Payne Stewart isn't the first golfer to win two U.S. Opens in a
decade--16 other players have done that since the tournament
started in 1895--but last week, in the sand hills of North
Carolina, Stewart became the first golfer to win the Open with
two different personalities. Those who know and love him say the
42-year-old Missourian used to be "rude" (his mother),
"arrogant" (his wife), "impatient and not very self-confident"
(his caddie), "anxious and hyper" (his sports shrink) and an
all-around Payne in the ass (Stewart himself). That describes
the fellow who won the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine. He bore no
resemblance at all to the chap who won the Open on Sunday,
slipping past his playing partner, Phil Mickelson, by a stroke
in a Father's Day scramblefest on the famed and treacherous
Pinehurst No. 2 course.
It seems that Stewart is a man on a self-reforming jag, a
quieter version of Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. Long
recognized for his classic swing and his buckled-below-the-knees
trousers, Stewart also was known for churlish behavior--snapping
at strangers, glaring at tournament marshals. "It was
immaturity," he said last week.
And it's history. In recent years Stewart has polished his
people skills, fought his bad habits (smoking, dipping and
whining), battled attention deficit disorder and turned to
religion, embracing Christianity with the fervor of a prison
convert. He may not run about town grinning in his nightshirt
like Alastair Sim, but the new Stewart can handle
disappointment. He proved that at last year's Open in San
Francisco when he gave up a four-shot lead on Sunday, lost to
Lee Janzen by a stroke and left the premises without biting off
a single head.
Not that there was any reason for Stewart to be nasty this
year--not after he nailed a dramatic 18-foot putt for par on the
final hole to secure the trophy, a first-place check for
$625,000 and enough Ryder Cup points to virtually assure his
place on the U.S. team come September. But his wife, Tracey,
said late Sunday that it wouldn't have mattered if he'd flopped.
"It used to be all golf with Payne," she said, "but now he's a
lot more humble and patient."
Those, as it happens, are precisely the qualities needed to play
Pinehurst No. 2, the best of some 400 courses designed by the
legendary Donald Ross (1872-1948). Ross, who lived at Pinehurst
and fiddled with No. 2 for more than 40 years, wasn't an
architect in the modern sense--which is good, because a Donald
Ross high-rise would have sloping floors and balconies without
handrails. The crowned greens of No. 2 are so famously enigmatic
that players go to bed visualizing them the way Ahab visualized
the whale. The closely mowed fringe areas float and dip like the
edges of a jellyfish; golf balls slide away from holes like
rainwater rolling off a leaf. "It's grand," said Stewart after
The only question was whether No. 2's terrors were
water-soluble. The tournament began last Thursday morning in a
gentle but persistent rain, making the greens relatively soft
and compliant. David Duval, the game's top-ranked player, shot a
three-under-par 67 without flexing an eyebrow, and John
Daly--last seen six-putting the 18th green at the Memorial two
weeks earlier--birdied the first three holes on his way to a 68.
"If you were going to shoot a low score, today was the day,"
said Davis Love III, who had a 70. Twenty-three players broke
par, and one broke his hand: Masters champion Jose Maria
Olazabal, who shot 75 and retired to his hotel room for an angry
poke at the plaster.
Friday was bright and cool, making the greens firmer, and only
three players had scores in the 60s. Some of the players began
whispering that certain hole locations were "unfair." The
flagstick at the 5th, for instance, could have weathered the
barrage at Fort Sumter. Even so, Duval, Mickelson and Stewart
finished with two-day totals of three under par, with Tiger
Woods and three others two shots behind.
The tough conditions in Round 2 were a mere preamble to the
third round, which proved to be one of the most thrilling and
enervating in U.S. Open history. With a gusty wind putting
starch in the flags, the course dried out like a sunbaked
apricot. Suddenly the best approach shots landed on greens and
slid off, rolling into chipping vales and bunkers. "Borderline
sadistic," said Scott Verplank, describing the hole locations.
Woods's third shot on the 1st hole was a chip from the left side
of the green; his fourth shot was a chip from the right side of
the green. Duval failed twice to hold a green from five yards,
once from a swale and once from the sand, making 6 both times.
Steve Stricker's 69 was the only par-breaking round on Saturday,
and he did it with the aid of a 136-yard hole-out from a fairway
bunker. Daly and six others shot 80 or higher, and the field's
stroke average soared to 75.97--and that was after many of the
lesser players had been winnowed out by the 36-hole cut.
Mickelson, who made brilliant par saves on the first three
holes, finished his round of 73 looking gray and drained, like a
father roused for a four o'clock feeding.
Or maybe Mickelson was just practicing the look. His wife, Amy,
was home in Scottsdale, Ariz., scheduled to deliver their first
child on June 30. Lefty said he would bolt the Open if Amy went
into labor, so his caddie carried a vibrating pager. If it
buzzed and if the right code came up--proving that the caller
was Amy and not, say, Earl Woods--Mickelson was prepared to quit
playing and race to the airport, where he had a plane standing by.
The situation made for great theater. Would the man who had won
everything but a major championship swap his dream for a chance
to welcome his firstborn into the world? Yes, said Phil. Would
Amy actually summon him, knowing that he might never have a
better chance to fulfill his destiny? Yes again, said Phil. "I'd
be very disappointed if she were to go into labor and not call
Stewart, meanwhile, was less into birth--he already has two
children--than rebirth. On his wrist he wore a WWJD bracelet,
the letters standing for What Would Jesus Do?, and he began each
day by reading Biblical passages in his devotional book. "Payne
talks more with God now," said his mother, Bee, while
celebrating with friends at her house in Springfield, Mo., on
Sunday evening. "He's a different man, a better son." Payne also
talks more with journalists and autograph seekers, whom he used
to regard as lower life forms. "I gave him an attitude
adjustment," his mother said with a laugh. "He's learned you
can't go around being rude to everyone."
You want rude? Look at what Pinehurst No. 2 did to the field on
Sunday. Duval shot his second straight 75 and looked like a
fee-playing guest when he needed four iron shots to hit the 9th
green. Ruder? Chris Perry waved the white towel of surrender in
the 18th fairway and then crawled to the green. Rudest? Daly,
the leading attention getter, failed two times to get an uphill
putt to stay put on the par-4, 485-yard 8th. On the second try,
as the ball was rolling back toward him, he hammered it onto and
over the green, incurring a two-stroke penalty on the way to an
11 and a final-round 83. Afterward he vowed not to play in next
year's Open at Pebble Beach. "I've had it with the USGA," he
said. "I've never seen a course play so unfair on the last two
Daly's sentiments were shared by few. Since 1951, when the USGA
hired Robert Trent Jones to trick up Oakland Hills, Open courses
have looked like a bag lady in summer, smothered in fur collars
and long grass skirts. The setup has fostered monotonous play,
with careful tee shots, copybook irons and unimaginative wedges
from six-inch rough. Pinehurst No. 2, on the other hand, was
more like a Roaring '20s flapper: sleek, sassy and a bit of a
tease. The rough was clipped to three inches every day--peach
fuzz, by Open standards--and the green boundaries shaved to
provide more short-game options. "This is the first Open course
I've played," said Mickelson last Friday, "that tests every area
of the player's game."
When the test was over, Woods, the world's second-ranked player,
had scored better than his rival, Duval. Woods pulled to within
a stroke of the lead when he birdied the 16th--a par-4 so
difficult that only three players hit it in regulation on
Sunday--but he lipped out a short par putt on the 17th and bowed
his head, knowing his shot at victory was probably gone. Woods
finished third, tied with Vijay Singh at one over.
Stewart then proved that you don't have to be top-ranked to be
top-drawer. Mickelson led by one and had an eight-footer for par
on the 16th when Stewart rolled in a stunning 25-footer for his
own par. Mickelson then missed, making his only bogey in an
otherwise steadfast round. Both players hit terrific tee shots
at the par-3 17th, but it was Stewart who made his birdie putt,
a three-footer, while Mickelson missed from inside 10 feet. That
gave Stewart, at one under par, a one-shot lead on the 18th tee.
A playoff seemed likely when Stewart's drive landed in the right
rough. He laid up with his second shot and then hit a nine-iron
to a spot 15 feet below the hole. He waited as Mickelson's
25-foot birdie try slid an inch outside the cup for a two-putt
par before stroking the winning putt smoothly up the hill and
into the hole. "I never read a putt all week," said his caddie,
Mike Hicks. "He did his own thing, and he did it beautifully."
The win gave Stewart his third major title. (He also won the won
the 1989 PGA Championship.) In the locker room at Pinehurst,
Tracey sat with the silver trophy, touching it as if it were a
child. "I can't believe it's ours again," she said, tears welling
up. "When we sent it off to Pebble Beach in 1992, I remember
packing it in the steel travel case. I said, 'I hope it comes
Payne enjoyed the trophy, too, but he seemed to get a bigger
kick from the look of happiness on Tracey's face. "There used to
be a void in my life," he said, recalling a time when he would
sooner kick a neighbor than love one. "The peace I have now is
so wonderful. I don't understand how I lived so long without it."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY AL TIELEMANS In his grasp After scrambling to make par on 18, Stewart let forth a fist pump for the ages.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: ROBERT BECK (2) So close... Expectant dad Mickelson (right) and Woods came up just short.
"I gave him an attitude adjustment," Stewart's mother said.
"He's learned you can't be rude to everyone."