Payne Stewart named '14 Bob Jones Award honoree
PINEHURST, N.C. – The Fat Boy Story, as it is known among Payne Stewart fans, rises again.
Tom O'Toole, who will take over as U.S. Golf Association president on Saturday, announced Friday that Stewart, the two-time U.S. Open champion, is the posthumous winner of the 2014 Bob Jones Award. This is the USGA's highest honor, awarded to an individual who, like Jones, demonstrates exceptional spirit, personal character and respect for the game.
Stewart won his second U.S. Open title here in 1999 at Pinehurst Country Club, sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the final green to edge Phil Mickelson by one stroke.
O'Toole, talking with Golfweek, went back another 20 years, to 1979, recalling the final match of the Missouri Amateur between Stewart and Jim Holtgrieve, who captained the last two U.S. Walker Cup teams in 2011 and 2013.
In 1979, Holtgrieve was coming off his first appearance as a Walker Cup player. In Muirfield, Scotland, he posted a 2-1 record during a 15 1/2-8 1/2 U.S. victory. Heading into the Missouri Amateur at Wolf Creek Golf Club in Olathe, Kan., Holtgrieve was the clear favorite.
Nobody told Stewart.
"They were in opposite ends of the draw, and they got to the final," said O'Toole, who was Holtgrieve's caddie. "We were leaving the range to go to the parking lot (after the semifinal matches), and so was he.
"He looked Jimmy right in the eye and said, 'Bring your Walker Cup game tomorrow, fat boy.' They almost came to blows. It became a face-to-face altercation that I happened to be right in the middle of. Back then Payne was a brash, aggressive, kind of a confrontational guy. It almost got physical.
"The next day," O'Toole said, "Payne put his money where his mouth was. He won, 9 and 8. Standing on the 17th tee of the morning round, he was 2 up. He won 17 and 18. Then he came out in the afternoon and just ran the table."
O'Toole, a St. Louis attorney, later served on the board of directors of the Missouri Golf Association with Payne's father, Bill Stewart.
"And Payne, I'm happy to say," O'Toole added, "became a guy who transformed his life. I was privy to that, and it was impressive. He evolved into one of the great ambassadors for the game. He engaged in a memorable spiritual journey.
"He later told me, 'Treat your body as if you'll live forever; treat your soul as if you'll die tomorrow.' "
O'Toole was waiting at the bottom of the locker room steps after Stewart's emotional triumph at Pinehurst in 1999.
"I whispered in his ear: 'Your dad really would have been proud of you today.' We had a hug. I walked into the scoring tent with him. I gave him a pat on the shoulder, and I never saw him again."