Thursday 21 September 2017

Fading old greats should stay away

Peter Bills

Craig Stadler is a lump of a man who once won a very important tournament -- the US Masters.

But a good few years have gone down into history since the American achieved his moment of fame -- 29 in fact, as he won at Augusta National way back in 1982.

Today, Stadler (right) stands 5' 10" and weighs in at an imposing 18st 3lb. He has forearms like a butcher's and he smashes the ball with some might. Alas, judging by his opening-round score of 80 in this year's Masters, not always very accurately.

By the time the first round of the 2011 Champ-ionship had been concluded in fading sunlight on Thursday evening, it was fair to say no-one was talking about Stadler. Why would they?

He looks and is a relic of yesteryear, a man who is nearly 58 and, unless he adopts a pretty violent get-fit regime sometime soon, isn't likely to see his toes for much longer.

Intrigues

But what intrigues me about former champions like Stadler is just why do they do it? Why do they keep putting themselves out there amidst the young guns, putting themselves up for ridicule and scorn?

Ridicule? At Augusta? Oh yes. As he brought down the huge head of a driver against the ball on the 10th tee on Thursday, a couple of young bucks in the gallery first sniggered and then exploded with laughter. Discourteous? For sure. But perhaps understandable? Well, maybe yes.

For modern-day golf is a young man's game. Okay, there is Tom Watson, who at the age of 60, should have won the British Open last July. Watson also played Augusta on Thursday and shot 79.

Of the other former champions, many of them now increasingly bent physically by the years, 53-year-old Welshman Ian Woosnam and American Ben Crenshaw, who will be 60 at his next birthday, both made 78s, six-over par.

The one exception to the rule was the 1987 Masters champion, American Larry Mize, who came home with a very decent 73, just one-over par. Not bad at the age of 52, but then Mize is a local boy; he knows this course like the back of his hand and has kept himself in good shape physically.

But excepting Mize and, last year Watson, it seems somehow sad that these great champions insist on going on until they become a laughing stock for the younger generation.

Stadler certainly doesn't look much like a professional golfer nowadays, with his swollen stomach.

So maybe it's understandable that crowds who have come to watch highly tuned, physically perfect sportsmen can only see the funny side of some of this esteemed tournament's former champions.

As to why they still do it, why they continue to put themselves through this torment, perspiring as they do on the warm and even hot Augusta days, the answer is, they still love the game and this course.

Fine, you tend to think, why not go and play Augusta some other time of the year, when the cruel, mocking youths in the galleries are not around and they could enjoy the place in its gorgeous natural setting. I'm sure the Augusta committee men would always welcome them back, and not just in Masters week.

Why they come and still try to play amid this exalted level of competition when physically they are clearly not up to it and liable to invite ridicule, defeats me.

These are guys who have nothing to prove to anyone. If you win the Masters at any time in your life, if you have had the famous Green Jacket slipped onto your shoulders, then you've done your talking out there where it matters, on the course.

So to see some once-great champions laughed at or smiled at condescendingly, is a cruel and painful exercise for their old-time followers and supporters -- never mind for the players themselves as they stumble towards their dotage.

Irish Independent

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