Senior Players notebook: The Walrus welcomes new swing
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With a white bushy mustache and a lighthearted nickname to match, Craig Stadler has been a crowd favorite for decades. But for the first time in years, golf has the Walrus smiling again.
“I'm actually excited about this week, I think,” said Stadler, whose win Sunday in suburban Chicago was his first Champions Tour victory since 2004. “I haven't been excited about playing anywhere for a while, so I don't know what this (feeling) is exactly.”
At Fox Chapel Golf Club for the Constellation Senior Players Championship, Stadler finally has reason for hope.
The 60-year-old reworked his swing in recent weeks with guidance from instructor Billy Harmon, who oversaw the first major mechanical overhaul in a career that included a Masters title in 1982.
There were just two top-10 finishes among Stadler's 17 starts in 2012, but he placed worse than 30th a dozen times. When those struggles lasted into this season, Stadler was embarrassed.
“It was do or die,” he said. “Either (Harmon) was going to fix it, or I was going to quit. It's that simple. I'd had enough.”
But that was before Sunday's victory, which has him wanting more.
A 12-foot par putt on the final hole earned Stadler a one-shot victory over Fred Couples at the Encompass Championship in Glenview, Ill. Maybe even more so than any trophy or check, Stadler cherished the phone calls, the few dozen emails and the nearly 200 text messages from friends saying congratulations.
“The nicest thing that I appreciate more than anybody knows ... was I got way-to-go notes from probably 30 or 40 different pros,” Stadler said. “That's pretty cool.”
Among the swing changes, his shoulders now are more square and his grip was strengthened, gaining him 10 yards on his irons. He'll play the first two round with Rocco Mediate and defending champion Joe Daley.
“I played the same for 45 years, and now it's all different,” said Stadler, who has endured hip, back and foot problems. “Obviously, something in there works.”
Monty draws strong group
For the first two rounds, newcomer Colin Montgomerie will join Champions Tour leaders David Frost and Bernhard Langer in a grouping. Frost and Langer, who rank first and second in the Charles Schwab Cup standings, each have two victories this seasons. The trio will start at 11:53 a.m. Thursday and 9:30 a.m. Friday.
“That's an honor for me to play with the No. 1 and 2,” Montgomerie said. “I look forward to finding out my standard, taking the standard from them and seeing what I have to improve.”
Frost, 53, has 1,417 points in 11 starts, with eight top-10 finishes. The 55-year-old Langer, who has 1,119 points in 12 starts, has finished 10th or higher seven times.
Montgomerie has 40 professional wins, including one European PGA Tour victory he shared with Langer when darkness halted their 2002 playoff at the Volvo Masters. More than a decade later, the two friends are rival contenders again.
“I've been playing the past 10 years with people who I have children older than,” Montgomerie said, “and that doesn't seem fair to me. At least we're all put in the same boat now, being over 50. I look forward to the opportunity of competing. And not just competing, but contending for tournaments again.”
Another noteworthy trio includes major winners Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and Tom Lehman.
Montgomerie and Rocco Mediate will lead back-to-back groups in Wednesday's pro-am, with Mediate leaving No. 10 at 12:50 p.m. and Montgomerie following at 1 p.m.
In all, 48 professionals will take part, split between morning and afternoon tee times.
Showing their skills
Champions Tour golfer Larry Mize, retired Pirates pitcher Kent Tekulve and media member Paul Alexander combined to win Tuesday's skills competition at Fox Chapel, earning $10,000 for Pittsburgh Pirates Charities.
Two other teams, led by former Penguins forward Phil Bourque and retired Steelers safety Mike Wagner, each received $5,000 for charity.
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