Balls, Sticks, & Stuff
8/29/2004
 
Payne @ Pinehurst
The Story
Part of any golfer's summer reading list should be Payne At Pinehurst: The Greatest U.S. Open Ever by Bill Chastain. The book recounts the 1999 U.S. Open, a duel between two of my favorite golfers, Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson. The tournament came down to the 72nd hole, with Payne Stewart holing a twenty-foot putt to win.

Added to the drama of the tight competition was the human interest story of Phil Mickelson, an expectant father with a wife due at any moment. Mickelson carried a beeper with him throughout the tournament and vowed he would withdraw the moment he found out his wife was going into labor, despite being in the hunt for his first major (at the time, Mickelson was still carrying the mantle of Best Player to Never Have Won a Major).

The Mickelsons gave birth several days after the U.S. Open ended, but unfortunately the story did not have the same type of ending for the Stewart family. Later in the year, the story truly ended, tragically with Stewart dying in a plane crash.

Certain events in life are so strong in your memory that you remember exactly where you were when they transpired. They could be events that changed the world, events that changed your life, or events that simply meant a lot to you because of enjoyment or sadness. I remember exactly where I was when I watched the 1999 U.S. Open and I remember exactly where I was when I learned of Payne Stewart's death.

What Tiger Woods Could Learn From Payne Stewart
Most modern golf professionals have had swing coaches. Stewart was no different, mostly employing Chuck Cook. At one point in the 1990's, Stewart and Cook had a falling out and stopped working together. Eventually, Stewart realized he was at least partially to blame and called Cook to make peace and reunite. Stewart went on to win the 1999 U.S. Open. Similarly, Tiger Woods has had a much publicized feud with the swing coach that worked with him through his best play, Butch Harmon. Many have speculated that if Tiger Woods would simply make piece and reunite with Harmon, he would return to the play that made him the clear cut best player in the world.

Cook made very few changes to Stewart's swing during the years they worked together, but one change he did make was to have Stewart fade the ball. Cook did some research into the great players in history and determined that 90% of them faded the ball (a slight left to right curve in mid-air), rather than draw the ball (the opposite, a slight right to left curve in mid-air). Tiger Woods insists on drawing the ball. It's possible that if Woods were to begin hitting a fade, which often sacrifices a few yards for better control, his accuracy would greatly improve (Woods ranks 175th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, hitting just over 50% of his fairways).

My Threesome Can Beat Your Threesome
One of the reasons I followed Payne Stewart's career was the fact that as a student athlete at Southern Methodist, he belonged to the same fraternity I did at James Madison. Certain members of my chapter were impressed that Scott Bakula, Deane Smith, John Ritter, "Skip" Caray, and Bobby Rahal were "Fijis". For me, the fact that Hale Irwin, Jack Nicklaus, and Payne Stewart were Fijis was much more impressive. These things are very impressive when you are 20, are they not?




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