Remembering Payne Stewart’s 1999 AT&T Win and His Poppy Hills Charge
Jan. 28, 2014
When the AT&T Pro-Am tees off next week, it’ll mark the 15th anniversary of late champion Payne Stewart’s 1999 conquest.
In what became a rain-shortened, 54-hole event, Stewart clinched the title by making birdie on the 18th hole at Spyglass Hill in Saturday’s third round.
But it was a day earlier at Poppy Hills GC that Stewart put himself in position to win. In Friday’s second round, the Missouri native opened eagle-birdie-birdie en route to a course-record tying 31 on the back nine. By the time he was done, Stewart had a 64 and a three-stroke lead over Frank Lickliter and Vijay Singh. His birdie at Spyglass the next day sealed a one-stroke win over Lickliter, clinching Stewart’s first victory since the 1995 Houston Open.
Making the win even sweeter was that Stewart’s amateur partner was Jim Morris, a close friend of Stewart’s father, who had died in 1987. “It’s like playing with my dad,” Stewart said. “Since I didn’t get the opportunity to do that, this means a lot to me.”
Four months later, a 42-year-old Stewart was crowned U.S. Open champion at Pinehurst No.2, site of this year’s U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open.
But Stewart’s expected triumphant return to Pebble Beach in 2000 as both defending AT&T Pro-Am champ and U.S. Open champ never happened. Tragically, Stewart and five others died in an airplane crash in October of 1999.
Taste of Champagne, Greatest Shot Ever
Other big anniversaries at this year’s AT&T include the 50th anniversary of Tony Lema’s win in 1964, and the 30th anniversary of Hale Irwin’s miracle shot.
With all eyes on the Big Four — Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper — coming into the 1964 Pro-Am, Lema took the title with a Sunday 76 in weather conditions so bad, not a single player broke par in the final round.
Lema, who as per his custom treated the press to champagne afterwards, gave a ton of credit to his amateur partner, Air Force chaplain Father John Durkin. “Father Durkin had a great effect on me mentally, physically and spiritually,” said Lema, who earlier that morning had acted as an altar boy and served mass for Durkin at nearby Carmel Mission. “He had a calming influence. I couldn’t swear.”
Irwin’s win in 1984 also included divinity. Arguably the greatest shot in tournament history, Irwin came to the 18th tee in the final round needing a birdie to tie clubhouse leader Jim Nelford. As Irwin hit his drive, his ball immediately headed left and out to sea. But it hit a rock, and somehow bounced back in the fairway. When his ball landed safely, Irwin looked to the heavens and clasped his hands.
“I was giving thanks,” Irwin said. “I was saying, ‘Forget the expletives I just said. I didn’t meant it.’”
Irwin hit his third shot to within five feet of the flag stick and made birdie to tie Nelford. He eventually won on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.