Monday, June 9, 2014

Remembering Payne Stewart Not The Man You Thought You Knew

Today the US Open officially gets rolling over at Pinehurst.

Of course a lot of words will be given about Payne Stewart and his stroke for stroke down to the wire final round finish with Phil Mickelson on Pinehurst's No 2 in 1999.

Stewart would die before he could defend his title on a cold South Dakota prairie in October of that year, the result of an aviation accident.

Stewart was a phenomenal golfer, but also a total jackass of a competitor. A hubris prick who treated caddies, grounds crews and volunteers like the mud covered range balls his view from on top gave him. He didn't have much respect for the USGA officials either.

Stewart was a constant critic of greens, accommodations, course setup, pin placement and pairings. Everyone seems to have forgotten  his endless profanity laced rant at Olymipic over pin placement. I know it's wrong to speck unkindly of the dead. 

I'll admit he had lightened up a little bit up by the time 1999 rolled but my first golf cart ride with Payne in 1991 provided an impression that I have never been able to shake.

The image of him tossing a sweat soaked towel at a club house steward, then glaring at me while shouting "you want me to drive I know where I'm going" as I drove him to the driving range has not faded. Many remember the 1991 Ryder Cup for Langer's choke, I remember it for how Payne Stewart treated the fans, the Ocean Course staff and the volunteers.

You'll say, but it was the Ryder Cup and emotions run high at that event. But you didn't watch Stewart day in and day out snub, staff and fans his ego was beyond repulsive. 

I'll guess it didn't help that the night before that I had sat at the same table with a drunk Payne Stewart before his band "Jake Trout and the Flounders" took to the stage in a massive tent set up on Kiawah Island.

Stewart was a funny guy, but usually at the expense of others. Where Tiger tunes out the crowd, and volunteers like myself, Stewart used us high handicap golfers, the "hired help" and volunteers as the pivot point for his jokes.

His death denied him the chance to live down his outside the ropes reputation. Something that PGA stars like Lee Trevino and John Daley have enjoyed and maybe even Tiger Woods will one day seek. 

I know not everyone can be a Bubba Watson or Phil Mickelson, I just wish Payne had lived to play Pinehurst this week so I could perhaps gain a different perspective.

I yearn to hear these words spoken among the long leaf Carolina pines that are Pinehurst's namesake.

"Ladies and Gentlemen now driving the two time US Open Champion from Springfield, Missouri Payne Stewart!"

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