AUGUSTA, Ga. As Kevin Stadler rips his drive off the eighth tee Friday fans yell, “Nice shot, Kev!”
To call a Kevin “Kev” is to know him, and fans feel as if they do. He’s one of them.
For decades golfers looked like we do, but in more amusing clothes. Then Tiger hit the gym and golfers figured that since they make a living, in part, with their bodies, they probably should, too. First the young guys did and then the old guys did and now, as they grip their clubs, muscles jump beneath golf shirts. They even have abs.
Stadler, 34, has no abs. He doesn’t have ab. He doesn’t have one. He is 5-foot-10 and 250 pounds, and when he bends to hit the ball his salmon-colored shirt tumbles over his belt.
Yet as he walks to applause down the eighth fairway he is 4-under-par and tied – at that moment – for the Masters lead.
All afternoon fans address Stadler after he addresses the ball, and the familiarity remains. As the round progresses, however, fans compliment him less and implore more.
He finishes the front nine with two birdies, and is bogey free.
Stadler will add two more birdies. But he also has three back-nine bogeys and one double-bogey. He shoots a 73 after a first-day 70 and is 1-under.
Somebody tells him that even though he’s six strokes behind leader Bubba Watson there aren’t many players between him and Bubba.
“The leader is pretty darn good around here,” Stadler says. “The place was built for him. I don’t see him backing up.”
Stadler is best known for being the son of Craig Stadler. Father and son are built similarly. Craig is the Walrus. Kevin is the Smallrus.
The father won the Masters when he was 28. The son is playing in his first.
Kevin Stadler qualified by winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He had to rally to beat Bubba Watson. So it can be done, at least in a tournament named Waste Management.
As popular as Watson, who won the 2012 Masters, is, some fans will pull for Stadler. We like to see athletes who remind us of us. We don’t always get the opportunity when we turn on the NBA or the NFL.
But in Stadler we see a guy who, like us, might sneak an occasional mid-day cookie. We see a guy who, like us, might not pour nonfat milk on his cereal or into his coffee. We see a guy who, like us, might not be buff but knows his way around a buffet.
Stadler appeared not to know his way around the 13th hole. He drove to the right of the fairway and then hit into a trap on the left side of the green. He spent so much time in the trap that he could have set up a folding Masters chair. He shot a 6 on the par 5.
Walking off the 14th tee, he told playing partner Ian Woosnam that he would have been better off knocking his ball into the water. Woosnam cracked up.
“He got a chuckle out of that,” Stadler says. “Figure I probably could have made five from the water instead of six from the trap.”
Stadler admits the pressure of his first Masters affected him both days on the first tee.
But “once you’re off and running down that first fairway, I don’t think anybody’s going to be overawed,” he says. “It’s just another golf tournament. It might be the best golf tournament on the planet. But it’s just another day of professional golf once you get it going.”
Stadler looks more like a nose tackle or a bowler than a 2014 golfing professional. You probably are more likely to see him in a Red Lobster or a Red Robin than in a green jacket.
But if he can replicate his work on the front nine and avoid his work on the back nine, there’s something else you’ll be able to say about Stadler: He looks good.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119; email@example.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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