U.S. Ryder Cup golfers on Tuesday walked over a stone bridge named in Payne Stewart’s memory and onto Hazeltine National Golf Club’s seventh fairway, some not old enough to have known the man who celebrated an emotional 1999 Ryder Cup by dancing in his pajamas.
Stewart will be forever linked to Hazeltine National because of his 1991 U.S. Open victory in a Monday playoff, and U.S. captain Davis Love III and his vice captains and players have found a way to remember in their team room both Arnold Palmer and Stewart, the two-time U.S. Open champion and passionate Ryder Cup player.
Stewart died in an October 1999 plane accident, only a month after he and his teammates celebrated that Ryder Cup victory near Boston. He was 42.
“There are some players on this team that didn’t get to know Payne Stewart,” Love said. “He would have been one of our captains here. He would have been here as a past champion. He’s an iconic player, and we do want to acknowledge his history here.”
Photographs of Stewart and Palmer, among others, adorned the Americans’ team room before news broke Sunday evening that Palmer, arguably the most influential golfer of all time, died at age 87. A couple more big photos of Palmer suddenly appeared Monday.
Love said he’ll never forget how Stewart celebrated the Americans’ stunning Sunday singles comeback 17 years ago.
“He had a transformation late in life, but he kind of let his hair down that night,” Love said. “He wore red, white and blue pajamas, smoking a cigar, dancing on the piano. I’ll never forget playing a match with him and him teaching me how to become a more passionate Ryder Cup player, how to be more of a leader rather than just showing up and playing. Everything about Payne was kind of magical that week.”
Known for this throwback tam-and-knickers attire, Stewart won his second U.S. Open earlier that summer at Pine-hurst. After his winning putt, he struck a fist-pumping victory pose on one leg that is now immortalized in bronze at the North Carolina resort.
Three months later, he played with his friends and teammates in the last of five Ryder Cups.
“That was an amazing team, great personalities and great players, a whole bunch of guys who were No. 1 in the world at some point,” 1999 U.S. team member Tom Lehman said. “Payne was the emotional leader of that team. He was the guy who set up the music; every time you’d go into the team room, the boom box was blaring. He was the guy who told funny stories, the guy who cried talking about his father. He was the guy who decided we had to do tequila shots Sunday night. At that point, I’ll let it go because it’ll be incriminating.
“He led with his words, with his emotions. He was a guy who always made the team better.”
Last week, U.S. vice captain and 1999 Ryder Cup player Jim Furyk gratefully accepted the Payne Stewart Award, awarded annually to a player for his sportsmanship and charity work. Furyk credits Stewart and Stewart’s wife, Tracey, for welcoming him and his wife, Tabitha, to the tour life when he was just starting out.
“If you knew him, he’ll be in your heart all week,” Furyk said.