This weekend sees the second major in the golfing calendar with the 114th US Open teeing up at the Donald Ross designed Pinehurst No 2 course in North Carolina. The US Open is also known as the Father’s Day Major as more often than not the trophy is presented to the winner on Father’s day.
The last time it was played at Pinehurst in 2005 the trophy was lifted by a forgotten man of golf, New Zealander, Michael Campbell. However, the previous Pinehurst winner of 1999 is unlikely ever to be forgotten – Payne Stewart.
I first saw Payne Stewart in the flesh at the 1990 Open at St. Andrews. He had won the US PGA the previous year and whilst already well known in the US, he was visible to British followers of the game as the confident and colourful yank who had signed a sponsorship deal with the NFL to wear the colours of the teams on the golf course. His loud sometimes garish ‘knicker-bocker’ outfits – we call them plus-fours - were to bring a new sense of fun, and sometimes ridicule to tournament golf. Looking back he set a trend that Ian Poulter, John Daly and major golf clothing brands have developed further. I immediately knew from seeing the smiling, joking Payne on the putting green behind the grandstand at the 18th , and then witnessing the same player stride up the 18th fairway a few hours later with his full game face on, that this guy was going to be a serious competitor. He went on to finish joint second in that 1990 Open, tied with Mark McNulty behind the winner Nick Faldo.
In 1999 Payne Stewart arrived at Pinehurst already a US Open Champion after defeating Scott Simpson in a play off in 1991. But he had let slip a four shot lead in the final round of the US Open the previous year at the Olympic Club in San Francisco - losing out to Lee Janzen. With rounds of 68, 69, and 72 he would once again go out in the last group with another rising star Phil Mickelson. I remember the weather was pretty bad just before he was due to tee off and Payne took a pair of scissors to his waterproof jacket and promptly cut the sleeves off at the elbow so that he could swing freely in the rainy conditions. That too set a trend for new ranges of short sleeved waterproofs that we see today. Payne’s putt at the last is regarded as the longest putt to win a US Open and his celebratory fist punch is commemorated in a statue outside the club house. That’s not the only statue of Payne I know of. I’ve played the majestic Waterville links on the Ring of Kerry in Ireland a couple of times and there too is a statue outside the club house of Payne leaning on his putter in celebration of his captaincy.
After competing in the ‘bear pit’ Ryder Cup at Brookline later in 1999, famously conceding his match to Colin Montgomerie after the Americans had controversially sealed victory, Payne was killed later that year when the private plane taking him home from a tournament depressurised shortly after take-off, rendering unconscious all on board. The plane flew on until it ran out of fuel and crashed in a field in South Dakota. Payne was 42 years old, married to Tracey and father to two children.
In 2000 the PGA Tour established the Payne Stewart Award, given each year to a player who shows respect for the traditions of the game and commitment to charitable support. This year Payne will be honoured at a ceremony at Pinehurst with The Bob Jones Award which is given in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. The citation says that the USGA's highest honour recognizes individuals who emulate Jones' spirit, his personal qualities and his attitude toward the game and its players. That strikes a chord with me.
We’ve seen many US Open winners raise the trophy on high, look to the heavens and whisper words of affection to their dads whether they have been watching from inside the ropes or looking down from upon the clouds. It’s always a touching moment.
With Father’s Day approaching my inbox is inundated with the ideal golf gifts for Dad. My Amazon email offered me 48 choices for my ultimate golfing gift. Amongst them a three piece golf pen and gift set, novelty golf tees, a (much needed) practice net for chipping, a shoe bag, novelty golf slippers (a real must for the Christmas list - not), hip flask and yes at number 43 was the inevitable Argyle sweater. It was the famous American comedian and life-long golf nut, Bob Hope who quipped ‘I’d give up golf if I didn’t have so many sweaters’.
My wife has already tentatively enquired ‘the girls wondered if I could give them any hints as to what to buy you for Father’s day?’. Given the fairly random choice offered up in my inbox so far, I was thinking they could do much worse than a quality, affordable timepiece. Perhaps next year I’ll send my ETIQUS Father’s Day sales campaign out under the banner ‘For Golf Mad Dads’.
Now that really is a hint.
Enjoy your (US Open) golf.