Remembering The Final Round In 1999
Continued (page 5 of 5)
Jimmy Roberts, former ESPN reporter, now with NBC: I remember getting ready to do the Sunday conversation. For 10 minutes or so you're adjusting lights, and we're just sitting there talking. Payne was worn out, and it might have been his first chance to take a deep breath. He talked about how he felt bad about the type of person he had been. He could be a little prickly, as you know. But he had kind of seen the light. He needed to have a bad stretch to become a much better person. We talked about the peaks and valleys of life and needing to experience a valley to understand more about yourself. I thought to myself, What an incredibly cool and aware thing that was. We don't often in life get that opportunity. He just seemed like a more generous and gentle man.
Craig Smith, USGA media official: Payne had done all his interviews, probably more than he could stand. I remember there was this woman from Fox News. She was new, and we hadn't set up anything beforehand, but she hung around, waiting. It was two hours after he'd done all his press stuff, and he saw her with this little puppy-dog look and summoned her over, "Come here. What do you need?" He took it upon himself to give her an interview.
Mike Hicks: We finished up at the course around 10 p.m. and dropped off Tracey at the Pinehurst airport. My next-door neighbor in Mebane is a state patrolman named Bobby Culler. He walked with us on the weekend. Bobby followed us as a police escort while we drove to my house that night. Payne and I were in my van, and a friend of mine who's a teaching pro in Dallas was driving. It's an hour-and-a-half to where I live, and Payne was trying to get reception on his cell phone, but it wasn't working very well.
We stopped in Siler City, about 35 to 40 miles from my house and the home of Aunt Bee [Frances Bavier] from "The Andy Griffith Show." Payne wanted a beverage, so we walked into a convenience store. Payne was wearing his psychedelic T-shirt and jeans, and he had put that "Sun-In" in his hair a few weeks before, turned his hair all blonde. Payne throws a 12-pack of beer on the counter, and my buddy Bobby Culler is there in his state-patrol uniform. He says to the girl behind the counter, "Aren't you going to card him?" She says, "No, he looks old enough to buy beer." Bobby says, "Ma'am, this guy just committed the biggest robbery in the history of this state!" I guess you had to be there. We sucked down several of those beers on the way to Mebane. I don't know how many were left when we got there, but there weren't many.
Cook: I finally reached Payne that night on his cell and said, "Well, I bet you're drinking champagne." He said, "No, I'm in the back of a van with a 12-pack of Bud Light."
Mike Hicks: We finally got to my house around midnight, and Payne talked to some big people that night. Everybody and their brother was trying to get in touch with him. I think he talked to President Clinton and Tim Finchem. When we got to my house, we had a few friends there, family, maybe a dozen people. We drank a little bit of everything out of that trophy that night. What a night. Champagne went first, then we mixed up some vodka and orange juice or something. A couple of friends brought some moonshine over. That came last. That moonshine really wakes you up, believe me. That's probably why we stayed up most of the evening.
At 4:30 a.m. I was sitting on my counter in my kitchen. Payne's sitting at my table, bobbing and weaving [Hicks imitates Stewart nodding off]. I said, "Payner, it's time to go to bed." He said, "You're not going to bed until I tell you to go to bed!" I hopped off the counter and made it up to bed. I guess the next time he put his head up and saw I was gone, he went up, too. I got him up the next day at 9, and he looked like he'd slept 12 hours. He was ready to go.
Azinger: I wish someone had videotaped that outing. It was fantastic. I needled him to death. It was hysterical, some of the stuff that was going on. Nobody will ever get to see it or enjoy it except that group of people who were there that day.
Mike Hicks: Payne one-putted the first three holes with his eyes closed. Just messing around; just being Payne. It was similar to Sunday, cool and overcast, which was a blessing. Let me tell you, if it had been like it should be that time of year—hot and humid—this guy would have been dying. So would a few of us.
Winning caddies traditionally get the flagstick from the 18th hole. Hicks regrets not having Stewart add an extra note to the Pinehurst flag, as he had done after their PGA victory in 1989 and the U.S. Open championship in 1991.
Hicks: I just had him put his John Hancock on the Pinehurst one. You're not thinking; nobody knew [of the plane crash to come four months later]. God knew, but he was the only one.
Coop: When we dedicated that life-size statue of Payne at Pinehurst a few years ago, his family was there, and they cut the cup on 18 in pretty much the same spot as it was in 1999. Aaron [Stewart's son] went out there, and Hicksy dropped the ball in about the same spot he thought Payne was on Sunday. Aaron took about 20 putts without holing any. You know how kids are, not always or initially recognizing all that their parents have done. Aaron admitted, "This is harder than I thought."
Maltbie: I had a long talk with Payne at the Ryder Cup that year, in the players' dining area with Tracey. You could just tell talking to him and looking at him, he had kind of gotten his life figured out. He'd gotten it right. Whatever those demons were—not closing out tournaments, or having doubts about himself—they were all gone. Whatever Payne Stewart was going to be in his life, he got there.
Peter McCleery is a contributing editor for Golf Digest magazine.