Stewart's former caddie finally reflects on '99 win

By Jason SobelJune 3, 2014, 6:45 pm

When Mike Hicks caddied in last month’s Byron Nelson Championship, he stayed with a friend of his former boss.

Lamar Haynes was a college teammate of Payne Stewart at SMU, so this was a reunion of sorts with Hicks, who’d spent a dozen years toting Stewart’s bag.

On Tuesday night of that week, they were channel surfing, with Haynes flipping between NBA and NHL playoff games. At one point, both were in commercial, so he clicked over to Golf Channel. As coincidence – or maybe luck – would have it, a rebroadcast of the 1999 U.S. Open final round, during which Hicks caddied Stewart to victory, had just started.

“Lamar goes, ‘Jeez, can you believe this?’” Hicks recalls. “And I said I’d never seen it.”

That’s right. The man who spent so many years walking the fairways with Stewart, the man who witnessed so much heartache and heroism, who leapt into his arms when the final putt dropped that day and spoke at his memorial service a few months later following the plane accident, had never seen the entire final round.

“I’ve got the tape, but I had just never sat down and watched it,” he admits. “If Payne hadn’t passed away in October, at some point that winter I would have watched the tape. But I don’t know – it’s just been strange for me.”

So there they were, two of the men who knew Stewart best, 15 years after his win and 15 years after his death, sitting together and watching the historic final round.

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

And what did they see?

“What really astounded me was the focus that he had, the look of determination on his face,” Hicks says. “When you’re in the heat of the moment, you don’t really notice that stuff.”

Excuse him if he’s a little emotional next week as the U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst No. 2, that statue of Stewart in victorious pose loitering near the final green. The memories of that week will come flooding back.

He remembers they barely spoke during that final round.

“There was no small talk between Payne and I. He didn’t say five words to me that day, other than, ‘What do we got? What’s it playing? How’s the wind?’”

He remembers leaving the course with Stewart around 10 p.m., then driving 65 miles to his own house in Mebane, N.C., where Stewart spent time with all of the caddie’s friends and neighbors who had gathered there.

“To win in your home state, then to have the major champion stay in your house – it just doesn’t happen. But I was blessed enough and fortunate enough to have that happen.”

He remembers the next day, when Stewart shook off a 4 a.m. bedtime and honored his commitment – along with Paul Azinger, Fred Couples and Hal Sutton – to attend an event at Hicks’ home club, Mill Creek.

“He made a putt on the first hole and says, ‘Well, that’s four one-putts in a row.’ On the next hole, he closed his eyes and made another. ‘That’s five one-putts in a row.’ Then another on the next hole. ‘That’s six in a row.’ He was really giving those guys the business.”

Hicks still thinks about Stewart pretty frequently – every time he walks past his refrigerator, in fact. There is a photo of him attached to the door, not playing golf, but from a photo shoot for his clothing line.

It wouldn’t be presumptuous to believe that Hicks prefers to remember his friend as a person, not just a golfer.

While the flags from the final green at each of Stewart’s first two major championships have long since been framed and hung, the flag from the 1999 U.S. Open remains neither, instead sitting unceremoniously on a shelf in Hicks’ bedroom closet.

In the years since Stewart’s death, he caddied for a who’s who on the PGA Tour – from Lee Janzen to Justin Leonard to Steve Stricker to Charles Howell III, but none could replace the player with whom he’s still most closely associated.

“I got along with all of them, but it just wasn’t the same,” he says. “Never will be the same; never going to find another job like I had.”

After 34 years of caddying, Hicks maintains that he’s finally done. Retired for good. He is diabetic, has a herniated disc and a hip that needs replacing. “My body is kind of worn down,” he admits. “I’m burned out.”

Hicks looped for the last time a few weeks ago for Spencer Levin at the Crowne Plaza Invitational, then returned home to Mebane, where he works as an instructor, taking the most pleasure in coaching junior golfers and helping them to, as he puts it, “caddie for themselves.”

He used to get asked about caddying for Stewart and winning the ’99 U.S. Open every day, but those questions have subsided over time. They’ll return in waves next week, as the focus is once again on that magical journey among the pines – and so will Hicks’ memory, those images rushing back to him.

“It really feels like yesterday that I was caddying for Payne,” he says. “It’s all gone by so fast.”

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.