Try, try again Practice pays off big for Stewart down stretch

June 18, 1991|By Mike Augustin | Mike Augustin,Knight-Ridder

CHASKA, Minn. -- All the hours of practice raced through Payne Stewart's mind several times as he played the 18th hole yesterday at Hazeltine National Golf Club.

Stewart was closing in on the U.S. Open championship in his playoff with Scott Simpson, and this was no time to abandon the basic fundamentals that got him to that point.

He had a one-shot lead over Simpson as they stood on the 18th tee. Stewart hit a 1-iron as a precaution, but still caught a fairway bunker. Simpson hit a driver and went just beyond Stewart into the rough.

"I have spent a lot of time hitting fairway shots out of bunkers on the practice range this week," Stewart said. "Maybe I knew something. I told my caddie, 'This is what we have been working on all week.' "

Stewart walked away from the shot once to reconsider the lie. Then he hit the ball to the rough on the right of the green, 20 feet away.

"I pulled out my 9-iron and had a talk with myself," Stewart said. "I said, 'Payne, you have practiced this shot all your life. Stand up there and execute it because that is what it will take to be champion of the U.S. Open.' "

Again, Stewart came through. His chip shot rolled four feet from the cup.

By the time he would attempt the putt, Simpson would struggle to a bogey. Stewart could actually two-putt and win.

But as Simpson was holing out, Stewart walked to the back of the green and pounded his putter sharply onto the surface. He was talking to himself.

"I was saying that I wanted to make that last putt," he said. "I knew what I needed to win, but I wanted to make the par putt. I wanted to win the U.S. Open with a firm, positive stroke."

When the putt went into the center of the cup, Stewart thrust his right arm skyward in celebration. He turned and embraced his wife, Tracey, and 5 1/2 -year-old daughter Chelsea, who jumped into his arms.

"I don't know that I said anything to them," said Stewart. "Tracey and I looked into each other's eyes, but I'm quite sure we didn't speak. We each saw tears in the other's eyes."

Evidence of the 90-hole grind could be seen in the cold, hard numbers and the spent, sweat-stained face of Stewart. His 3-over-par 75 yesterday, which beat Simpson by two, was the highest winning total in an 18-hole Open playoff since 1927. Twice in the 1980s, Greg Norman (1984) and Nick Faldo (1988) lost playoffs with 75s.

In addition to the $235,000 first prize, Stewart also won the admiration of Simpson, who pocketed $117,500.

Stewart remembered Simpson telling him, "You are a great champion."

"Scott is a gracious person, a big man in many ways," Stewart said. "I just said, 'Thank you.' I know how he felt. But there had to be a champion, and I'm glad it was me."

Stewart also got choked up when he recalled his father, Bill, who passed away in the mid-1980s.

"Dad was my biggest booster," the 34-year-old champion said. "He lived a lot of his life vicariously through me. I know he is proud of me. I miss him."

The U.S. Open marks Stewart's second major title. He won the PGA Championship in 1989.

"My ultimate goal is to win the Grand Slam," he said. "Not in one year, but in my lifetime. I am halfway there.

"If I would have guessed, I would have thought I would win the British Open first, then the U.S. Open, then the PGA, and finally The Masters. That is kind of the way I rank them, too."

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