Liewicki Leaks: Live like Payne

Nathan Liewicki
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He stands on a table wearing an orange T-shirt and black sweatpants —plastered with red and orange chili peppers. In one hand he holds a drink while a cigar hangs from his mouth.

Liewicki

After the most impressive — and unimaginable comeback — in the history of the Ryder Cup, the United States team is partying like it was 1999.

In fact, it was 1999 — Sept. 26, 1999 to be exact.

The life of the victorious party, and the one showcasing the chili peppers, was an 11-time Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour winner known for his sometimes wild and outlandish behaviour on and off the golf course.

As Jeff Rude wrote in the June 10, 2000 issue of Golfweek magazine, “He is the poster boy of a happy party.”

That party boy won three major championships — the last of which is engrained in my mind more than any PGA Tour event I have ever watched.

Fifteen years after his final and most memorable major victory, I can still hear Dick Enberg’s voice ringing out in my mind: “Payne Stewart is the 1999 U.S. Open champion. Oh my!”

The iconic clip of the 15-foot par putt Stewart made on the 18th green of famed Pinehurst No. 2 was shown countless times by NBC, ESPN and Golf Channel during last week’s U.S. Open coverage, which was also at Pinehurst No. 2.

One hundred twenty-seven days after claiming his second U.S. Open title, and just 29 days after helping the U.S. claim its first Ryder Cup victory in six years, Stewart died of hypoxia — lack of oxygen.

Travelling from Orlando, Fla., to Houston, Texas for The Tour Championship on Oct. 25, 1999, Stewart’s Learjet 35 suffered a loss of cabin pressure before it ran out of fuel and crashed into a field near Minot, N.D.

Stewart, along with the three other passengers and two crew members on board did not have a chance.

I do not remember where I was when my dad told me about what happened to Stewart. Furthermore, I do not recall what my reaction was to the news that the man who — in my mind — made knickers and tam-o’-shanter hats famous had died tragically. Following the conclusion of this year’s U.S. Open, I watched a special one-hour documentary about Stewart. Captivated by the raw emotions of Stewart’s widow, two children, friends and fellow PGA Tour players, it was not until the very end that the tears started running down my face.

“I’m going to a special place when I die, but I want to make sure my life is special while I’m here, and when I’m done here, my time is done,” an old audio recording of Stewart at the end of the documentary.

If a man as flamboyant, yet as grounded as Stewart — a man I respect for how he lived his life — has the belief that better things lie beyond death, then those are words I can learn to, and hopefully, live by myself.

Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks.

Organizations: Professional Golf Association, Golfweek magazine, ESPN Golf Channel

Geographic location: United States, Orlando, Fla., Houston, Texas Minot, N.D.

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