Memories of Payne Live On Forever
I am thinking of that day 10 years ago because today is the five-year anniversary of Payne Stewarts untimely death. Everyone remembers the circumstances - the private jet which underwent a mysterious decompression early in the flight, the quick demise of all the passengers, the final crash into a corn field in South Dakota.
But today, five years before the tragedy, he was totally relaxed. Payne was just Payne. He could be a little prickly when he was in a certain mood, but in all the years that I had known him as the golf writer from the Orlando newspaper, he and I had developed a personal relationship. I cant honestly say it was always a warm and cozy relationship, but over-all it was a very friendly one.
On this March day, I met the nanny of his two children, a mature woman from England. The Stewarts had found her though an agency. They had some young girls in here who thought it would be a glamour job, said Payne. They had no idea how much work it is.
Daughter Chelsea and wife Tracey were away for the afternoon, but five-year-old son Aaron danced excitedly around Payne. Payne grabbed a bat and a softball and went out to the street to throw underhanded lobs to him.
Aaron gripped the bat cross-handed, but he could hit. He popped a few over Paynes head, pretty impressive for a little lad. Payne explained that he also gripped a golf club cross-handed. He went with me the other day when I was hitting a few balls, and his godfather said, Aaron, youre gripping it the wrong way.
He said, When I grip it the other way, I make big holes in the ground. At this age, I just let him grip it and swing away. I believe hes just got to have fun.
We went inside and took a tour of Paynes personal closet, where he had about 40 pairs of his trademark knickers, all neatly hung. They are cooler in the heat, and believe it not, theyre warmer in the cold, Payne said. Actually, theyre very comfortable.
By this time, Aaron had a little rope around his dads ankles. Uh-oh ' hes got me tied up, laughed Payne. I guess hes the sheriff now.
I mentioned the kitchen ' I had read recently where Payne considered himself something of an amateur chef. Oh yes, he said excitedly. I can flat-out burn it. Ill fix you guys something and you tell me if I can cook or not.
He then proceeded to make a couple of ham-and-egg sandwiches, carefully frying the eggs just so, heating up the ham, doing everything with much pomp and circumstance. What he lacked in expertise, he certainly made up for in flourish.
He then gave a little history of the life of Payne. If you couldnt cook in my house when I was growing up, you didnt eat. Im trying to explain that to my kids, but they say, Oh daddy, why should we learn, everybodys doing it for us. Thats a bad attitude, I tell them.
I remembered this day when I first heard the news in 1999 that he was on the plane that was lost in the skies. A month before, I had joined him, Lee Janzen and Scott Hoch for breakfast in the locker room at the NEC Invitational at Akron. He had joked with Hoch, said something in mock sarcasm to Janzen ' as usual, totally full of life.
Suddenly, like someone suddenly snuffing out a match, he was gone. And then, a conversation we had had that day five years earlier came flooding back.
He had talked expansively about his children, talked about young Aaron coming up to him as he lay sleeping at 7 in the morning after flying home from a tournament and arriving at 1:30 that night. He really didnt care how sleepy I was, said Payne. He said, Hey dad, look at this new gun I got. I was just his dad, and he could care less that I only had five hours sleep.
And Chelsea? Payne was planning a special surprise for Chelsea some day. He had developed a special marinating sauce, and the recipe he was saving for that time when Chelsea would be married.
I said, Chelsea, when you get married, Ill give you the recipe. When you are out of the house, you will have it. But not until then.
Chelsea will never get the recipe from her father. Hes gone. But his memories will remain forever. He loved his children, he loved life, and the world is just not the same without him.
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USC's Gaston leaves to become head coach at A&M
In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.
This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.
Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.
Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.
The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.
Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout
CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.
Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.
Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.
“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”
Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.
“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”
Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break
Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.
Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.
Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.
“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”
Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.
“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”
Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.
Just like last year, Spieth in desperate need of a spark
CROMWELL, Conn. – Jordan Spieth has arrived at the Travelers Championship in need of a turnaround. Again.
Spieth’s playoff victory last year over Daniel Berger, complete with a bunker hole-out and raucous celebration, went down as one of the most electrifying moments of 2017. It also propelled Spieth to some more major glory, as he won The Open in his very next start.
So it’s easy to forget the state of Spieth’s game when he first stepped foot on the grounds of TPC River Highlands a year ago. Things were, quite plainly, not going well.
He was struggling on the greens, even going so far as to switch putters at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He then failed to contend at Erin Hills, only netting a T-35 finish thanks to a final-round 69 that came hours before the leaders teed off.
So here we are again, with Spieth in search of a spark after a series of underwhelming performances that included last week’s effort at Shinnecock Hills, where he bogeyed the last two holes of his second round to miss the cut by a shot. Except this time, the climb back to the top may be even steeper than it was a year ago.
“I’m not sure where the state of my game is right now,” Spieth said. “If I strike the ball the way I have been this year, then the results are coming. But the last couple weeks I’ve played Muirfield and then the (U.S.) Open, and I hit the ball really poorly and didn’t give myself that many opportunities to let the putter do the work.”
While many big names play sporadically in the time between the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth remained as busy as ever thanks to the Tour’s swing through Texas. So even after failing to contend much in the spring outside of a memorable finale in Augusta, and even after struggling for much of his week at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth looked out at his schedule and saw a myriad of possible turning points.
There was the AT&T Byron Nelson, played in his hometown and at a venue on which he was one of only a handful with any experience (T-21). Then a trip across town to Colonial, where he had beaten all but two players in a three-year stretch (T-32).
Throw in the missed cuts at Muirfield Village and Shinnecock Hills, and Spieth has made it to the last leg of a six-event stretch that has included only one off week and, to date, zero chances to contend come Sunday.
“I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and try not to do too much,” Spieth said. “I mean, 90-plus percent of the tournaments the last two years I’ve thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday. I’ve had too much to do from here on.”
That was certainly the case last week on Long Island, where Spieth’s hopes for a fourth major title evaporated well before course conditions became a focal point over the weekend. He was 4 over through his first two holes and spent much of the next 34 stuck in a fit of frustration. He gave himself a glimmer of hope with four late birdies Friday followed by a pair of bogeys that snuffed it out with equal speed.
Spieth has continued to preach patience throughout the year, but there’s no getting around some eye-popping stats; he's 188th on Tour this year in strokes gained: putting and 93rd in fairways hit. It can foster a pressure to find a cure-all in any given week, especially given how quickly he got a middling summer back on track last year.
“It’s something that you fight, sure,” Spieth said. “It’s been that way just about every tournament except Muirfield, because then you go to the U.S. Open and think you don’t even have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament. So as much as that kind of comes into your head, it’s not bothering me this time. I’m going to try and have fun, and make progress.”
After this week, Spieth will have some down time with family before making the trip overseas to Carnoustie. He plans to have a few private dinners accompanied by the claret jug, one last toast to last year’s success before turning the trophy back over to the R&A.
But even Spieth admitted that as it pertains to his chances to follow in Brooks Koepka’s footsteps by successfully defending a major title, he’ll be greatly aided by working his way into the mix this weekend. It represents the last chance in this early-summer swing to get his name back on the leaderboard, an opportunity to light fire to a pedestrian campaign like he did a year ago.
“It’s your basic stuff that sometimes gets off, that the harder you try to get them back on sometimes, the worse it gets,” Spieth said. “It can be frustrating, or you can just kind of wait for it to come to you. I think I’m OK with where things are, whether it’s the rest of this year or next year. I feel like there are good scores coming.”