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.

U.S. Open: Articles, videos and photos

U.S. Open full-field scores

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.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.