Editor’s Note: The following story originally ran a year ago as a precursor to the last USGA event in Pinehurst: the U.S. Amateur. It has been edited from its original format.
William Payne Stewart.
Stewart liked to relate a story about how his father had always told him to sign his entry form for the U.S. Open with his full name. He would tell his son that he was playing for his country’s national championship and he had better put William Payne Stewart on the application.
And Stewart won two of those national championships, with the second one coming at Pinehurst No. 2, 21 years ago on a misty Father’s Day Sunday in the pines.
In one of the more dramatic finishes to a U.S. Open, Stewart drained a 15-foot putt for par on the 18th hole giving him a one-stroke win over Phil Mickelson, a putt he punctuated with the pose that is now immortalized by a statue behind the 18th green of No. 2, a statue that was commissioned by Pinehurst Resort after Stewart, 42, died in a bizarre plane crash four months after winning.
You would be hard pressed to find anyone that has visited Pinehurst Country Club who hasn’t taken a picture beside the statue while replicating Stewart’s arm thrust forward with one leg lifted in the air as his winning putt dropped in the cup.
Many remember that final putt, but the competition between Mickelson and Stewart leading up to that putt was intense, befitting a national championship.
Ron Crow of Pinehurst had the best seat in the house when it came to Sunday’s final round. He was the walking scorer assigned by the USGA to the pairing of Stewart and Mickelson.
“I declare the ground was shaking, or maybe it was just me shaking. It was a wonderful experience to be able to walk with them for 18 holes and to see the quality and talent that was there with Phil and Payne.
“It was a special moment. You didn’t have a loser that day, you had a winner.”
‘Special A Place’
“Well, I think myself and all the contestants this week will attest to how grand Pinehurst No. 2 is and how special a place it is,” said Stewart after winning the 1999 U.S. Open. “But I think the USGA is very pleased with what happened this week with the — I’m sure they wanted it drier, but the golf course stood the test of the United States Open, and I think that they will be back again.”
Stewart had no idea how right he was.
There had been a smattering of USGA national championships in Moore County before 1999, including the 1996 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, a championship won by Annika Sorenstam.
With the success of both the Women’s Open and the 1999 U.S. Open, the floodgates opened on the USGA bringing multiple national championships to Moore County.
The U.S. Women’s Open returned to Pine Needles in 2001 and 2007. The 2001 Women’s Open introduced the world to the then 12-year-old Morgan Pressel while the 2007 championship was brightened by 12-year-old Lexi Thompson.
The U.S. Open returned in 2005 to Pinehurst No. 2, with Michael Thompson taking the title. In 2014, the USGA did something it had never done before or since. It held back-to-back national championships at No. 2, with the U.S. Open being held the first week followed by the U.S. Women’s Open the next week.
Martin Kaymer collected his second U.S. Open victory in the 2014 championship while Michelle Wie claimed her first, and only, major championship by winning the U.S. Women’s Open.
The U.S. Amateur was held at No. 2 in 2008. The U.S. Four-Ball Championship was held at No. 2 in 2017. In May 2019, the USGA held its second U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles and then, a few months later, hosted the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst courses No. 2 and 4.
Getting Behind the Events
Matt Sawicki was one of the Senior Women’s Open championship directors.
“I think we have conducted great U.S. championships here —men, women opens, amateurs — that have been so well supported throughout North Carolina, but in particular here in Moore County and the Sandhills,” said Sawicki. “In a market like this, it feels like the entire community wraps its arms around the championships.
“It’s not just the USGA that feels that way, but also the players. That’s why we love coming to this area. Everybody gets behind it.”
Crow, who was a volunteer chair for the 2005 U.S. Open and the general chair for the 2008 U.S. Amateur, agrees.
“We have had a wonderful friendship with the USGA,” he said. “Golf has been a major factor in Moore County for a long time. With Pinehurst and the Bell family at Pine Needles you have the history of golf and the positive vibes. But it’s not just that, it’s the whole county that gets behind the championships. We should be proud of the leadership in the county. I don’t know another place that would be a better place to hold these championships.”
Looking forward, the U.S. Women’s Open returns to Pine Needles in 2022 while the U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst in 2024.
“This is definitely an anchor community,” said Sawicki. “We’re so appreciative of the support we receive. Hopefully, we can continue to give back to the community in the way of bringing championships here and the economic impact it creates for the region.
“The opportunity to be invited back is really special to the USGA.”