1982 Atlanta Golf Classic, just a few months before he won his first official
PGA Tour title.
When Stewart arrived on the grounds of Atlanta Country Club in Marietta, Ga., he was practically unrecognizable and yet easily noticeable. There for the first time
Stewart competed wearing knickers (or plus-fours) and a Tam O’ Shanter cap.
From then on, that was his trademark attire, an old-world style wrapped in a newness that made him unique.
“I remember when he started wearing the knickers, I told him, ‘If you’re going to dress like that, you better have the game to back it up,’” remembers Mark Lye, a former Tour player and Golf Channel broadcaster, who was one of Stewart’s best friends. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about me; I have plenty of game.’ You know what, he did back it up.”
Indeed, soon after Stewart won the Quad Cities Open, and the PGA Tour had a budding star with whom fans could easily identify.
Stewart got his sartorial sense from his father, Bill, a fine amateur golfer who had a penchant for donning colorful sport coats, but he didn’t put it into action until his third year as a professional.
Stewart earned his PGA
Tour card in 1981, and in early ’ 82 he arrived at a tournament looking smart in a white shirt, red pants and white golf shoes.
At least he thought he looked smart – until noticing that several other players were wearing virtually the same outfits.
Recalling how he liked the look of knickers
Stewart dressed for success
on some players on the Asian Tour, including Rodger Davis, Stewart decided to give up standard slacks and golf hats for a retro look.
The clotheshorse was out of the barn. Stewart immediately became one of the most popular players in golf. It was pure genius. It was pure Stewart.
“He had the best of both
worlds,” Lee Trevino, who
himself possessed a certain
flair, once said. “He reminded
me of the rock band KISS. When Payne
went into the locker room or hotel with
long pants, no hat, a lot of people didn’t
recognize him. On the golf course, you
couldn’t miss him.”
Which is one more reason why he’s now missed so much. —Dave Shedloski
The U.S. Open Champion earlier in 1989, Curtis Strange’s final-round 6 9 left him one shot behind Stewart in a three-way tie for second.
“The thing about Payne was that he always thought he would win a major at a time when he hadn’t been able to win one and almost everyone else was sure he couldn’t win one,” says Golf Channel broadcaster Mark Lye, a former PGA Tour player who was one of Stewart’s closest friends and who joined with Stewart and Peter Jacobsen to form “Jake Trout and the
Flounders,” a musical group that performed at Tour stops and charity events.
“Even at the height of his game a lot of people didn’t see that he had major championship skills. He didn’t hit it particularly straight, didn’t hit a lot of greens. But he could get up and down, and he was a good putter. He found a way. He knew what he was doing, and he figured out a way.”
That’s what Stewart did that final day, Aug. 13, when he began the final round joint 11th and still six behind Reid. That’s what he did on the final nine holes by mixing key par saves at 12 and 13 with his late birdie barrage that gave him a score that eventually stood.
That’s what he did in finally closing the deal after three near misses in majors in the mid-1980s.
And, of course, that’s what he did in winning his first U.S. Open in a playoff over Scott Simpson and his second by one shot over Phil Mickelson with three straight one-putt greens at Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 Course to triumph for the final time just a few months before his tragic death at age 41.
“You have to know you can win a major before you win one,” Lye says. “Somehow, Payne always knew.” ●
Dave Shedloski is a free-
lance golf writer from
Alexandria, Ohio, and a
frequent contributor to PGA