AUGUSTA, Ga. — Kevin Stadler was somewhere near the third green when Masters history was made Thursday morning. He was oblivious to it, however, buried in his own little world, focused on his first-ever round in the season’s first major.
It was the 117th career Masters round for Craig Stadler, and when he hit his drive off the first tee at 8:40 a.m., with Kevin already on the golf course, it marked the first time in the tournament’s 80-year history that a father and son were competing in the same year.
Ever since Kevin qualified for his first Masters by winning the Phoenix Open Feb. 2, it was a guarantee that for the 12th time, a father and son will have played in the tournament. But never before had a father and son been together in the same Masters field.
Craig won in 1982, and has now appeared in 38 Masters. He has hinted that this might be his last, perhaps picking the perfect time to say goodbye.
The Stadlers recognize the significance of the moment, even if they weren’t paired together Thursday and, because of the lack of full-field scoreboards at Augusta National Golf Club, had no idea how the other was playing.
“No idea what he shot,” said Craig, after signing for a 10-over-par 82.
He was told that Kevin came in with a 2-under 70.
“Did he? Good.”
Golf allows for this kind of moment, especially when including a past Masters champion, who has the ability to play in the tournament for as long as he desires. It’s extremely rare in other sports: Ken Griffey and his son, Ken Griffey Jr., were brief baseball teammates with the Seattle Mariners; Dale Earnhardt and his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., raced against each other in NASCAR; and Gordie Howe joined two of his sons, Mark and Marty, on the New England/Hartford Whalers.
But this is a first for the Masters. Craig joked earlier this week that he’d been impatiently waiting on Kevin, who was a PGA Tour rookie in 2005 and finally earned the victory that brought him to Augusta in his 239th tour start.
Now the 60-year-old father and the 34-year-old son have put themselves in the Masters record book.
“It’s emotional in a very, very good way,” Craig said before the tournament. “I had envisioned this and knew it would happen some day. The rest was up to him.
“It’s going to be just a wonderful week. I hope he plays really well, and I hope I don’t embarrass myself.”
Despite the name, the uncanny physical resemblance, and the fact that both were All-Americans at Southern California, it has been quite clear that the Stadlers don’t enjoy a close father-son relationship. After winning in Phoenix, Kevin was reluctant to discuss it, and when asked about playing in the same tournament with his father, said simply, “I’ve had that question a million times. It’s my dad, that’s all I know. I’ve never known how to answer that. It is what it is.”
Craig was five groups behind Kevin on Thursday, their tee times separated by 44 minutes. But he chose not to come to the first tee and watch his oldest son hit his first shot in his first Masters. When they appeared together for the pretournament press conference, they arrived separately, and departed separately, through different doors.
Asked how much advice he has received about a super-confusing golf course from his father, Kevin said, “Not a whole lot, to be honest. I think he was wanting me to find my own way around here.”
It hasn’t all been frosty. They bantered back-and-forth during their press conference, and said a number of nice things about the other, and about how special this experience will be.
Kevin is off to a good start, tied for fifth.
“I’ll take 2 under all day every day for the rest of my life,” he said.
Craig’s 82 matched his highest score ever in the Masters.
“My whole game stinks,” he said. “The next couple years, when I kind of — it’ll be quicker than that if I have many more of these days — but when I quit playing, I’ll go out and follow him a bit. He’ll do fine.”