Memories of Stewart come flooding back

By Brandel ChambleeJune 7, 2014, 4:45 am

After the second round of the 1999 National Car Rental Golf Classic I was sitting in front of my locker talking to John Cook about the Senior Tour, as the Champions Tour was known then, when Payne Stewart walked in. John and I were debating whether the old man’s tour would be around for us to play. John had just turned 42 and I was 37. We agreed the tour seemed to have run its course and we thought we were more likely to be pensioners than players after age 50.

Just four months removed from winning the U.S. Open, Payne took a seat beside me. After listening for a while he raised a finger and said, “Whatz you guys fails to understand ..." We all burst out laughing. Payne was known to carry around a set of fake teeth, all stained and askew, and pop them in when least expected. He would often affect some weird accent to add to the humor.

Photos: 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2

Payne and I both missed the cut, leaving us to the routine of departing an event: grab a bag for unused golf balls and gloves, get your shoes, tip the locker-room attendant and leave the scene of the crime, so to speak. John’s questions stalled my exit, but Payne seemed in no hurry to leave, as if he were chewing on something besides those teeth.

Earlier in the week Payne had drawn the ire of many with an over-the-top impersonation of a Chinese person speaking English. It was in response to a quip by Peter Alliss that the Americans (during the Ryder Cup) were so different from the Brits, they might as well be Chinese.

Squinting and sticking out his teeth, Stewart told ESPN's Mark McCumber, "I just want Peter Alliss to know that all of us American golfers on the Ryder Cup team, we are Chinese, too. Thank you very much.” Stewart later apologized, saying there was no intent to offend anyone but Alliss.

His impromptu parody ignited a media firestorm. When some called him a racist, I sensed he was hurting, because that was so far from who he was.

I've carried these memories of Payne Stewart for nearly 15 years, the amount of time that has passed since he was one of six people killed in the 1999 crash of a private plane. Now, with the U.S. Open about to be played at Pinehurst, where he won the last of his three majors in June 1999, the memories of Stewart have become increasingly vivid.

A ROUND OF GOLF reveals many things about a man, but tournament golf is an inkblot test. You want to know who a man is? Watch him lose. Better yet, watch him win.

I was paired with Stewart for the final 36 holes of the only event I would win on Tour, the 1998 Greater Vancouver Open. Payne had won plenty by professional golf standards - nine wins to that point in his career, including two majors and a near-miss on a third at the U.S. Open a few months before - but not enough for his critics, who called him “Avis” for his propensity for coming in second.

I’m sure the moniker bothered him but he was every bit the star - as if he'd won 50 times. With his plus-fours and tam o'shanter cap, nobody was more recognizable in golf. And when he swung the club, all of us were transported to a more elegant decade, perhaps the 1920s. In an age where many swings looked like they were built in a lab, he was Roy Hobbs. That weekend I was the journeyman and he was the giant and the Vancouver crowd wanted him to win.

Several times over those two days he apologized for the crowd’s partisanship. I understood their favoritism - a win by him would elevate the status of the event - but I appreciated his consideration.


AT THE 1999 U.S. Open I played well before the leaders on Sunday. On the 16th hole I had a putt of about 20 feet for par. In between the hole and my ball was a ridge which I had to putt over at an angle. The ball would break more or less, depending on which angle I took. I missed by a mile and I remember thinking that no one could make that putt.

A few hours later Payne had the same putt. He smacked his gum as he looked at the line the way a jeweler looks at a diamond. Playing commentator, I called the read impossible. Seconds later I turned back into a fan, blown away by Stewart's talent. I remember his reaction to the holed putt more than the putt itself. His eyes never blinked as he chomped that gum and walked off the green completely absorbed in what he needed to do next, while the rest of the world was agog at what he had just done.

What he did next made for some of the most memorable moments in the history of golf. Forgotten so often by those who win in a rush is that someone else just lost. A statue commemorates the pose Payne struck after holing the winning putt, but no less indelible is the image of him grabbing Phil Mickelson by the face and reminding him of the larger picture of impending parenthood.

That kind of empathy at a moment like that is as rare as the moment itself.

A FEW MONTHS after that U.S. Open, on Tuesday of the 1999 National Car Rental Golf Classic, Payne and I were in the fitness trailer with a few others. As I was leaving, I grabbed two waist-high exercise balls and rolled them in front of me as I walked out the door. “This was you walking off the 16th green at Pinehurst,” I said. He roared.

The Disney event ended on Sunday, Oct. 24, with Tiger Woods collecting his 13th Tour win. On Monday I flew from Orlando to Scottsdale and came home to a ringing phone with the tragic news. I immediately thought of Payne’s family and I was sick with grief. Every flight I have ever boarded, commercial or private, I have this fleeting macabre moment where I think about my family and wonder what if ... Did I tell them I love them? Did I look them in the eye so they knew? Did I hug them? What would my children’s lives be like without a father? Fleeting, horrific thoughts, irrational in the face of the odds, became a reality for the Stewarts that day.

A life cut short is something I know far too much about, having lost a son before I got to know him, before I got to see who he would become. I’ve often wondered if the pain of his loss would be assuaged in any way if I had gotten to see him grow up to be happy and to make others happy ... the way Payne did. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that Payne left behind a family that loves him, friends that miss him and a game that is better off because of him.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.