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The Masters: Sad to watch struggles of golfing greats

By Peter Bills

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

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

Today, Stadler stands 5ft 10ins and weighs in at an imposing 255lbs. He has forearms like those of a butcher 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 Championship 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.

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 of the contemporary game, 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 afternoon, 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.

OK, there is Tom Watson who, at the age of 60, should have won The Open last July. Watson, incidentally, also played Augusta on Thursday and got round in one shot less than Stadler, a seven over par 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.

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.

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.

But seeing 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 old age.

Belfast Telegraph


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