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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Stewart memory alive at Pinehurst
By Rob Hodgetts

Payne Stewart
The late Payne Stewart won the US Open at Pinehurst in 1999
Fist clenched and on one leg, he pumped the air in victory. Four months later he was gone.

Sporting his trademark knickerbockers and tam o'shanter hat, Payne Stewart sunk a 15-foot par putt to defeat Phil Mickelson by one stroke in the 1999 US Open at Pinehurst.

But the golf world was robbed of one of its most popular characters when he died tragically in a private plane crash over South Dakota on 25 October the same year.

Six years on, the 105th US Open returns to Pinehurst, where Stewart's memory is honoured by a life-size bronze statue of his celebration pose behind the 18th green.

It's by far an a-typical US Open course
Paul Jett, Pinehurst No.2 head greenkeeper

"This is going to be a very emotional week," said Mickelson. "It's my last memory of Payne."

Stewart, who died aged 42, was one of golf's good guys, the man who conceded his match to Colin Montgomerie on the 18th to end the vile abuse the Scot was receiving during the tempestuous Brookline Ryder Cup in September 1999.

Pinehurst

"He'd had enough, I'd had enough and he picked up my ball at the last. I'll never forget that," said Montgomerie.

Three months after Stewart's death, the US Golf Association announced its showpiece event would return to Pinehurst, the shortest span between tournaments at one venue since the 1946.

Pinehurst, a quiet southern village in Moore County about 80 miles south west of Raleigh in North Carolina, was founded in 1895 as a health resort among the pine forests.

The leafy settlement has about 10,000 residents but the population will swell to about 45,000 when the year's second major swings into town.

Payne Stewart is commemorated in a bronze statue at Pinehurst
Stewart is commemorated in a bronze statue at Pinehurst

The resort's No. 2 course, designed by Donald Ross, was opened in 1907 and has also hosted four USGA national championships, the 1962 US Amateur, 1989 US Women's Amateur and the 1994 US Senior Open.

Since 1999, the course has been stretched by about 90 yards to 7,214 with the fairways narrowed slightly to about 25 yards wide.

It's a tough challenge - I like it
Defending champion Retief Goosen on Pinehurst No.2

"It's by far an a-typical US Open course because of the fact there is no rough around any green and the rough we have alongside the fairways is only three inches," head greenskeeper Paul Jett told BBC Sport.

"Topography-wise we're fairly flat. Typically, balls landing on the fairway will stay on the fairway. There is not a whole lot of slope that is going to kick the ball right or left into the rough.

Pinehurst
Pinehurst was founded in 1895 in North Carolina's Sandhills region

"The greens are the defence of golf course.

"They are 'crown green' or 'turtleback' [dome-like greens] that will see lots of balls hit the green but not stay on because of the false front and roll-offs on the side.

"The surrounding grass will be mowed down to a quarter of an inch so you'll see a variety of shots from putters to five irons to sand wedges being used to get ball back onto the putting surface.

"This golf course is not going to beat you up on length, it's going to beat you up from the middle of the fairway into the green.

"The best short-game players and best putters will be the guys in contention come Sunday afternoon."

Defending US Open champion Retief Goosen, who missed the cut at Pinehurst in 1999, said: "I wasn't particularly fond of it when I first played it.

"But I'm in a different frame of mind than I was then. I feel like I can hit any shot I need to on championship courses.

"It's a tough challenge. I like it. The greens are the main obstacle for us. You have to get it into the middle of the greens and deal with it from there."


SEE ALSO
US Open groupings and times
10 Jun 05 |  Golf


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