A $37,000 towel!

May 19, 2022

Not many young golfers will remember the name Craig Stadler, or his nickname, “The Walrus” (due to his portly build and bulky mustache), but the man will always be remembered by his older fans for a day he would like to forget.

Stadler was born June 2, 1953, in San Diego, his dad started him in golf at age 4. His talent grew with him and at age 20, while attending USC, he won the U.S. Amateur title.

He was an All-American for all four years in college, graduated in 1975 and turned pro in 1976. In 1980, he won his first two PGA events, and in 1982, he was crowned the Masters Champion.

During his career, Stadler had 31 total professional wins, including 13 PGA wins, two European wins and nine Championship Tour wins, but the 1997 Andy Williams Open was the one that got away.

Now, all of us have been in the trees with an errant shot or two, and we all know how we hate to take a penalty stroke or drop from an unplayable lie, so this sets the stage for the shot which cost The Walrus $37,000 in prize money.

During the final round of play, Stadler hit a tee shot into the trees which came to rest in a muddy area under some low-lying branches, but not out of bounds.

Not wanting to take a drop or kneel in the mud to hit his next shot, he had his caddie toss him a towel to protect his pants. The good news was that he played the ball back in the fairway and continued his round; the bad news – well, he found that out at the scorer’s table.

Sometime after his kneeling-in-the-mud shot, a fan reported to an official that he had used a towel to protect his pants, which meant Stadler had illegally built a stance and should have given himself a two-stroke penalty.

No problem, except by the time the official reported the infraction, Stadler had already signed and handed in his incorrect scorecard. The penalty for that infraction was immediate disqualification and loss of $37,000 in prize money.

Now, in keeping with the underlying theme of strange penalties and rules, we will move on to other golfers who either lost their mind momentarily or angered the golf gods for some reason.

In the 1983 Canadian Open, Andy Bean was in contention for a top finish when he decided, for some unknown reason, to putt his eight-inch birdie putt with the grip end of his club, instead of the putter head.

After he admitted he was only clowning around on a gimme putt, the officials didn’t see it that way and assessed him a two-stroke penalty. That moment of humor came back to haunt him when he lost a chance to be in a playoff by two strokes.

I have followed pro golf for 50 years, but even I don’t remember golfer Chip Beck, who made the blunder of his career in the 1992 Greater Greensboro Open.

He was in contention to win it all, until he grabbed an out-of-bounds marker (his ball was just in-bounds) and yanked it out of the ground to line up his next shot. He hit a great shot to recover, but the officials gave him a two-stroke penalty for removing the stake. 

That miscue put him in a tie for third place, instead of finishing in second place by himself, and the difference in earnings – $81,563 – really hurt.

And last but not least was Jackie Pung, who was probably the first Hawaiian-born golfer to win the ladies U.S. Open (in 1957), or at least so she thought. But as fate would have it, she signed an incorrect scorecard, was disqualified and lost the $1,800 first-place prize money.

After she became emotionally devastated, members of the Winged Foot Golf Club took up a collection for her and raised $3,000 to ease her loss.


19th Hole Trivia:

• Craig Stadler was the 1983 PGA Tour leading-money winner.

• Stadler underwent a complete left hip replacement in 2010.

• His brother, Gary Stadler, is a new age pianist, songwriter and composer who specializes in Celtic-themed music.

• In 2014, playing in his 38th Masters, Stadler announced that it would be his last.

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