Payne Stewarts son playing at Pinehurst


PINEHURST, N.C. ' Aaron Stewart walked onto the 18th green at Pinehursts No. 2 course on Monday and allowed himself a peek at the imposing figure standing near the clubhouse.
Yes, his dad was watching.
The late Payne Stewart still casts a long shadow at Pinehurst ' both physically, a statue of the first U.S. Open champion crowned at No. 2 looms larger than life just off the 18th, and figuratively.
Now, almost exactly a decade after the last pro victory of Stewarts career, its up to his 20-year-old son to carry on that legacy when he plays his first tournament at the famous course, this weeks North and South Amateur.
A lot of people talk about, Its been 10 years, (and) if this is going to be particularly hard because its been 10 years, Aaron Stewart said. Anybody thats lost someone who has been such a big part of their lives, you think about that person every day. So its not like 10 years is going to be any different than seven years or something like that. Its still going to be another day when youre thinking about him.
The younger Stewart, whos entering his redshirt sophomore season at SMU, is making a rare trip to the course in south-central North Carolina where his fathers second U.S. Open title came four months before his untimely death in an airplane accident.
Aaron Stewart, a 10-year-old at that time, didnt develop a serious interest in golf until he was in high school and visited Pinehurst last month for the first time since the statue was dedicated in 2001. He played 18 holes at No. 2 for the first time Monday.
Our family has always thought very highly of the people here and Pinehurst overall, so when I found out about the North and South, I thought if I could get in, itd be a lot of fun to play, Stewart said.
A quick glance at the younger Stewart and its obvious who his father is ' minus, of course, the tam-o-shanters and plus-fours that became trademarks of Paynes during his nearly two-decade pro career.
But theyre sharing more than just facial features this week. Aarons caddie, Mike Hicks, also carried the clubs for his father during his victory in the 1999 Open. And Aaron brought his fathers yardage book from that tournament.
The mannerisms and the way he conducts himself, theres a few things that remind me a lot of his dad, Hicks said.
A successful week at the North and South and the Stewarts will have matching tournament victories at No. 2, though Aaron Stewart faces a daunting path through two days of stroke play just to qualify for the match-play round.
Then again, he didnt rule out mimicking the fist-pumping pose struck by his father after his 15-foot putt sealed the Open victory, immortalized in the statue by the 18th green.
Theres hopes and desires and dreams, but itd be awesome to win at Pinehurst, Stewart said. I cant think of a better caddie to have on the bag, so it would be really special. Im just going to go out (Tuesday) and play my best, and whatever happens from there, keep focusing on that and not think about the outcome. Stay present.
Someday, Aaron Stewart wants to follow his father into professional golf. But as proud as he is to be Payne Stewarts son, he also is eager to create his own identity.
Im very happy to have (the Stewart last name) and Im very proud of my name, and I do want to be known as my own player, Stewart said. But that will come in time.