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Craig Stadler

Craig Stadler

Rubenstein: Champion golfer with a heart of gold Add to ...

The weekend in golf was full of feel-good stories. Ken Duke won the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, CT. He’s 43, and this was his first PGA Tour win. Duke was good enough to credit his teacher Bob Toski with helping him so much. Toski is 86, and he won the same tournament 60 years ago when it was called the Insurance City Open. That was Toski’s first PGA Tour win.

Then there was Graham DeLaet’s finish at the Travelers. He shot one-under-par 69 in the final round to finish a shot out of the playoff between Duke and Chris Stroud. DeLaet was third, his best finish on the PGA Tour. He’s getting closer and closer to a win. Mike Weir said this morning during a visit to Hamilton for his Childrens Miracle Golf Drive for Kids that he told DeLaet to keep knocking on the door and that his first win will come soon. There’s no sure thing in golf, but DeLaet is playing well enough and has the game to win his first PGA Tour event anytime.

To me, though, the major feel-good story of the weekend was Craig Stadler’s win at the Encompass Championship at the classic old North Shore club near Chicago. Stadler, 60, hadn’t won on the Champions Tour in eight years and eight months. That’s the longest time ever between wins on the Champions Tour. He took a two-shot lead into the last round and extended it to five with early birdies.

But he started leaking oil, as the saying goes, down the stretch. Stadler ultimately had to make a 10-footer for par on the last hole to win by a shot over Fred Couples. Couples, by the way, had said moments earlier when Stadler seemed in command that he hoped his good friend would bring it home and win. He shot 71, which was good enough.

As it happens, Stadler was in Toronto on June 18th to participate in the annual Agnico-Eagle tournament that raises money for Head and Neck Clinic’s cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital. He was at the Devil’s Paintbrush course, which he thoroughly enjoyed playing, because his dear friend Dick Grimm, is involved in the tournament. Grimm, 90, has had treatment at the clinic for cancer. He and Stadler go back years.

Grimm has held many important positions in Canadian golf. He was Canadian Open chairman seven times between 1970 and 1981. He was Canadian Tour commissioner between 1993 and 1997. Grimm is a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. He cares deeply about Canadian golf. We meet regularly for coffee. I’m lucky to count him a close friend. Meanwhile, the bond between Grimm and Stadler remains strong. Stadler is always asking how his pal is doing. They’re in touch regularly, and Stadler comes up to the Agnico-Eagle tournament every year.

I was at the Paintbrush while Stadler was there. I moderated a discussion between Stadler, the 1982 Masters winner, and Ian Leggatt, the Canadian tour pro who won the 2002 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open on the PGA Tour. Leggo, as his pals know him, is now the director of golf at the Summit Golf and Country Club in Richmond Hill, Ont. Summit’s reputation has always been as a player’s club, and Leggatt’s involvement is making it only more so.

At the Paintbrush, Stadler said he was close to quitting golf a month ago. He was playing that poorly. But once a golfer, always a golfer. He had started to work with the highly regarded instructor Billy Harmon.

“He changed everything,” Stadler said. At the Encompass, Stadler said he had to think about four or five things over every shot. Imagine trying to win a tournament while thinking so much about one’s swing. But Stadler was tenacious; it’s his nature. He shot 67-65 the first two rounds. Harmon was on to something. Stadler was hitting golf shots. In the end, it came down to a putt. But better golf shots got him to the position where he had a putt to win—for the first time in years.

His visit to the Paintbrush, where he helped raise some $200,000 for cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital, will stay with me for a long time. So will the friendly way he treats people at the tournament every year. He auctions a trip or two for a group of golfers to spend a couple of days with him at his retreat in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The golfers eat, drink, and tee it up with him at TPC Sawgrass. It would be impossible not to have a great time with him.

I’ll also remember something else about Stadler, something that happened a long time ago. He was scheduled to do a conference call with media to promote an event at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont. The tournament was a mixed-team event that Canadian Airlines, which was in business from 1987-2001, hosted. Stadler was going to play. A family member needed surgery because of a hearing problem, and it was scheduled for the same day as the call. Stadler took the call from the hospital corridor. That’s the kind of guy he is.

I texted Stadler to congratulate him after his win Sunday. “All is good,” he texted back. “Toronto always helps!” he added of his visit before heading for the Encompass. Stadler turned 60 on June 2nd, and now he’s won again on the Champions Tour.

“You’ve got a great champ,” Stadler’s friend and fellow Champions Tour golfer Jeff Sluman said after the tournament ended. Sluman finished two shots behind Stadler. But, like Couples, he couldn’t have been happier for Stadler.

Anybody who knows Stadler would be happy for him. Sure, he can appear gruff on the outside. But he’s a tremendously compassionate person. I don’t know where the phrase “heart of gold” comes from, but that’s Stadler: A champion golfer with a heart of gold.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at lornerubenstein@me.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

 

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