His towel cost him $37,000

June 18, 2016

Not many young golfers will remember the name Craig Stadler or his nickname, “the Walrus” (due to his portly build and bulky mustache), but Craig 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, and his dad started him in golf at age four. 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. He graduated in 1975 and turned pro in 1976. In 1980, he won his first two PGA events and in 1982 was crowned the Masters Champion. During his career Stadler had 31 total professional wins, including 13 PGA wins, 2 European wins and 9 Championship Tour wins, but the 1997 Andy Williams Open was 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. Once again 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? He found that out at the scorer’s table.

After his knelt-in-the-mud shot, a fan reported to an official that he had used a towel to protect his pants, which meant that 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.

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 for some reason angered the “Golf Gods.” 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 admitting that 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 - by two strokes - the chance to be in a playoff.

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 when 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 placed in a tie for third place, instead of finishing in second place by himself. The difference in earnings: $81, 563.

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