Remembering Payne and the Pine Crest Inn

By Jason SobelJune 9, 2014, 12:20 pm

Fifteen years ago, Payne Stewart’s road to a momentous U.S. Open victory at Pinehurst No. 2 took a familiar detour through one of his favorite old haunts. Sure, the memories of those who were in attendance are a bit hazy (it was definitely the Sunday before the tournament – or maybe Monday) and their minds are a little stumped after so much time (he was either alone or with others), but they’re positive he spent an eventful evening at the nearby Pine Crest Inn before raising the trophy later that week.

Just four blocks from the entrance to the U.S. Open venue, the Pine Crest Inn was built in 1913. It was owned by legendary course designer Donald Ross until his death in 1948; since 1961, it’s been owned by the Barrett family. The business houses more than 7,500 guests per year, serves 15,000 meals and pours 75,000 drinks – although with the tournament back in town this week, those numbers might need to be inflated.

Stewart was no stranger to the place when he walked in that June evening. He’d once lived there for an entire summer while playing the mini-tour circuit after failing to earn his PGA Tour card. He was good friends with the entire Barrett family, especially Peter, who still serves as co-owner and general manager.

“He was always just a fun-loving guy,” Peter says at the recollection of so many good times shared at the Pine Crest.

On this particular occasion, Stewart came in to have a meal in the Crystal Room. Whatever he ordered for dinner has long since been forgotten, but he undoubtedly chased it with his favorite dessert.

“Payne especially loved their banana cream pie,” remembers his wife, Tracey.

At one point during the evening, he walked toward the first-floor men’s bathroom located underneath the stairs, ducking his 6-foot-1 frame just a bit to squeeze inside. When he exited, Stewart exhibited mock indignation over the fact that his signature, which once adorned the bathroom’s wall, had been painted over during a renovation.

And so he retreated to the front desk and asked to make his own renovation.

“I went behind the counter,” recalls Allison Beale, a teenager at the time who worked at the Pine Crest during summer months, “and just grabbed him one of those massive permanent markers.”

Using that marker, Stewart signed his name once again, in the very visible space right above the doorway.

“There was nothing else up there,” says Andy Hofmann, who has worked there for 33 years. “He signed it big, because he wanted people to see it.”

Payne Stewart autograph

Payne Stewart's autograph, immortalized at the Pine Crest Inn

As it turns out, that wasn’t the only indelible imprint Stewart left that day.

Patrick Barrett was 9 years old at the time. Born into a family that ran the most popular establishment in one of golf’s premier hotbeds, he’d been pushed toward the game, but to that point had resisted its allure.

Dining with his grandfather, Bob, that night, Patrick started to come around – thanks to Stewart.

“He had his back to us when we were eating; I just knew he was a golfer,” Patrick remembers. “Halfway through dinner, Payne gets up and walks over. Grandpa says, ‘I want you to meet my grandson.’ He lit up and smiled and shook my hand. I didn’t really know what to do, but he made a big old fuss over me.”

“It was just the fact that he talked to him,” insists Hofmann, who is also Patrick’s mother. “He didn’t talk over him; he talked directly to him. Called him by his name.”

Before their friendly chat ended, the pro signed a napkin for the kid: “Dear Patrick, Keep swinging! – Payne Stewart.” He still has it – somewhere. “I’ve been looking for that thing for 15 years,” Patrick says.

When the U.S. Open started a few days later, the 9-year-old followed his new friend everywhere. Armed with 35 cents in each of the four pockets of his cargo shorts, Patrick would check in with his mother via payphone every few hours. By week’s end, after watching the man who’d spoken directly to him and smiled at him and signed the napkin for him win the tournament right down the street, he was hooked.

Patrick Barrett started playing golf soon thereafter. Within a few years, he became a high-level junior player. He competed for the team at the University of North Carolina and just this year turned professional – all while still waiting tables at the Pine Crest Inn.

When he walks into that first-floor men’s bathroom under the stairs, Patrick – and anyone else who looks over the door frame – will still see Stewart’s signature. The bathroom has again been renovated since that evening, receiving a fresh coat of black paint two Mondays ago. But the signature endures under a Plexiglas display, joining another one that remains in the lobby – part of the Pine Crest’s salute to one of its favorite sons.

“For two or three years after he died,” Hofmann says, “everyone who came in wanted to see his autograph.”

That will be the case once again this week, when Pinehurst No. 2 hosts the U.S. Open just four blocks away from the Pine Crest Inn. Countless people – from old friends to new fans – will walk into the venerable old building, asking to see Payne Stewart’s signature.

Plenty of them will stay for a meal. They might even enjoy the banana cream pie, too. After all, as the staff always tells their guests, that was Payne’s favorite.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”