Craig Stadler teed off an hour ago, yet there he is, bigger than life—bigger than you remember him—in front of the ShankMeister.com tent at the Newport Beach Country Club. This smiling Walrus is a cardboard facsimile: The real Stadler is feeling rather less cheerful on this overcast day. He is out on the course, driving the ball well enough but three-putting right and left and generally playing himself out of contention on the first day of the Toshiba Classic, a popular stop on the Champions tour.
Now in its third year, ShankMeister hopes to become a kind of eBay for golfers. Never mind that Stadler grew up in ritzy La Jolla, Calif., or that his hobbies have included hunting in Argentina and collecting fine wines. With his gruff charm and offensive lineman's build, the Walrus has long had a blue-collar, Walmart appeal. It makes sense that his bejowled mug would be the face of a website catering to bargain-hunting golf junkies. While the golfing masses may not remember all 13 of his PGA Tour victories, they know those triumphs include a major, clinched on the first playoff hole at Augusta National Golf Club 30 years ago.
Whom did he beat in that playoff? "I go to golf shows all over the country, and that's a trivia question we ask," says ShankMeister's Drew Hester. "Nobody ever knows the answer."
Dan Pohl was simply happy to be invited to the 1982 Masters. He was only a few years removed from earning his PGA Tour card, at the 1979 spring Q school; from qualifying on Mondays and living out of his van. The first time he made a cut, he recalls, he finished outside the top 70 and was handed a check for $18. Damn straight he cashed it.
Pohl could always drive the ball a mile. At the 1976 NCAA tournament Jay Haas of Wake Forest was putting on the 407-yard 12th hole at the University of New Mexico Championship course when he began backpedaling, amazed. A wind-aided drive had rolled a few feet past the cup. The ball belonged to Pohl, a junior at Arizona.
"I started 5, 4, 2," says Pohl, "and that was my game." A three-sport star at Mount Pleasant (Mich.) High, he came to golf relatively late. In those early years he was a beast off the tee whose game deteriorated the closer he got to the cup. So he slaved away on his short game and got better. Pohl got into the '82 Masters by virtue of his third-place finish at the previous year's PGA Championship. Of course he had watched the Masters on TV, and he had a healthy respect for it. "But I didn't get the tingling sensation that some of the Southern guys got when they talked about Augusta," he says. Rather than walk around like a worshipper in a cathedral, he yukked it up during practice rounds with fellow Maxfli golfers Hubert Green, John Mahaffey and Fuzzy Zoeller, who had won a green jacket three years earlier in his first trip to Augusta. "We had a lot of laughs, even as I was learning the course," says Pohl.
Most of what he learned was rendered moot by the storms that lashed Augusta on Thursday and Friday. It was the coldest, wettest, foulest Masters in memory. How miserable was it? On Thursday, Jack Nicklaus, with a three-under-par 69, was the only player in the 76-man field to break par. "Everybody was in survival mode," says Pohl, who opened 75--75. Though he was only six shots back of Stadler and just 21 players stood between him and the lead, Pohl had dramatically scaled back his expectations. But his parents, Howard and Deloris, had made the trip from Mount Pleasant, as had one of his four siblings, Larry, and Dan's wife, Mitzi. (They divorced in 2010). Dan still hoped to do something special for his people. Playing euchre on Friday night in the family's rented house outside town, he was reminded that he could still make a nice check, could still play well enough to get an exemption into the following year's event.
The forecast calls for rain, which could be why there are more trees than people out for the first round of the Toshiba. Stadler, Jim Gallagher Jr. and Peter Senior are being followed by a gallery of perhaps a dozen.
While Gallagher and Senior lay up with their second shots on the par-5 3rd hole, Stadler laces a three-wood onto the green, a spectacular shot. He makes birdie but gives the stroke back on the next hole. His tee shot at the par-3 settles in the fringe beyond the green. After chipping poorly, he tosses his club in the air, then spikes it like a volleyball player. Walking to the next tee, he makes a paddle of his right hand and smacks his ball into a lake.
Making his way to the clubhouse after a three-over 74, Stadler seems less angry than resigned. "That's about what I shoot these days," he says. "I play like I feel."