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A Country Boy from Springfield

By Jim Moriarty

Feature Photograph: Payne Stewart during the fourth round of the 1999 U.S. Open Championship held at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club No. 2 Course in Pinehurst, N.C., Sunday, June 20, 1999. (USGA/John Mummert)

Springfield is a small town on the Ozark Plateau in a state that was red before anyone thought about color-coding them. It’s the third-biggest city in Missouri, but if it was in California, it would barely crack the top 30. The Trail of Tears passed through Springfield on what was once called the Military Road. The North and the South fought over it, and in 1865, three months after Lee surrendered to Grant, “Wild Bill” Hickok shot a man dead on its streets over a pocket watch.

In the post-World War II craze over a new medium, television, Springfield took country music nationwide with The Ozark Jubilee. A year later Chris Schenkel and Bud Palmer debuted on CBS at the Masters. Three men born in Springfield have won major golf championships, and two of them are in the World Golf Hall of Fame. St. Andrews might be the only small city east of Fort Worth to equal its output.

If Payne Stewart wasn’t in uniform, knickers custom made from bolts of Italian cloth, silk stockings, gold- or silver-tipped spiked shoes and an ivy cap in the Ben Hogan style, he was as unrecognizable in public as if a Maserati had been stripped down to a Dodge Dart. “He comes off as this real urbane, Great Gatsby type of guy,” said his longtime swing coach, Chuck Cook, “but, really, he was a Missouri mule. Just a country boy from Springfield.”

Back in the heyday of newspapers, when a sports star needed a nickname the way a clipper ship needs wind, Stewart was preceded as a major champion by Horton Smith, the Missouri Rover, and Herman Keiser, the Missouri Mortician, who won three Masters between them. While Smith was eventually associated more closely with the Detroit Golf Club and Keiser with Firestone Country Club in Akron, for a time they were both at Hickory Hills Country Club in Springfield, where Keiser worked as Smith’s shop assistant.

Hickory Hills is where Stewart learned to play, as aware of the champions who came before him as he was of characters like Ky Laffoon, who favored sky blue sweaters and socks as yellow as two daffodils, and once hustled the young Stewart on its chipping green. While Springfield’s other major champions both made their reputations in the Masters, Augusta was the big moment Stewart enjoyed least. Deeply patriotic, the National Open was above all others to him. At his father, Bill’s, insistence, he always signed his U.S. Open entry with his full name, William Payne Stewart. He didn’t like the Masters because he thought the little people were treated shabbily there, particularly the caddies.

“He really felt uncomfortable,” said Cook. “When we would go to Augusta, we’d always eat in the employee dining room instead of out front with everybody else.” Before ugly false teeth became a Halloween cliché available at every party store in America, Stewart had a set custom made by a Springfield dentist, Dr. Kurt H’Doubler. He stuck them in his mouth frequently for effect, but took particular pleasure in wearing them in the par-3 contest at the Masters.

Even if he’d lived in the age of nicknames, Stewart was too complicated for that kind of lazy gimmick. He could be arrogant and thoughtless or generous and compassionate, sometimes in the same sentence. He was a devoted practitioner of the sporting jibe, what’s mostly described now as trash talking, though it didn’t always come in the form of talk. “He was an awful fan,” said John Cook, a former U.S. Amateur champion who, like Stewart, lived in Orlando, Florida. “Just awful. I’d pick him up and we’d go to the Magic games. He’d be yelling at somebody the minute he got in the arena.”

Stewart’s seats for the NBA games were four rows behind the Magic bench, and he took great delight in ceaselessly taunting the head coach at the time, Matt Goukas. “Poor old Matty,” said Dr. Dick Coop, Stewart’s sports psychologist. “Payne just lit him up every night.” After only one season Stewart’s seats were moved, not just from behind the bench, but to the other side of the arena.

The canvas for Stewart’s needlework included golf, and he didn’t care whom he skewered. “Jack Nicklaus. Arnold Palmer. It did not matter,” said his longtime caddie, Mike Hicks. “And you know what? A lot of guys didn’t like it. Some guys didn’t mind, and if they didn’t mind, they liked Payne. But if they minded it, they didn’t like him. If they all say they liked him, they’re lying because he was tough, man. He would needle you, and he would go overboard with it. He could take it, too. But he’d get under your skin if you let him.”

Once, when Stewart was visiting Jim Morris, an old family friend in LaQuinta, California, they arranged a money game with Donald Trump. The wealthy developer was five minutes late to the first tee, but Morris and Stewart didn’t wait for him. By the time Trump pulled up in his golf cart, they were ahead on the first fairway. Stewart yelled back at him, “Trump, this ain’t one of them corporate meetings. It’s 1 o’clock and you’re either here or you ain’t here.”

Coop, at the time a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, began working with Stewart the same year Hicks became his caddie, 1988. “The first day he came to see me,” Coop said, “I told him what I’d heard about him very bluntly, very forthrightly. He calls Tracey (his wife) and she says, ‘What did he say?’ And Payne said, ‘Well, he told me I was arrogant, cocky, brash, insensitive, etc.’ She said, ‘What did you say?’ Payne said, ‘Well, I told him he was probably right.’ We started off that way.”

Stewart grew up in a one-story house on Link Street with three women and a traveling salesman, which could be a joke if it wasn’t true. His father, Bill, sold mattresses and box springs and was often on the road, leaving Payne with his sisters, Susan and Lora, and his mother, Bee, who was as rare a species in Springfield as a snow leopard: a staunch Democrat. In election season Bee filled the yard with political placards like dandelions.

“He had a lot of girl in him,” said Cook. “Ironed his own clothes. He loved to cook. He liked to dress up. Then, when he’d be with the boys, he’d be about as macho as anybody. He wasn’t afraid to try to outdrink you or outplay you or anything else.” Stewart made French toast on a local Springfield cooking show when he was 3 and reveled in making a breakfast of waffles and pancakes for his own children, Aaron and Chelsea, whenever he wasn’t traveling to play golf.

In the late 1970s, if you didn’t make it through the PGA Tour’s soulless meat grinder that was its qualifying tournament, your playing options were few. One was to go to Florida and join a mini-tour, where the prize money was the aggregate of the entry fees, less what the tour organizer skimmed off the top for himself. If they were unscrupulous, that included the prize money too. You were essentially playing for your own cash, plus everyone else’s. It was a hard lesson for even the best young former college star, being picked clean by local legends with garage-band swings who knew every blemish and blade of grass on the undistinguished courses they played. The other most commonly chosen option was the Far East, and that was where Stewart found himself after graduating from Southern Methodist University and failing to get his tour card.

Two of his traveling buddies in Asia were the Anton twins, Terry and Tom, who had played at the University of Florida. Because of the springy way they stepped, with their heels off the ground, Stewart called them Tip Toe I and Tip Toe II. While Stewart’s confidence in his golf game crossed the border of cockiness without clearing customs, it was actually more a case of the sum being greater than its parts. He swept the club back with a lag reminiscent of Bobby Jones and the hickory-shaft era. His tempo looked as effortless as the human eye wandering through a Cézanne still life, but he was neither a great driver of the ball nor the best iron player nor the best putter. In his prime, though, when it came to the short shots around the green, inside 75 yards or so, he had no peer. Some of that was learned from the hustlers in Springfield, but some of it was imported from Asia.

“We had a tremendous admiration for the Asian players’ short games. All of us learned,” said Tom Anton. “It was a great training ground. They showed us techniques around the greens, out of the bunkers, shots we’d never seen before. We’d bomb it by them but from 100 yards in, they were magicians.”

Besides a short game, the other significant acquisition Stewart made was in Kuala Lumpur when he met a 20-year-old Australian woman named Tracey Ferguson, who was at one time a draftsperson employed by Greg Norman’s father at Mount Isa Mines. He fell in love with her the moment he saw her in a string bikini. Stewart succeeded in making it through the PGA Tour’s spring qualifying school in June ’81, the same month David Graham played a near-flawless final round at Merion Golf Club to become the first Australian to win the U.S. Open. He and Tracey were married that November.

While Stewart won twice in Asia and again at the ’82 Quad Cities Open, the only tour tournament his father saw him win, his early reputation was that of a player who could come close but not finish it off at the end. He lost playoffs in ’84, ’85, ’86 and ’88. He compiled so many seconds his nickname was Avis. When he finally won the ’87 Hertz Bay Hill Classic, he donated the winner’s check to charity in honor of his father, who had passed away two years before from cancer.

After finishing in a tie for 24th in the Masters in ’89, Stewart won the next week at the Harbour Town Golf Links, an event played on a classic South Carolina low country course designed by architect Pete Dye and known for the quality of its champions, a list that included Palmer and Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. Stewart would become the first player to successfully defend that title. It was in August ’89 at a Chicago suburban course named for an insurance company, Kemper Lakes, where Stewart captured his first major championship in typically controversial style.

By that time, it felt like most of the big stuff had already been done. Nick Faldo won the first of his three Masters on the second hole of sudden death when Scott Hoch agonized over, and then missed, a 2-foot sidehill wobbler on Augusta National’s 10th. The big story of the year was Curtis Strange, who took advantage of Tom Kite’s final-round 78 to become the first player since Ben Hogan to win back-to-back National Opens. “Move over, Ben,” said Strange. In the wake of the Open Championship, all the conversation was about how star-crossed Greg Norman let yet another major championship elude him. Mark Calcavecchia won at Royal Troon, defeating Australians Wayne Grady and Norman, who couldn’t even post a score in the four-hole aggregate playoff.

Stewart had played progressively better in each of the 1989 majors, going into the final round at Royal Troon just two shots behind Grady, one better than Calcavecchia. After closing with a 74, however, he was nothing more than an afterthought going into the PGA at what would become storm-ravaged Kemper Lakes — especially since he’d shot 75-76 in Memphis the weekend before. It was Mike Reid, a product of Brigham Young University, slender as a cattail stalk whose reverse-C finish was so pronounced it made grown men wince, who took command almost from the outset. Reid, nicknamed “Radar” because his drives, though short, tracked the center of what seemed like every fairway, was tied for the lead after the first round and alone at the top after 36 and 54 holes. Stewart, dressed as he did every Sunday in the colors of the local National Football League team, this time the Bears, went into the final round a full six shots off the pace.

A five-birdie back nine of 31 pulled Stewart within two of Reid’s lead and gave him reason to stick around. In April Reid had led the Masters after 13 holes on Sunday and didn’t finish well, but that disappointment was nothing compared to what happened at Kemper Lakes. He bogeyed the 16th to lose half his lead, and then smothered a lob shot from just off the 17th green and double-bogeyed, shockingly dropping a shot behind. Stewart couldn’t be still in the scoring area, pacing back and forth, even mugging for the camera. Reid had a chance to birdie the 18th to tie him but missed a 7-footer.

Stewart’s glee was demonstrable. He emerged from the scoring tent slapping high fives with anyone he saw, and that, unfortunately, included Reid as he came off the course. Stewart’s pleasure seemed blissfully ignorant of Reid’s pain. “I’m 32. I hadn’t won a major, and everybody all over the world is always asking me why,” he said. “They did the same thing to Curtis and look what happened. He won back-to-back U.S. Opens.” The contrast of Stewart’s self-satisfaction and the unselfconscious tears of the mild-mannered Reid was so stark that what should have been the affirmation of the skill and ability Stewart always believed he possessed became, instead, the coast-to-coast confirmation of his most unpleasant character traits.

Very soon after Coop began working with Stewart, he suspected his new client had attention deficit disorder and sent him to a clinician for a proper diagnosis. “I’ve got to give him tremendous credit,” said Coop. “When he found out what he had, he talked to people about it. He didn’t hide it. God gave him tremendous rhythm and tempo and neuromuscular skills, but God didn’t give him concentration.”

The knowledge of the condition led Coop and Cook to devise practice sessions tailored for someone whose ability to concentrate was, at times, tenuous. It wasn’t always, though. “With the ADD, the U.S. Open was always set up so hard that he was able to focus during the tournament,” said Cook. “The rough was so tough and greens were so fast and hard, it created a lot of focus for him that he didn’t have in a run-of-the-mill tournament.”

In March ’91 Stewart was wearing a brace to stabilize a herniated disk in his neck that had caused him to lose strength in his left arm. Reduced to nothing more than a spectator in his own backyard at Bay Hill during Arnold Palmer’s tournament, he was out for 10 weeks and unable to play in the Masters. An exercise regimen helped rehabilitate the neck, but Stewart would struggle the rest of his career with three degenerative disks in his lower back. He played at Harbour Town the week after Augusta, tied for fourth, and took aim on his most prized goal, the U.S. Open at Hazeltine CC, outside Minneapolis.

The U.S. Open had been at Hazeltine on one previous occasion, when the Englishman Tony Jacklin won in 1970, and the layout of architect Robert Trent Jones was mocked as if it had been drawn up by a 4-year-old with finger paints. After the ’70 Open, Jones made some changes, augmented later by his youngest son, Rees, a second-generation golf course architect like his older brother, Bobby.

By the time the U.S. Open returned to Minnesota, it had a trio of finishing holes as tough as any in golf, holes that would cost Scott Simpson a second national championship. Simpson, who would later become almost as well known for being actor Bill Murray’s patient partner in the annual Pebble Beach pro-am started by Bing Crosby, birdied the 14th, 15th and 16th holes in the ’87 U.S. Open at Olympic Club outside San Francisco to beat eight-time major champion and local favorite Tom Watson, who had attended Stanford University, just up the 101 Freeway.

Simpson, a University of Southern California product himself, finished in the top 10 in the next two U.S. Opens (the ones won by Curtis Strange) to earn a reputation as a dependable Open player. He had an unusual action. At address he’d slowly lower his upper body toward the ball and then rise up as he took the club back to the top. Though their swings were as similar as a Van Gogh and a mechanical drawing, Stewart and Simpson had at least one trait in common: Neither was given to making the big mistake. In a U.S. Open brilliance has far less to do with swashbuckling shotmaking than it does the ability to avoid calamity, shot-by-shot, hole-by-hole, until you’ve simply outlasted your peers. It’s about as glamorous as being stuck with the check.

Just like at Kemper Lakes two years before, a violent summer thunderstorm hit Hazeltine, but this was far worse than just an interruption in play. A darkening sky filled with electricity halted the first round just after 1 o’clock, and six men took shelter underneath the branches of a small willow tree 30 yards or so from the 11th tee. Two flashes of lightning knocked all six to the ground. William Faddell, who was not even a golf fan but who had been given the tickets by his father, died of cardiac arrest. Two months later, at the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick outside Indianapolis, another spectator, Thomas Weaver, was killed by lightning in the parking lot. The confluence of tragic events led to golf’s organizers forever changing the way they treated hazardous weather.

When play resumed, the rain-softened course gave up some good scores, including Stewart’s opening 67, which tied him with Nolan Henke, a Battle Creek, Michigan, native who would just as soon have been fishing as leading the U.S. Open. By the end of three rounds Stewart and Simpson had managed to separate themselves from the field by three shots. For almost all of Sunday Simpson was in firm control. Almost is the operative word. He reached the final three holes with a 2-shot lead over Stewart but bogeyed the 16th and 18th, while Stewart made a brave 5-footer at the last to force the Monday playoff. By the next day Hazeltine’s greens had baked out, turning crusty and unforgiving. Again, Simpson came to the last three holes with a 2-shot lead, and, again, it wouldn’t hold up. Stewart made a 20-footer for birdie on the 16th, while Simpson missed from inside 3 feet for bogey. Rattled, Simpson pulled his 4-iron on the 17th into the pond and scrambled for another bogey. Now, he was down a shot. Simpson’s approach at the 18th ran through the green, and with Stewart 5 feet away for par, he tried to chip in but couldn’t. Stewart won, 75-77.

Left: Payne Stewart during the third round at the 1999 U.S. Open Championship. (USGA/J.D. Cuban)

Middle: Payne Stewart holding the trophy after the final round of the 1999 U.S. Open. (J. D. Cuban/Courtesy USGA Museum)

Right: Payne Stewart during the fourth round of the 1999 U.S. Open Championship held at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club No. 2 Course in Pinehurst, N.C., Sunday, June 20, 1999. (USGA/J.D. Cuban)

“It’s disappointing to lose the U.S. Open two days in a row,” said Simpson, who had played those last three holes eight over par for the week to Stewart’s one under. When it was over Stewart bought champagne for the media, a grandiose gesture he now shared with Tony Lema, who died in a plane crash 33 years before Stewart did. “I come off as arrogant sometimes,” Stewart explained to the press. “Maybe you guys caught me at the wrong time a couple of times. If you got to know me, I’m a pretty nice guy, and by God, I’ll buy champagne anytime you want it.”

In some ways the next few years were not kind to Stewart. In others they were the kindest of all. With two major championships he could command lucrative, for those days, endorsements, and he landed an equipment deal that paid him handsomely but poisoned his game. If Scott Simpson had had a reputation as a man who showed up in the U.S. Open, Stewart did, too, finishing a gut-wrenching second to Lee Janzen, not once but twice. In 1993 at Baltusrol GC in New Jersey, Janzen hit it through trees on the 10th, chipped in on the 16th, and caromed a shot off another tree and into the fairway on the 17th. He hit just six fairways and 11 greens on Sunday and beat Stewart by two.

Stewart’s back had become a never-ending source of discomfort. And, by 1994, he had the kind of midlife career malaise many top players experience. He began to wonder if it was all worth it. There is little doubt Stewart became a different person the last years of his life. He found a peace of mind that had eluded him from the time he was a boy in the balcony of Springfield’s Grace Methodist Church, where he couldn’t sit still and his father sang too loudly. “The last two years of his life, he was a really good person,” said Hicks. “He just walked a different walk.”

Everyone who knew him saw it. “He was so much more thoughtful. He was so much more concerned about other people,” said Coop. “He was more at peace with himself, too. It wasn’t a logical peace. He fought to find that peace by playing harder or playing better or being more popular, and that’s just not where it comes from. The religion really gave him a sense of what was important. I think he didn’t try as hard to be liked, and he was liked more. He was accepted more by not trying so hard to be accepted.”

Stewart, who had won only once following Hazeltine, finished second to Janzen again in the U.S. Open, this time at the Olympic Club in ’98. On Friday the USGA used a lamentable back pin position on the steeply sloped 18th green, and, with the possible exception of Tom Lehman, who four-putted it, few were bitten harder than Stewart. After missing a short, curling birdie putt, Stewart could only fold his arms, furiously chew his gum, and watch stone-faced as his ball rolled and rolled 25 feet back down the slope. Though he’d held a 4-shot lead going into Sunday, Stewart played poorly in the final round. While luck shined on Janzen once again, this time on the fifth when his tee shot into the tops of the cypress trees dropped to the ground even as he was walking back to re-tee, Stewart wasn’t as fortunate. After struggling to find a fairway, he finally did with a 3-wood on the 12th, but the ball settled into a sand-filled divot. The bad break led to two more bogeys, the most critical at the 16th, and he eventually lost to Janzen by a shot. But this was a far different Stewart than the one who had seemed so callous in victory over Mike Reid at Kemper Lakes. “He was about as gracious a loser as you could possibly have,” said Cook. “He congratulated Lee. Talked about how well Lee played, about how he just didn’t have it that day.”

Stewart’s showing in San Francisco had reinforced his self-belief for the following year in Pinehurst. Generally considered Donald Ross’ finest work among the 400 or so courses he created, the heart and soul of the No. 2 Course are its domed greens. The Pinehurst Resort suffered through some tough financial times in the ’70s and ’80s, and the No. 2 Course’s reputation had taken a hit as well. With rough grown up right to the collars of the putting surfaces, it was thought to be too easy a mark for the modern player. It wasn’t until PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman brought the Tour Championship there in 1991, shaving the green embankments to restore the character of the course, that No. 2’s challenge emerged from its own shadow. The only course in America easily identified simply by an integer, only the best-struck shot would hold No. 2’s greens. If a player’s ball rolled off into a collection area, his next shot offered a dicey set of choices — lob it up on top, pitch it into the bank, putt it up the hill. That’s all well and good if you’re smoking cheap cigars and playing a $5 Nassau with a group of high handicaps, but when there’s a national championship at stake, those decisions become a hall of mirrors.

Stewart traveled to North Carolina after missing the cut in Memphis. He put the weekend to good use, playing a practice round with Cook, and carrying just his chipping clubs and a putter. They mapped the greens, marking them with red lights, green lights and yellow lights for the places he could not, or should not, hit the ball.

Pinehurst wasn’t the first time he and Cook had plotted a course that way. They did the same thing for every Open Championship links, too. Pinehurst, however, was the only time Stewart ever carried his yardage book himself, usually preferring to leave that job to his caddie, Hicks.

For the second straight year Stewart went into Sunday’s final round with a lead, just one stroke this time instead of the four shots he had in hand at the Olympic Club. And, for the second straight year, he was overtaken on the back nine, this time by the man he was playing beside, Phil Mickelson. And, for the second straight year, he had a tee shot land in a sand-filled divot, this time on the fourth hole. But after his experience at Olympic, he’d spent time practicing the shot and saved his par. Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods took runs at the lead, but, in the end, the championship came down to Stewart and Mickelson and the final three holes.

Only once during the week did Stewart make a red-light mistake, missing the green in the worst possible spot on the par-3 15th on Sunday. The designation earned its distinction when he had to make a long putt just to salvage the bogey that dropped him a shot behind Mickelson. Sunday of the U.S. Open always falls on Father’s Day, and Mickelson, who had just turned 29 and had yet to win his first major, was carrying a buzzer in his golf bag waiting for a call from his wife, Amy, who was expecting the couple’s first child.

On the 16th, normally a par-5 played as a par-4 during the Open, Mickelson gave Stewart’s shot back with a bogey of his own. Both players missed the green, and Stewart hit one of his weakest chips of the week, leaving himself a downhill, double-breaking 20-footer. When he curled it in the center, he barely reacted. For Coop, this was one of the most telling moments of their 11 years together.

“That putt on 16, you couldn’t make with a bushel of balls,” said Coop. “All he did was raise his right index finger to acknowledge the crowd and went right back into concentration. We worked so hard on that, so hard, not to get too high, not to get too low. He worked on his deficiencies.” With Stewart in the hole with par, Mickelson’s 8-footer missed, and now they were tied again with two to play and no one else really in the game after Woods’ bogey at the par-3 17th.

Stewart hit his 6-iron 4 feet from the hole on the 17th, and Mickelson followed with a 7-iron 8 feet away. Mickelson missed on the right, and Stewart holed to retake the lead going to the last, an uphill par four of 446 yards. Mickelson found the fairway, but Stewart’s drive landed in the right rough. All day it had been wet and uncharacteristically cool for North Carolina in June, when it’s more likely to be in the 90s than the 60s. On the practice ground, a place called Maniac Hill, Stewart had taken out his navy blue rain jacket during his warm-up but didn’t like the way it restricted his swing, so he cut the sleeves off with a pair of scissors. As Hicks and Stewart walked up the hill against the cold drizzle, the carillon from The Village Chapel, just a couple of blocks away, chimed “Amazing Grace.”

The moment Stewart saw his lie in the thick Bermuda rough, he never thought of anything but laying up short of the cross bunker. From there he’d have a 75-yard wedge shot into the back-left pin. Mickelson hit his second on the green but left himself a 25-footer with a huge right-to-left swing in it, hardly a putt he could expect to make. Trying to cobble together a classic, scrambling U.S. Open par, Stewart wedged his third 20 feet below the hole. Mickelson missed, and Stewart made his right in the middle again. This time he rose up on one leg and punched the air. Hicks tossed the flagstick away and flew into his player’s arms, wrapping his legs around him.

After picking up his golf ball, Stewart took Mickelson’s face in both his hands and told him, “You’re going to be a father. You’re going to be a father.”

That night the Open champion and his caddie drove to Mebane, North Carolina, Hicks’ hometown, for a fundraiser the following day. Stewart never entertained the notion of not showing up. Instead, the two of them sat up most of the night in Hicks’ kitchen taking turns drinking champagne from the U.S. Open trophy until the caddie could sneak away to bed unnoticed.

In September, as the days shorten, the Ryder Cup Matches have early starts, particularly the morning sessions of either four ball or foursomes. Warm-ups can begin before sunrise, and often the matches don’t end until dark. Stewart loved his music. He played in Peter Jacobsen’s band Jake Trout and the Flounders, and he was a devoted Jimmy Buffett parrothead. He traveled with a case of harmonicas in a range of keys, all of which he could violate without the slightest hint of remorse. But he was never more purposefully musical than he was at a Ryder Cup. Whenever Stewart was on the U.S. side, which he was five times, wake-up calls were completely unnecessary. Up before any of his teammates, Stewart would blast Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” at full throttle for everyone in the hotel, American and European alike, to hear. If Seve Ballesteros liked nothing better than beating Americans, Payne Stewart liked nothing better than playing for his country.

At The Country Club in Brookline, the course where Francis Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open in a playoff against British legends Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, the U.S. team fell woefully behind after the first two days. The Americans were four points behind, 10-6. No lead that large had ever been overcome in the history of the matches. U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw front-loaded his lineup, and the Americans won the first six singles. When Justin Leonard rolled in an improbable monster putt on the 17th, the green near Ouimet’s house where he made the crucial stroke against Vardon and Ray, the Americans stormed thoughtlessly onto the green while José Maria Olazábal stood in stoic dignity, still with a chance to halve the hole. He didn’t, though. Crenshaw kissed the green where Ouimet had beaten the Brits. The stunning U.S. comeback was complete but for one thing.

The match directly behind Leonard and Olazábal was Payne Stewart and Colin Montgomerie. The Boston crowd had been enormously unkind to Montgomerie, hurling insults about his game, his team, his body, anything they could think of. Some particularly well-lubricated and obnoxious fans were ejected from the grounds at Stewart’s insistence. When Stewart picked up Montgomerie’s ball on the 18th green at The Country Club, giving him the match, Hicks thought it was his player’s finest moment, greater even than the 18th green at Pinehurst just months before.

“What he did with Monty was the proudest moment I ever had,” said Hicks. “The old Payne Stewart wouldn’t have done that. He wouldn’t have been thinking about the big picture. I was proud of the way he handled himself the whole day. Those people were ruthless.”

The first person Stewart saw on the green was Montgomerie’s wife at the time, Eimeer. He hugged her and apologized for the fans’ behavior. At 42 Stewart had become a man in full.

It was a cool morning in Orlando, Florida, on October 25, with a few puffy white clouds in the sky. By afternoon it would be in the 70s, a perfect day for golf, and flying. Michael Kling, a captain for Sunjet Aviation, came to work at 6:30 a.m. His first officer, Stephanie Bellegarrigue, arrived 15 minutes later. They inspected and fueled Learjet n47bA, loaded a cooler with ice and soft drinks on board, and left Sanford, Florida, for Orlando International Airport at 7:54 a.m. to pick up their passengers: Payne Stewart; his agents, Van Arden and Robert Fraley; and Bruce Borland, a last-minute addition from Jack Nicklaus’ architectural team who was anxious to work with Stewart on a golf course project near Dallas.

Stewart and his wife, Tracey, were up early that morning, too. She had an appointment with a chiropractor, and Payne made pancakes for the children, Chelsea and Aaron, before the three of them left for school around 7:30 a.m. Stewart had angered some of his professional friends because he’d backed out of a commitment to play in a fundraising event that day hosted by Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill. Instead, he would stop in Dallas on his way to Houston for the Tour Championship.

The Learjet took off from Orlando International Airport at 9:19 a.m. After a series of altitude clearances, at 9:26 a.m. the pilot was instructed to change radio frequency and contact a Jacksonville controller, who cleared them to climb to, and maintain, flight level 390 to Dallas. The response, “Three nine zero bravo alpha,” are the last known words to have been spoken on the airplane.

From that moment until 12:12 p.m. central daylight time, n47bA was first intercepted by an F-16 from the Fortieth Flight Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, then followed by two Oklahoma Air National Guard F-16s, joined by a pair of North Dakota Air National Guard F-16s. All reported the windows fogged or frozen and no signs of life. A cataclysmic loss of cabin pressure had turned it into a ghost ship. For nearly four hours, first in great confusion and then heartbreaking resignation, the saga played out on cable news as the Learjet flew like a porpoise through the air. Stuck in a climb, it bumped up against its maximum altitude of 48,900 feet, descended to a level where its engines functioned more efficiently, and then climbed back to its apex over and over again until its fuel tanks ran dry.

It came down like a javelin in a field outside of Mina, South Dakota, down a dirt road, behind bales of hay, where Jon Hoffman’s cows grazed. The entry wound in the Earth was shockingly compact, as much a grave as a crash site. “That’s where they are,” Hoffman said. Stewart’s last flight ended on land owned by a working man who built his own driving range just off his back porch so he could hit balls on summer evenings.

A polished stone unearthed by the force of the crash serves as its memorial. In part the engraving on it says:

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction,

Out of the miry clay;

And he set my foot upon a rock

And he gave me a firm place to stand. PS

Adapted from Playing Through: Modern Golf’s Most Iconic Players and Moments by Jim Moriarty by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 2016 by Jim Moriarty. Copies of Playing Through can be obtained at