cut format, said Stadler. Its awesome. You have a schedule and you can play around it. In that regard, its a lot easier that playing the tour.
The comfort factor is a little different out here. Its a lot more comfortable for me out here than on tour with a bunch of 20-year-olds hitting it 50 yards by me.
Golf itself had become a tedious exercise for Stadler in the closing years of his PGA Tour career. The former Master champion had lost his putting stroke, lost his ability to score on the regular tour, lost his zeal for golf.
I played 27 years on the PGA Tour ' which is probably six more than I probably wanted to play, he said. Because I didnt have much fun playing the last 5-6 years.
And when he became eligible for the Champions Tour, a whole lot of this dissatisfaction changed. He even found it worthwhile to occasionally play the regular tour again. Last year, after turning 50, he returned to the regular tour and surprised everyone by winning the B.C. Open. Surprising to everyone, that is, but himself.
You know, it did and it didnt, Stadler said. Id played just horribly for the first five months last year. I played nine events, and made three cuts. I finished dead last in two of the three I made. I just didnt enjoy it.
I played one tournament in March, one in April, one in May. Really didnt want to play any, but I had to do something, my wife was sick of me being home that long. So ' I went out and played a few weeks.
Then, all of a sudden, I just started hitting some shots.
And he won ' and won and won. And it continued through this season. Craig Stadler has truly become a man for all seasons.