First-time participants at Augusta always get asked some variation of the same question: What’s your first Masters memory?
Kevin Stadler has no idea how to answer. Having grown up with the Masters Tournament as an annual part of his childhood, he has no memories without it.
“I was too young to know any different,” said Stadler, who was 2 years old when his father, Craig, won the 1982 Masters in a playoff over Dan Pohl. “I went pretty much every year when I was a kid.”
Other than the blown-up picture of the toddling 2-year-old on the shoulders of his freshly green-jacketed father, Kevin has no memory of 1982. Somewhere along age 5 or 6, he recalls trips to Augusta as the thing to do every spring break from school. Being the son of a Masters champion had its perks.
“Pretty much all of it was cool, just getting to walk around there,” Stadler said. “He snuck me into the Champions Locker Room one time. That’s one of the first times when I knew how cool Augusta was. Can’t remember how old I was, but I caddied for my father in the Par 3 one time. I would guess I was probably 12 or something like that.”
When he was a young college student at Southern Cal, Stadler even got to play Augusta National Golf Club with his father – playing 27 holes plus the par-3 course despite dreadful weather.
“We played in January and it was cold and wet – just nasty,” he said. “But it was still one of the coolest days I’ve ever had. I remember our caddie saying it was playing a couple of thousands of yards longer than it plays in the tournament. It was 45 degrees and wet and the hardest course I’ve ever seen in my life because it was playing so long. But it was a blast.”
Father and son will be reunited at Augusta National again this week, and it will be historical. For the first time in 78 Masters, father and son will compete together. The 34-year-old Kevin Stadler will play in his first Masters while 60-year-old Craig Stadler plays in his last.
“It’s going to be great for me because it’s really my last one,” Craig Stadler said after his son won the Phoenix Open to qualify. “I kept saying, you know, when he gets in, that’s my last one. I’m going to have to get in a little better shape. It’s going to be great.”
Since turning professional in 2002, Kevin Stadler has learned not to take the Masters for granted. It’s taken him 12 long years to finally make it back on his own terms.
“I think I have been once since I have been playing (on tour), and I kind of decided I didn’t want to go back there until I could go tee it up,” he said. “As soon as you turn pro, that’s the tournament you always want to play in. It’s taken me a long time to get there so I’ll definitely enjoy it.”
This historic confluence of father and son seemed inevitable a decade ago. On June 27, 2004, Kevin Stadler beat Bubba Watson in a playoff to win his first Nationwide Tour start of the year at the Lake Erie Classic on the same day his father won the Bank of America Championship on the Champions Tour. Kevin won again two weeks later to become the fastest player to get two wins (in four career starts) in Nationwide Tour history, all but securing his first PGA Tour card.
But despite seeming like his father’s clone – they both are 5-foot-10 and 250 pounds – the younger Stadler spent 10 years looking for his first PGA Tour victory that might get him to the Masters before his father retired.
“I’ve been close without being close,” Stadler said. “The only thing that got me close was the FedEx Cup playoffs the last couple of years. I really probably didn’t have the year you need to to qualify by merit, but I moved way up in the playoffs with a decent chance at it. The last two years I’ve been one good Sunday away from getting the ‘W’ needed to get in there and it just didn’t work out. So it was not at the forefront of my mind.”
It was in February when he rallied from three shots down Sunday to beat Watson again to finally earn the chance to play with his father at Augusta.
“He’s been bugging me for five years to hurry up and get in there before he calls it quits,” the younger Stadler said. “I seriously thought he might have been done after last year because he said he played pretty well and shot a pair of 79s. That’s not fun for him at all.”
When they get to Augusta, the two plan to play some practice rounds together and take in the unique experience.
“It’s great to be able to spend some time with him on the course when I never, ever, play any golf with him,” Kevin said. “It’s going to be a special week.”
The Stadlers are hardly the first kin to play in the Masters. There have been 11 father-son combos, but never in the same year. There have been 27 brothers to play at Augusta – 18 of them in the same tournament, including 13 consecutive fraternal co-starts by Jay and Lionel Hebert. Tommy Armour III followed in his late grandfather’s Augusta footsteps in 1990. The whole Haas clan – Bill; his father, Jay; and uncles Jerry Haas and Dillard Pruitt – are all branches of the Bob Goalby family tree.
But Kevin is the first direct descendant of a Masters winner to qualify to play Augusta. The closest anyone else ever got was Jack Nicklaus’ youngest son, Gary, in a playoff on the eve of the 2000 Masters at TPC Sugarloaf. Weather washed out the final round of the Bellsouth Classic, sending 54-hole co-leaders Gary Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson to a sudden-death playoff. On the par-3 16th hole, the 31-year-old Nicklaus’ tee shot buried under the lip of a front bunker and destroyed his chance of joining his father at Augusta.
That left the stage for the Stadlers.
“It’s definitely cool,” Stadler said of the historic significance. “It’s not going to happen again in this generation, so it’s pretty cool. My dad’s probably a lot more excited about it than I am, but I may not realize how cool it’s going to be until I get there.”