Memory Lane

U.S. Open 2024: The simple last-minute putting tip Payne Stewart's wife gave him at Pinehurst in 1999

June 12, 2024

Robert Beck

Payne Stewart's win at Pinehurst No. 2 is widely considered one of the greatest U.S. Opens in history—and for good reason. Among other things, there was the thrilling Sunday battle against some of the game's best players, the Phil Mickelson baby beeper subplot, and, of course, that walk-off (par) putt that made Payne the only player to finish the week in red numbers. Pinehurst played extra tough that week.

We've documented all of those things over the years, from a full rewatch of that thrilling final round to a fantastic oral history of that memorable day from the June 2005 issue of Golf Digest. And one thing mentioned in there that sometimes gets lost when discussing Stewart's win—and his remarkable putting that day—was that he received a last-minute tip from his wife. Here's a passage from Peter McCleery's piece:

Ultimately the Open came down to the final pairing of Stewart and Mickelson, with a Monday playoff looming after Stewart found the rough and a bad lie with his tee shot on the 72nd hole. Acting on a Saturday-night putting tip from his wife, Tracey ("Keep your head still"), Stewart had already made putts of 25 feet for par at the 16th hole and four feet for birdie—and the lead—at the 17th.

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Keep your head still. That's about as simple as it gets, but sometimes that's all you need. And Stewart only needed 24 putts that Sunday on Pinehurst's treacherous greens, a performance our Luke Kerr-Dineen recently weaved into his latest edition of The Game Plan.

Right after Stewart's famous embrace with runner-up Phil Mickelson in which he grabbed his face and reminded the golfer he was about to be a father, Payne embraced Tracey with a different message.

"I did it love," he said. "I held my head still all day."


Robert Beck

Shortly after, Stewart also made sure to give Tracey props in his winner's press conference.

"I've got to thank my wife for the putting tip that she gave me, which was to keep my head still," Stewart said. "She watched me yesterday and she said you're moving your head. So I worked on it a little bit last night and I kept my head still on that putt. And when I looked up, it was about two feet from the hole and it was breaking right in the center and I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that I'd accomplished another dream of mine."

While credit certainly goes to Tracey for noticing her husband's head moving on the greens—and for saying something about it to the 54-hole leader–the tip actually came from Stewart's late father, who sent a letter to Tracey before he died in 1985 of things to watch for in his son's golf game. It's a note that Tracey has said she framed and would refer to in helping her husband throughout his career in which he would win 11 PGA Tour titles and three majors.

Sadly, that career was cut short by Stewart's tragic death in a plane crash just a few months after sinking that winning putt against Mickelson. But golf fans will always have Payne—and Tracey—to thank for that amazing moment at Pinehurst.