Stewart still inspiring players

By Joe PosnanskiJune 12, 2014, 11:16 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – There was something surprisingly emotional about watching Rickie Fowler honor Payne Stewart by playing golf around Pinehurst No. 2 in knickers and high socks on Thursday at the U.S. Open. It was a wonderful gesture, something that tells you so much about Rickie Fowler’s character.  He did not know Stewart, of course. But he wanted to honor the man.

Fowler decided to do it a few months ago – worked out the details with his apparel sponsor – and he told only a few friends and family members. He wanted it to be a surprise. He very much enjoyed walking into the clubhouse and seeing Phil Mickelson, Stewart’s foil at the 1999 U.S. Open. Mickelson smiled and gave Fowler the thumbs-up. Well, it was just one of those perfectly understated displays of homage.

But as the afternoon went on, it became something more. The fans at every hole were touched. They yelled out Payne’s name. They shouted out, “Rickie Stewart!” I was here in Pinehurst in 1999 when Stewart made that putt on the 18th to beat Mickelson and then threw his fist forward in triumph. We were all so much younger then. Tiger Woods had won just one major championship – the 1997 Masters – and there were some people who actually wondered if he would become the superstar everyone had predicted.

Mickelson then was about to turn 29, about to have his first child, and he’d not yet even come close to winning a major championship.

And Payne Stewart … well, he was 42 by then, and he’d already had a fascinating golfing career. Stewart was a complicated man. He was best known for those traditional outfits Fowler honored; he did have a deep love for golf history. But people would see those outfits and assume the man wearing them was approachable and a free spirit. And Payne Stewart, for the most part, was neither.

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He was, instead, a very serious man who always seemed to be fighting demons. His father, Bill, had taught him the game. Bill died of cancer when Stewart was 28, just after he won his first Tour event. The next time Stewart won a tournament, at Bay Hill, he donated his entire winners’ check to a Florida hospital in his father’s memory.

He never seemed especially happy when he found success. Maybe it did not mean very much without his father there to enjoy it with him. Maybe he was just too driven to ever rest. In 1989, at the PGA Championship, Stewart made one of the most stirring comebacks in golf history. He trailed Mike Reid by six shots going into the final round. He birdied four of the last five holes to win by a shot.

He won a couple of tournaments in 1990, won the 1991 U.S. Open in a playoff. He seemed to have everything. He had a gorgeous golf swing, the adoration of fans, a wonderful family, and he was winning. “I didn’t enjoy it much,” he would say. “I didn’t have time to enjoy it. I regret that part. I was always trying to be somewhere else, always trying to do something else. I should have stopped and had some fun when I was on top.” 

And then he went into a slump, wasn’t on top, and things got worse. He argued with fans and reporters. He was grouchier. He was surlier. “I was not a very good person then,” he said.

Then, something happened. Payne Stewart stopped. I spent some time with him one day in his hometown of Springfield, Mo.; he was there for an event of some kind. He talked about how his children had helped him become more spiritual. He talked about how he had come to see life as being bigger than golf. He explained that winning and losing no longer consumed him the way it had.

And it was right about then that he had a golfing resurgence – he was in position to win the 1998 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco but was beaten in the final three holes by Lee Janzen. And he did not let the near-win tear him apart.

A year later, he was here at Pinehurst, and the emotion surrounded Mickelson, who was wearing a beeper because his wife was due any day. After Stewart made the putt to beat Mickelson, he pulled him close and told him that he would win many U.S. Opens in the future. And then he pulled him even closer and said, “You're going to be a great father!”

Three months later, Stewart played in the Ryder Cup and though he was openly and loudly patriotic – he loved to blare Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” in the hallways whenever he made a Ryder Cup team – he displayed the ultimate sportsmanship in his singles match against Colin Montgomerie. He chastised people in the crowd when they yelled rude things at Monty. And, even more, when they got to the 18th hole he conceded a long putt – and the match – to Monty because the U.S. had already clinched the Cup.

“He doesn’t deserve what he went through out there today … it’s not fair,” Stewart told reporters. “That’s not what this sport is about.”

“A pure sportsman,” Monty told reporters later.

He really did seem to be enjoying it all so much more. He became much more approachable. “This has been the best year, by far,” he told us at that Ryder Cup.

Payne Stewart’s plane crashed about a month after that Ryder Cup.

A lot of that rushed back on Thursday as Rickie Fowler played in Payne Stewart’s old outfit. A lot of that rushed back on Thursday as Phil Mickelson clawed his way around Pinehurst No. 2 at even par. As sportswriters, as fans, we only get so close to athletes. We only get to know them a little bit. But sometimes, maybe, we get close enough to understand them just a little bit.

When asked why he decided to wear the knickers, Fowler explained that Stewart had been one of his favorite golfers when he was a kid – Stewart died when Fowler was 10. Then, when asked if there was anything in Stewart’s golfing game that he tried to put into his own, he said this: 

“Not necessarily. Everyone is a different player. But maybe more on how he handled himself as a person who he was, and how he was on and off the golf course.”

Stewart would tell you he wasn’t always proud of the way he handled himself on and off the golf course. But he was trying. He was really trying. And that is the best any of us can do.

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.