Jim Mackay, who caddies for Phil Mickelson, remembers the moment as if it happened just five minutes ago. It was the final hole on the final day of the 1999 U.S. Open. A gray mist enveloped the 18th green at Pinehurst as Payne Stewart was preparing to putt.
The USGA paints a dot on the green to denote the pin location for the next days play. That was foremost in Mike Hicks mind. Stewarts caddie was concerned because he didnt see the dot, and he was pretty certain there would be a playoff.
Payne puts his ball down on 18, remembers Mackay, and Hicksy comes over and says, Bonesy, you got any dots for tomorrows playoff?
I was thinking what he said right as Payne hit his putt. About that time, Hicksy was doing the Yogi Berra thing. And we still joke about that.
Stewart, of course, won it when he poured the putt into the heart, setting off a leaping, hugging celebration between him and Hicks. But before the end of the year, Stewart himself was only a memory, dying in an airplane tragedy while flying over the heartland of America.
This year, the U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst for the first time since Stewarts victory. It will be a second celebration of his win as players remember the 99 victory.
A guy with the mentality that Payne had, he never gave up, never gave in and he was a bulldog type of guy, David Toms said. You just had a feeling he was going to make it (the putt), like everyone else did. He looked comfortable.
You can tell if a guy is taking more time than normal, is he doing a different routine, what kind of look does he have on his face, is he unsure of the break or whatever it might be. He certainly looked comfortable and he poured it right in.
Nick Price will never forget. The two things I will remember for as long as I live are the putt on 18, and then Payne using his two hands to hold Mickelsons face as he spoke to him, said Price. Stewart had immediately gone to Mickelson as soon as the embrace with Hicks ended. He then spoke to Mickelson about the birth of Mickelsons first child, which would come the next day.
It was a great, great moment for Payne, but all he wanted to say was, Dont worry, youre going to win this thing someday, said Price. He knew, even in his greatest moment ' he still had the empathy to say something like that.
Payne just had incredible feelings for his fellow pros like that.
Mickelson was extremely touched. I think I was most impressed with Payne when here he just won the greatest championship of the game and he's thinking about Amy and myself, said Phil.
It will be a trying week for just about everyone concerned when the players gather again at Pinehurst, said Mickelson. The memories of a man who was so unique are hard to erase.
It'll be very emotional for a lot of players because almost everybody out here considered Payne a good friend, he said. So it's going to be an emotional week for everybody.
Tiger Woods remembers that final day, recalls the fantastic stretch run of himself, Mickelson and Vijay Singh as one by one they grappled with Stewart. But even more, he remembers the celebratory party that Stewart threw when they all returned home to Orlando. I think thats what we should all focus on, said Woods.
There are a lot of little things that Woods remembers, but the little impish pranks stands out most in Tigers mind. The practical jokes and his needling, Tiger said. Whether it might be shaving cream in our shoes - he didn't do that to me, but he did it to some other guys. I was away from his locker (the lockers are placed alphabetically.) Being Woods, I wasn't right next to him, so I was lucky in that regard.
Ernie Els missed the cut at Pinehurst and doesnt have many fond memories of North Carolina in 99. But he has a million memories of Payne Stewart.
He was a true character, he said. You knew where he was coming from, and he had a little bit of air of cockiness to him. But it was a nice - it was kind of nice.
You know, he was a great guy. He always had something to say about something. I liked him.
Davis Loves fondest memories of Stewart dont involve Pinehurst, either. He remembers Payne most intimately for a match the two played in the Ryder Cup that fall. Love says he has never been quite the same player.
I think the night before it even started, and the next morning him trying to motivate me to play well, said Love. You know, he didn't want to lose, and he wasn't going to let me make him lose a match.
I had always sat back and waited for something to happen, kind of let the other player be the leader and just try to help out a little bit. And he was more like, We're going to get together on this and we're going to play hard. I'm not going to let you just let it happen. We're going to go out and beat these guys, and I want 100 percent from you from the first tee.
It got me to when I played with Kenny Perry or Fred Funk or whoever in the future, where I felt like maybe they would be waiting for me to say something or do something. I came out and said something because I learned from Payne how to have a conversation with your partner, how to motivate each other and hang in there.
You always knew it when you saw Payne Stewart, of course. He had planned it that way when he as a young pro to wear the distinctive attire. That, said Toms with a chuckle, was distinctively Payne.
Certainly he's going to be remembered for what he did at Pinehurst and the U.S. Open, agreed Toms, but there were a lot of things that he did for the game of golf that are probably overlooked.
I think he was the one guy that did something different with his attire and everything and presented himself in that way. More and more guys are doing that, trying to make a statement by what they're wearing and so forth. I think he was one of the guys that kind of started that.
Justin Leonard can only laugh when he is asked to reflect back on Payne. His favorite memory involves an outing he and Stewart did just after Stewart had lost the 1998 Open to Lee Janzen.
We flew to Quincy, Illinois, for D.A. Weibring's outing, and getting off the plane after having a couple beers, Payne wanted to keep going, said Leonard. And I'll just say that we did. We kept going. That was a long, long Monday outing that next day.
There's a lot of little stories in there, too, but Payne fired up a grill and started cooking cheeseburgers at about 4 a.m.
And that remains the one lasting memory that Leonard cherishes most ' Payne Stewart flipping burgers at 4 in the morning.
The burgers - were they tasty?
Leonard hesitated for a moment. Not really, he confessed.
Its going to be a difficult week for all the golfers. But its also going to be a pleasant time of reminisces, of much laughter mixed in with many sobering moments.
I think it'll be tough for some people, but I think also it's a good way to - I'll never say memories fade, but it's a good way to bring up some good old memories and a good way to remember a real class individual in our sport, said Jim Furyk.
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