1999: Payne Stewart prevails at Pinehurst in “greatest U.S. Open ever”
The 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst is the first one I truly remember watching and recognizing its significance. Eighteen years ago, that Open remains one of golf’s legendary tournaments, one so good that Alan Shipnuck of Sports Illustrated dubbed it the “greatest U.S. Open ever”. It’s been written among golf’s legends, and frankly, deserves far more space than I can even give it here.
Considering the build to that tournament and the lasting effects nearly 20 years later, it’s hard to argue with that assessment. The golf world had just entered the “Tiger era” two years earlier, and while Tiger Woods hadn’t even won his second major yet, the expectations were rising.
Stewart, winner of the 1989 PGA Championship and 1991 U.S. Open, had recently found success again after a streak in the mid-90s in which he won just once in a four-year span. He had led the 1998 U.S. Open through 54 holes, but was caught by Lee Janzen, denied his third major title in heartbreaking fashion.
Mickelson competed with family on his mind
Mickelson, on the other hand, was at the time a 13-time TOUR winner, an established force who seemed poised to break through in a major at any moment. Phil was generally laser-focused on the tournament, except for one distraction. His wife, Amy, was at home, pregnant with their first child and preparing to go into labor with her husband on the other side of the country.
Phil had given caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay a beeper that week in case Amy went into labor while they were on the course. There was one clear instruction: Phil wanted to know immediately if the beeper went off, tournament be damned.
Amy knew what the tournament meant to Phil, staying quiet even as she went to the hospital that week. What followed was the stuff legends are made of.
Mickelson and Stewart stayed in lockstep with each other through the first 54 holes, sharing the lead with David Duval at the halfway point, and never more than a stroke apart overnight.
An iconic moment cements its place in golf history
At the end, Mickelson trailed Stewart by one at the 18th hole. Stewart found trouble in the rough off the tee, while Mickelson kept it in the fairway as he had all day. Stewart made the green in three, and when Phil made par, he left Stewart a single opening – a 30-footer for par to win the U.S. Open.
What followed was perhaps the most iconic moment in the tournament’s history. Stewart, who had lived all of golf’s ups and downs already, embraced the 30-year-old Mickelson, and gushed about the runner-up’s impending fatherhood. “Good luck with the baby! There’s nothing like being a father!”
The next morning, Amy Mickelson went into labor, and their first daughter, Amanda, was born. Phil didn’t win on Sunday, but he came home happier than ever.