That ol' softie, Craig Stadler, who describes himself as once being "a maniac out there," spent Monday morning returning 196 text messages and 87 emails from people congratulating him on his first Champions Tour victory in eight years.

He was coming off a one-shot victory in the Encompass Championship in suburban Chicago and he wasn't sure what he appreciated more -- the response from his friends and peers or the satisfaction that his game, which he had all but left for dead, suddenly had been resuscitated.

"It was do or die," Stadler said. "Fix it or I was going to quit. I haven't had any interest in playing golf for two-and-a-half years. I was playing so bad it just wears you down. Just pure and simple, I was horrible."

At age 60 and without a win since the 2004 SAS Championship, the man nicknamed "The Walrus" went to see teacher Billy Harmon about five weeks ago. Stadler said Harmon changed everything about his game -- his grip, stance, ball position, especially his shoulder alignment -- something he said he never had to do or even think about for 40 years.

Stadler said he was getting too open with his shoulders, causing him to lose distance off the tee and hit a lot of what he called "those ugly, horrible fades" with his irons.

"I never had to think about my golf game," Stadler said. "I'd hit it, find it and hit it again. That's been my only thought process. I played the same way for 45 years. Now it's all different."

But as Stadler discovered Sunday, it's a good different.

Now, instead of hating to come to the golf course, he comes to Fox Chapel Golf Club for the 30th Constellation Senior Players Championship that begins Thursday with a little skip in that familiar slope-shouldered step.

"I haven't looked forward to a week of golf in a long time," Stadler said Tuesday after hitting balls on the practice range. "It's fun. I'm actually excited about this week. I really feel like I wanted to come out and hit balls today. That's a plus."

Stadler's victory, though, did not come without some anxious moments. After a quick start in which he birdied four of the first six holes to take a five-shot lead in the final round, he had to make a sneaky left-to-right 12-footer to save par on the final hole to beat Fred Couples by one shot.

When he made that bending putt, Stadler ended the longest victory drought in Champions Tour history -- eight years, almost nine months -- and was overcome with emotion. Not what people have come to expect from a man who stalked, stormed and often club-pounded his way for years on the PGA Tour.

"It was awesome," Stadler said. "I played really, really, really good golf for about 30 holes. I struggled a little bit coming in. But I made a putt when I had to."

But that is Stadler. For all his surly appearances on the golf course -- "My temper and all," he said -- he always has been one of the friendliest, most well-liked players on the tour. He was reminded of that when among all his congratulatory messages, he had "30 to 40" from his fellow Champions Tour players.

"That's really cool; that was really nice," Stadler said. "That was very touching to get that."

So, too, was having his second wife, Jan, see him win a tournament for the first time. They have been married three years.

"It was a long way down there, but there's a little flicker in that tunnel somewhere," Stadler said.



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