- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Turns out this King of Congressional Contest I’ve been asked to judge isn’t much of a competition. Granted, plenty of golfers have played the course well over the years — and I’m sure you all have your favorites — but nobody laid waste to the place quite like Craig Stadler did from 1980 to 1982 (and beyond). Long live the Walrus!

To refresh your memory, 1980 was the year the Kemper Open moved to River Road from Quail Hollow in Charlotte. Congressional had a par-72 layout back then and measured a little more than 7,000 yards. (When it has served as the site of a major championship — the 1964 U.S. Open, the 1976 PGA, the 1997 Open — par has been a more challenging 70.)

Anyway, Stadler was just beginning to make a name for himself when he arrived in Bethesda that spring. He was almost 27 — his birthday was the day after the tournament, in fact — and had recently recorded the first two of his 13 PGA Tour victories. Soon enough, he would squeeze into a size 46 green jacket at the Masters and become one of the golf’s most recognizable mammals. But getting back to the 1980 Kemper …

Actually, Stadler didn’t win that one. He finished second to John Mahaffey by three shots. But in the second round he embarked on the most amazing display of ball-striking in Congressional history. In his next 11 tours of the property, he put up scores of 69, 69, 67, 67, 69, 66, 68, 72, 67, 67 and 69 — 42 under par — and was crowned Kemper champ in 1981 (by six strokes) and 1982 (again by six).

Nobody came close to him, not even Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear was the 36-hole leader in 1982 and was paired with Stadler the last two days. The Walrus whomped him by 10 (67-69-136 to 72-74-146). I followed them, up and down Congressional’s hills, every step of the way. Stadler was absolutely on fire. When he wasn’t running in a birdie putt, he was holing out from a greenside bunker. Jack was nearing the end, of course, but it was still an Epic Tail-Kicking.

Stadler never missed a Kemper at Congressional. In his last four appearances, from 1983 to 1986, he placed comfortably in the top 25 (t-16, t-15, t-12, t-10), though never seriously contending. But for three years, he owned the course to an extent no one has before or since.

And now, the rest of Congressional’s all-time top 10 …

Be advised: I didn’t want to turn this into a mere list of the guys who’ve won on the course. What I looked for was the players who have played it consistently well over several visits. I also weighted majors more heavily than regular Tour events, which helped split hairs in some instances.

FYI: Counting the aforementioned three majors - plus the 1995 Senior Open, which I also took into account - there have been 14 big-time tournaments contested at Congressional (seven Kempers, one Booz Allen and two AT&T; Nationals being the others).

2. Greg Norman — The Shark was basically born at Congressional, winning his first PGA Tour event there in 1984 (by five, no less). Two years later, he outdueled Larry Mize in a memorable playoff to notch Kemper victory No. 2. The only blot on his resume: Missing the cut in the 1997 Open when he was still the top-ranked player in the world.

3. Gil Morgan — Yes, Gil Morgan. Dr. Gil might not have won here, but from 1980 to 1984 he had four top 3s, losing once in a playoff. He also was the 36-hole leader in the 1976 PGA before finishing t-8. (And lest we forget, he vanquished the field in the ‘90 Kemper after it moved to Avenel.)

4. Ernie Els — The Big Easy has shown his face at Congressional only twice, but that’s enough. In winning the 1997 Open and tying for seventh in the 2005 Booz, he fired consecutive rounds of 67, 69, 69, 69, 67 and 68. The big question is: Why hasn’t he come back more often?

5. Jim Furyk — One of these days, you figure, Furyk will break through. After all, he finished t-5 in 1997 and t-3 in the past two AT&Ts.; Of course, he’s an Open winner, and this is an Open course.

6. Larry Mize — Congressional’s all-time hard-luck story. Two years in a row (1985 and 1986) he was the 54-hole leader, and two years in a row he wound up second by a stroke. If memory serves, though, he got even with Norman, who beat him on the sixth extra hole, when they had another playoff at the ‘87 Masters.

7. Tom Weiskopf — Charged into the top 10 when I decided - hey, why not? - to include the 1995 Senior Open in my deliberations. His win there, coupled with a t-8 in the 1976 PGA and a t-2 in the 1981 Kemper, definitely makes him a horse for this course.

8. Jack Nicklaus — Nicklaus was a terror everywhere he teed it up, and he probably would have won at Congressional if the Kemper had been played there in his prime. Even so, he tied for third in his only (Bethesda) Kemper, tied for fourth in the 1976 PGA, was second behind Weiskopf in the ‘95 Senior Open and made the cut in the 1997 Open at age 47.

9. John Mahaffey — The 1980 Kemper champ (at 13 under) also had a t-9 in 1984, a t-12 in 1985 and one other top 25. Closed three times with a 68.

10. Hal Sutton — Has played the course five times and recorded five top 25s, including a t-6 in 1983 and a t-3 in 1984. His opening 66 in the 1997 Open (where he tied for 19th with, among others, Tiger Woods) is his best round here by two strokes.

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