The statue of Payne Stewart behind the 18th green at Pinehurst No. 2 is a lasting reminder of the man, his day, the U.S. Open.
The right arm is outstretched and the right leg kicked back, Stewart’s victory pose for the ages. It was an iconic golf moment, now frozen in time – Stewart celebrating after sinking a 15-foot par putt on the final hole to win the 1999 U.S. Open.
Four months later, Stewart died, killed in the crash of a private plane. In 2005, when the U.S. Open returned to Pinehurst, there was another winner, other memorable moments. One was an early week tribute to the former, fallen champion. Then, it was about the championship golf.
Before another U.S. Open begins, here’s a look back at some of those moments from 1999 and 2005:
A cutting edge
The day was unusually cool and misty that Sunday in 1999, especially for the Sandhills in June, and Payne Stewart was not comfortable in his dark blue rain jacket.
Talk about some quick alterations. Stewart bolted into what then was the Pinehurst Learning Center, found some scissors and started hacking away at the sleeves to better free up his swing.
Stewart handed the sleeves to Danielle Ware, then working in the center, and left. Moments later, caddie Mike Hicks came in, asked for the scissors and neatened up the jagged cuts on the jacket.
Stewart’s sleeveless look caught everyone’s attention, and a fashion trend began. After his death, the sleeves and the scissors were placed in a shadow box, a priceless keepsake.
Better than most
In was one of those putts you just don’t make. Not in the final round of the U.S. Open.
Trailing Phil Mickelson by a shot, Stewart missed the green with his approach at the par-4 16th hole, then chipped 25 feet past. He was left with a slick, downhill par putt.
And he holed it. And Mickelson made bogey moments later.
“That was it, wasn’t it?” Stewart said after the round, meaning the turning point.
Stewart birdied the par-3 17th to take the lead, then drained the big one at the 18th to win.
A few days after the Open, some of the locals dropped by the 16th green to give the putt a try. After 50 tries, they quit. No one made it.
But Payne Stewart did. That was it.
Mickelson’s face was blank and Stewart’s filled with joy at the 18th. The U.S. Open victory his, Stewart wasn’t about to let Mickelson stand by and be the sad runner-up.
Stewart cupped Mickelson’s head in his hands, like a father shaking his son to get his full attention. “You’re going to be a father! It’s the greatest gift you’ll ever have!” he said.
Mickelson’s wife, Amy, was in California, expecting the birth of their first child. Mickelson’s caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, had carried a beeper during the week and Mickelson said he would withdraw immediately and leave to be with Amy if she went into labor.
Mickelson seemed startled when Stewart approached him, grabbed him.
“He put himself in my position and shared the moment with me,” Mickelson later said. “He shared the sorrow I felt for losing and he shared the excitement that I was feeling since I was about to become a father.”
The next day, June 21, Amy gave birth to Amanda Brynn Mickelson. Phil Mickelson was a father. For a man denied an Open title, it was a great gift.
Major moment for “Cambo”
There would be another head-in-hands moment in 2005, albeit far different.
Michael Campbell had quietly gone about his business much of Open week as the attention fell on Jason Gore, Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen. The New Zealander steadily played his way into contention, not that many noticed.
But Sunday belonged to Campbell. The man known as “Cambo” held off Woods for an improbable two-shot victory.
“I snuck in there and won,” he said.
The final putt holed, Campbell pulled the lid of his white cap over eyes that glistened and clamped the top of his head with both hands, as if needing a private moment while thousands watched and cheered. Finally he took off his hat. He smiled, gave the ball a fling. He was a U.S. Open champion.
Gored but not beaten
There was so much to like about Jason Gore in 2005. He was a U.S. Open qualifier. He had some, uh, girth and a moon-shaped face. He smiled a lot.
Improbably enough, going into the final round, Gore was in the final twosome with defending champion Retief Goosen. As Gore explained it, “It’s the U.S. Open. Crazy stuff happens.”
Gore now calls the day a “giant blur.” He remembers an explosion of cheers after his opening drive but little else of his 84 that dropped him into a tie for 49th.
But what a reception at the 18th. Those packed into the grandstands rose to their feet to give him a final salute, an acknowledgment of how hard he had tried. Gore turned and bowed, then hurled his ball into the masses.
“It’s amazing how many people still remember me, how many people remember the good stuff and how many people come up to me and compliment me on how I handled it,” Gore said recently.
U.S. Golf Association officials decided to use the “Payne Stewart pin” at the 18th for the final round in 2005, just as Pinehurst had on Sundays in the six years after the ’99 Open.
As veteran tour pro Jerry Kelly said of the USGA, “They weren’t going to screw that up.”
After the round, several players mentioned the pin position on the right side of the green and some said they had “chills” playing the 18th.
Turns out, it wasn’t the identical pin position after all. Mike Davis, then senior director of competitions for the USGA, said an old hole plug prevented them from using the same spot from ’99.
“It’s close to it but not the same,” said Davis, now USGA executive director.
How close? About three feet. Close enough for chills.
Coming full circle
Amy Mickelson flew into Pinehurst on the Friday night of U.S. Open week in 2005 and got her first look at No. 2 that Saturday.
“It’s a very emotional week for us,” she said then. “We have so many thoughts of Payne and (wife) Tracey and the kids.”
Mickelson was being interviewed near the clubhouse veranda, not far from the Payne Stewart statue. She came to support her husband but also to be on hand for another Father’s Day.
Amanda Mickelson also was in Pinehurst, staying at a rented house with her sister and brother while her mother was at the golf course.
“She just had her kindergarten graduation,” Amy said. “It’s awfully hard to believe six years has gone by. We’ve told Amanda a lot of stories of what happened here (in 1999). She doesn’t understand it all. Not yet. She will one day but not yet.”
Maybe now, as the Open again returns to Pinehurst.
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