AUGUSTA, Ga. >> Kevin Stadler might be playing in the Masters for the first time, but he’s already showing his old man a thing or two.
Such as the best way to get to the Augusta National media center.
Craig Stadler went through the main door for a joint news conference with his son Monday, which is actually the long way to go. Kevin, meanwhile, slipped in through a back entrance, like most players who turn up for interviews at the building alongside the first fairway.
“How’d you come in?” Craig asked his son, looking a bit surprised when he turned to see Kevin standing behind him.
“Through the door,” Kevin replied dryly, very much the child poking fun at his dad.
All kidding aside, the Stadlers are gearing up for a historic week at Augusta National. For the first time, a father and son will play in the same Masters — Craig, who says he’ll probably be teeing it up for the 38th and final time, and Kevin, making his debut in the opening major of the season.
“If and when I do … bow out, I can’t think of a better way to do it than playing with your son in the same tournament,” the elder Stadler said. “It’s awesome.”
Sixty-year-old Craig won the Masters in 1982, beating Dan Pohl in a playoff, and has been back every year since. Kevin, now 34, used to come each year as a child to cheer on his dad Now, he’s got a spot of his own after winning at Phoenix two months ago for his first PGA Tour victory.
“It’s going to be really, really fun to be on the inside of the ropes,” Kevin said. “I feel like I know this place pretty well but I’ve never, ever played it. So it’s going to be a blast.”
Kevin, whose parents are divorced, has conceded the relationship with his father isn’t as close as it once was, and there were times Monday when he seemed hesitant to turn this into a totally feel-good story.
But the pair went out for a practice round — which was cut short after only two holes when heavy rain brought a halt to play — and they’re planning to play together again Tuesday, when the forecast called for much-improved conditions. And if they’re paired together in the first two rounds, that would be just fine with Kevin.
“I wouldn’t have any issues with that,” he said, smiling.
Besides, the younger Stadler is making a name for himself, after a lifetime of being compared with his father (right down to their matching physiques, with both listed as 5-foot-10, 250 pounds by the PGA Tour).
Kevin won four times on the second-tier Nationwide Tour and appears poised for a breakout at the highest level. He has made the cut in 10 of 11 events this year, is 14th in the FedEx Cup, and has already eclipsed his career high for earnings in a season with nearly $1.7 million.
“He’s become just a wonderfully consistent player and has his own identity and everything else, which he should,” Craig said. “He’s worked hard for it and he’s earned it. Good for him, and I’m just going to kind of stand on the sidelines and watch, which is all I want to do, and just be supportive and root him on and hope more Phoenixes happen in the future. A lot more.”
In fact, the proud father wouldn’t be at all surprised if Kevin made a serious run at the green jacket on his very first try. The younger Stadler is quite accurate with his irons, which should come in handy with all the dips and bumps on those tricky Augusta greens.
“That’s why I actually love his game for this golf course,” Craig said. “You do have to hit the ball high with the irons a little bit. And as far as I’m concerned, and he might disagree, but I think he’s just a wonderful iron player. I think that’s definitely the strength of his game, and having your iron game down here makes this course so much easier.”
Even after getting just a taste of their practice round, father and son managed to trade some good-natured jabs.
“I bogeyed 1 and birdied 2 and he parred them both,” Craig said. “I was tied after two, so I was happy.”
“That birdie I made on 2 doesn’t count, huh?” Kevin countered.
“You didn’t make that putt,” Craig said. “Did you?”
“Of course I did,” Kevin said, drawing laughter from the room.
Craig, who hasn’t made the cut at Augusta since 2007 or been a serious contender in more than two decades, is certainly appreciative of the chance to end his Masters career with his son at his side.
“Thanks to Kev here, I got back to the press room for the first time in about 20 years,” the elder Stadler quipped. “I’m so proud of the way he’s played the last three, four years. He’s been close a zillion times and finally got it done, so it’s a very special week.”
Already, it seems, the Masters is smoothing out some of the bumps in their relationship.