As long as the U.S. Open is played, and especially at Pinehurst, the memories of the late Payne Stewart will remain fresh.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Golf Association named Stewart the Bob Jones Award winner in a ceremony on the club’s front lawn. The award, the USGA’s highest honor, has been given annually since 1955 to an individual who demonstrates the spirit, character and respect for the game once exhibited by Jones, the winner of nine USGA championships.
Stewart died in a plane crash four months after winning the ’99 Open on No. 2. A statue of Stewart stands behind the 18th green, where Stewart holed a dramatic par putt to edge Phil Mickelson by a shot.
Accepting the award on his behalf Tuesday were Stewart’s wife, Tracey, and his daughter, Chelsea. Stewart’s sisters, Susan and Laura, were at the ceremony, along with Mike Hicks, Stewart’s caddie at the ’99 Open; Dr. Richard Coop, a sports psychologist who worked with Stewart; and Paul Azinger and Peter Jacobsen, two of Stewart’s best friends on the PGA Tour.
“Payne Stewart was one of the most dynamic and charismatic players in the history of the game,” Jacobsen said. “I witnessed first-hand his intense desire to win and his unfailing belief in his ability to do so. He was a man who valued family and friendship above all else.”
USGA president Tom O’Toole called Stewart “someone who has a special and lasting relationship here at the Pinehurst resort.”
Past winners of the Jones award include Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Another past recipient, Peggy Kirk Bell of Southern Pines, was at the ceremony.
“My dad taught me that in life, as in golf, you don’t always land in the fairway. Playing from the rough builds character,” Chelsea Stewart said.
Move over, Curtis?: No one has won back-to-back U.S. Open titles since Curtis Strange in 1988 and ’89, when Strange famously said, “Move over, Ben.”
Strange meant Ben Hogan. Before Strange, Hogan was the last to do it – in 1950 and ’51.
Justin Rose is looking for a piece of that history this week. The winner last year at Merion, the Brit says he “thoroughly enjoyed” being the U.S. Open champion for a year but is ready for this week, this Open.
“All in all it’s been an honor to be the U.S. Open champion,” Rose said Tuesday. “I think it’s the reception I’ve had wherever I’ve gone. From my point of view, from my crier’s point of view, it’s moved the needle.
“There are very few tournaments you make an impact, but certainly winning a major championship did that for me.”
Rose said missing the cut recently at the Memorial was likely a “blessing” and that it allowed him the chance to see and play No. 2 “without a ton of people out there.”
Pinehurst vets: For those wondering how many players competed in the U.S. Opens in 1999 and 2005 and are back at Pinehurst for third time, the answer is 12. Here’s the roll call:
Robert Allenby, Stewart Cink, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Matt Kuchar, Justin Leonard, Jeff Maggert, Phil Mickelson, David Toms and Lee Westwood.
Mickelson, Cink, Furyk and Maggert made the cut in both Opens.
Kuchar doesn’t mind tag: Some players scoff at the tag “best player never to win a major” as if it’s a putdown. That doesn’t include Matt Kuchar.
“I think I’m still new to that. I think it’s great,” Kuchar said Tuesday. “If you haven’t won a major, you sure want to be a part of that conversation. I’m happy I’m part of that conversation.
“Certainly it’s a goal of mine; it’s a goal of everybody’s. It’s been a goal of mine since I started playing the game. So it remains there.”
Kuchar, 35, will be playing his 12th U.S. Open and third at Pinehurst. He missed the cut in both 1999 and 2005 at No. 2, and his best Open finish was a tie for sixth in 2010.
Diaz added: Winston-Salem’s Laura Diaz has been added to the U.S. Women’s Open field next week at Pinehurst. Diaz, who played at Wake Forest, was the tournament’s first alternate. Diaz is a two-time winner on the LPGA tour (the Welch’s/Circle K Championship and Corning Classic in 2002).