Also from today’s National Post:
Payne Stewart’s finest hourNational Post Tuesday, June 14, 2005 Page: SR6 Section: Special Report: Post Golf Byline: Robert Thompson Source: National Post
Professional golf is full of indelible images of greatness: Tiger Woods’ chip on the 16th at Augusta this spring. Ben Hogan’s famed 1-iron approach to the final hole at Merion in the 1950 U.S. Open. Jack Nicklaus’ birdie at the 16th at the Masters during his last major win in 1986.
But none are more powerful than the famed fist pump of Payne Stewart as his par putt found the bottom of the hole on sloping 18th green at Pinehurst No. 2 that clinched his second U.S. Open win six years ago.
At the time, Stewart, then 42, was at the top of his game, having nearly won the U.S. Open the previous year and beating Phil Mickelson in a shootout to win in 1999. On Oct. 25 of that year, the Lear jet carrying Stewart and a group to see a golf course he was to design crashed, killing all aboard.
The crash made Stewart’s win at Pinehurst, now recognized with a bronze statute, even more significant.
Stewart’s career was one of great promise that started boldly before fading for the better part of a decade. A standout golfer in college, he failed in his first attempt at the PGA Tour’s dreaded qualifying school. Once he made it on tour, stardom didn’t seem to be within his grasp. He won some events, but they were tournaments with titles such as the Quad Cities Open; hardly major championships.
But Stewart still gained attention, largely for his stylish, classic swing and his outlandish style of dress. His knickers, or plus fours as they are called, made it certain no one would miss Stewart even when his play wasn’t raking in headlines.
That changed in 1989 at Kemper Lakes, when he won the PGA Championship, his first major title. Two years later, he won a playoff duel with Scott Simpson at Hazeltine to take the U.S. Open.
Then, suddenly, nothing. While many expected Stewart to emerge as a major star, he spent the better part of a decade struggling, emerging once again in 1998 when he narrowly lost the U.S. Open to Lee Janzen at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
His loss in 1998, which many attribute to bad luck, made him a favourite at Pinehurst in 1999.
Simply put, Stewart outputted his rivals on Pinehurst’s treacherous domed greens, taking 24 putts in the final round on his way to victory.
A born-again Christian later in life, Stewart pulled Mickelson close after his winning putt and told the golfer, who was awaiting the birth of his first child, “Good luck with the baby. There’s nothing like being a father.”
Four months later, Stewart’s rented plane crashed in South Dakota. The cause was never fully determined, though it is known that the plane depressurized sometime after take off, rendering its passengers unconscious.
Golf didn’t take long to honour Stewart for his accomplishments, electing him to the World Golf Hall of Fame two years after the crash.
Stewart is now regarded as one of the best pressure players the game has ever seen. “Payne Stewart was a vicious competitor,” Paul Azinger, Stewart’s friend on the PGA Tour, told an audience of more than 3,000 at his memorial service. “He only played to win.”
Some in the media criticized him following his death, stating the golfer could be difficult and thoughtless at times. But, for Stewart’s part, he always lived his life the way he wanted.
“I’m going to a special place when I die, but I want to make sure my life is special while I’m here.”