At this time of the year Chicago area golfers are already noticing the changing of the seasons; the number of daylight hours has lessened and possibly one or more rounds have already been played with an extra layer of clothing. All of which points to the fact that winter, unfortunately, lies ahead. Thus, with extra hours cooped up indoors, why not use the opportunity to delve into a most interesting and insightful read – a book entitled “The Last Stand of Payne Stewart.”
With its subtitle of ‘The Year Golf Changed Forever’, author Kevin Robbins’ prologue reminds readers of Learjet 35 #N47BA’s last flight, the flight and crash on October 25, 1999, into a prairie in Mina, South Dakota that took the lives of six travelers including the reigning U.S. Open champion, Payne Stewart, age 42.
During his life, one of the quotes attributed to Payne Stewart is that “A bad attitude is worse than a bad swing” and perhaps it is this quote that motivated Stewart in his comeback (final) season of 1999. Dust jacket liner notes on this book state that “Written off as a pompous showman past the prime of his career, Stewart emerged from a long slump in the unforgettable season of 1999 to capture the U.S. Open and play on the victorious U.S. Ryder Cup Team. He appeared to be a new man that summer: wiser, deeper, and on the verge of a new level of greatness.”
In this book of twenty chapters, the first eighteen chapters relate facts, recollections, and opinions about Stewart’s career with the special focus on the final sixteen months of Payne’s life. The photo kicking off part one and chapter one of Robbins’ book is the dramatic photo of Payne Stewart staring at the missed putt on the eighteenth green of the Olympic Club during the 1998 U.S. Open. Although he missed that putt, and was subsequently runner-up by just one stroke to champion Lee Janzen, this heartbreaking loss was a springboard for the following sixteen months of greatness, including the memorable victory at the 1999 U.S. Open in Pinehurst.
Among the interesting episodes in career of Payne Stewart which are put forth by author Robbins’ in this book are the decision to wear plus-fours trousers and argyle socks and the sponsorship deal signed in 1988 with the NFL Properties to wear the colors of the nearest NFL city. (Readers may recall the stylish dark navy blue and orange worn during the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes).
Robbins also points out that Payne joined Peter Jacobson’s band, Jake Trout and the Flounders, as harmonica player, and perhaps nearly forgotten was the fact that Payne was one of the first PGA Tour golfers to use an oversized driver – not a metalwood, but the laminated Wilson Whale wood driver. And Robbins devotes a number of paragraphs to Payne’s camaraderie and defending of opponent Colin Montgomerie from the unsportsmanlike insults of fans at the 1999 Ryder Cup matches in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Kevin Robbins’ final two chapters and the epilogue center on the tragic flight, crash, and memorial tributes to Payne Stewart. Robbins includes the thoughts and words he obtained in interviews with the flight controller in Jacksonville (where the Learjet departed), US Air Force and Air National Guard pilots that chased and observed the unresponsive Learjet, and South Dakota state troopers who arrived at the crash site.
In Robbins’ epilogue there is a touching photo taken just six days after Payne’s death, of a group of PGA Tour golfers dressed in plus-fours and argyle socks at the driving range of Champions Golf Club, Houston Texas, as a tribute to the golfer known for this striking attire.
Whether or not you are a follower of the PGA Tour, and whether or not you even play golf, you will discover that Kevin Robbins’ book is a gripping read, and a fine (partial) biography and an in-depth timeline covering the final sixteen months in the life of the truly colorful professional golfer, Payne Stewart.
“The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Forever” by Kevin Robbins ($28, Hardcover, 320 pages, 6.25” x 9.25” x 1”, Hachette Books) is available at amazon.com, target.com, and wherever fine books are sold.