On This Date in Sports June 20, 1999: Payne and Joy

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Payne Stewart holds off Phil Mickelson to win the 99th U.S. Open at Pine Hurst Course 2 in North Carolina. It is the second time Stewart won the U.S. Open and his third overall major title. It was part of an unexpected resurgence for Payne Stewart who earlier in the year won his first tournament in four years. Sadly, it would be his last as he died four months later in a plane crash.

William Payne Stewart was born January 30, 1957, in Springfield, Missouri. He turned professional after graduating from SMU in 1979. On the PGA Tour, Stewart became popular among the fans due to his throwback attire, wearing old-fashioned knickerbockers as he looked more like a golfer from the 1920s. His major breakthrough came in 1989 when he captured the PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club near Chicago. Two years later he beat out Scott Simpson in a playoff at Hazeltine in the Twin Cities to win the U.S. Open. Golf began changing after Stewart’s second major title as longer hitters became the stars of the show. From 1995-1998 Stewart almost disappeared, from the top of the leaderboard. Though he did make a good run at the 1998 U.S. Open, a bad final round saw him settle for second place. As 1999 began, things started looking up for Payne Stewart as he won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.

Phil Mickelson was born June 16, 1970, in San Diego. Raised in Scottsdale, he became a star at Arizona State, turning professional in 1992. A left-handed golfer, Mickelson’s rise was part of the new breed of golfers in the shadow of Tiger Woods. He quickly became one of the more popular golfers on the tour as he tried to become the first left-handed golfer to win a major. Mickelson had momentum going into the U.S. Open as he finished sixth in the Masters, as was beginning to come into his prime years.

Pine Hurst Course 2 was a tough course in Pine Hurst, North Carolina. Phil Mickelson was one of four golfers along with David Duval, Paul Goydos and Billy Mayfair to hold the lead after the first round at -3. Payne Stewart, meanwhile, was in a group of five including Tiger Woods who were one stroke back after shooting a 68. Conditions were tougher on the second day, as Stewart was one of a few golfers to go under par with 69. Duval and Mickelson each shot a 70 and went into the weekend at -3, along with Payne Stewart for a share of the lead.

The weekend was one of divided concerns for Phil Mickelson. Back home in Arizona was his wife, who was expecting their first child any day now. Mickelson let it be known he would leave the tournament at any time had she gone into labor. Perhaps the concern over his wife’s pregnancy led to his poor showing on Saturday, as he shot a 73 to drop to level par for the tournament. The field though was not breaking away, as Pine Hurst kept all scores low, making the final round wide open for the taking. Payne Stewart emerged the leader after the third round, despite going two over, as the course was having its way with the best golfers in the world.

Payne Stewart held the lead as Sunday began at -1, he would be paired with Phil Mickelson who was even after 54 holes at par. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods continued to lurk at one over, along with Tim Herron, while David Duval, Vijay Singh, and Steve Stricker were at two over. Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh had their flashes on Sunday but never got closer than even par. Each would finish tied for third with one over par 281 for the tournament.

This left all eyes to be focused on the final pairing as they battled for the U.S. Open Trophy. Payne Stewart got off to a hot start with birdies on the first and third holes, while getting bogey on the second to gain a two-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson who was maintaining his level par score. On the seventh hole, Mickelson climbed to within one stroke, with a birdie. It would be his only birdie of the day. As the back nine started, Stewart found himself in trouble as he dropped to second place with bodies on the tenth and 12th holes. As Mickelson was recording par after par, Stewart gained back a stroke on the 13th with a birdie, but again trailed by one after a bogey on 15.

It would be on the 16th hole that the tournament swung in Payne Stewart’s favor, as Mickelson recorded his only bogey of the day dropping back into a tie at level par. The following hole saw Stewart gain the lead with a clutch birdie putt. The tournament would come down to the final hole, when Mickelson once again settles for par, finishing the tournament with an even 280. Payne Stewart meanwhile faced a difficult par putt to win the tournament. A miss would mean an 18-hole playoff. Putting was his specialty and with all eyes on his last stroke, Payne Stewart put home a 15-foot putt to win the tournament by one stroke with a one-under par 279.

As the tournament ended the two rivals extended greetings. As it turned out, the putt from Payne Stewart was beneficial for Phil Mickelson as he would have faced a difficult life choice as his daughter was born the following day, with his wife in labor, he likely would have conceded the playoff to Stewart and perhaps angered some in the traditional golfing circles. The two would join forces for the great American comeback at the 1999 Ryder Cup. However, a month later on October 25th tragedy would strike as Payne Stewart was killed in a private jet when it lost cabin pressure somewhere over the Midwest. The plane would crash down in South Dakota, with all aboard dying.

The 2000 U.S. Open would be played in memory of the defending champion, who was inducted into the golfing Hall of Fame in 2001. Phil Mickelson would not become the first left-hander to win a Major that would go to Mike Weir, but eventually, he would get his day in the sun, as he won the Masters in 2004. Mickelson would win the Green Jacket three times, adding wins in 2006 and 2010. He also won the PGA Championship in 2005 and the Open Championship in 2013. However, the U.S. Open Championship always eluded Phil Mickelson as he finished second or tied for second six times, narrowly missing out on achieving the career grand slam.