Remembering Payne Stewart's Iconic US Open Victory At Pinehurst - 25 Years On

The epic finish, iconic celebration and tragic aftermath means Payne Stewart's US Open victory at Pinehurst 25 years ago remains one of golf's most legendary stories

Payne Stewart
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You can't talk about the US Open at Pinehurst No.2 without thinking of Payne Stewart and his epic victory there in 1999.

Stewart won the last of his three Major titles with a thrilling victory at Pinehurst No.2, when he drained an 15-foot putt on the final hole to beat Phil Mickelson by a shot to claim the US Open.

The victory celebration was iconic, and following his tragic death there's now a permanent reminder with a statue depicting his famous fist pump sitting just off the back of the 18th green at Pinehurst.

It was a typically thrilling way for one of the most flamboyant characters on the PGA Tour to claim his second US Open title to add to his PGA Championship victory during a brilliant career.

And what sadly makes Stewart's victory at Pinehurst even more cemented into golfing folklore is the fact that just four months later in October 1999 he was tragically killed in a plane crash.

So that stunning victory at Pinehurst turned out to be his final success and made one huge indelible mark in golfing history - and a fitting way to remember one of the greats of the game.

It's fitting, too, that Stewart managed to stay on top of a loaded leaderboard throughout his 1999 US Open victory, not least fending off Mickelson in the final round.

But Stewart also had Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker and David Duval chasing him down the stretch.

After a birdie on 17 gave Stewart the lead, to a thunderous ovation from the crowd, he was in trouble down the last having to chip out of the rough and faced a lengthy putt for par.

Mickelson missed from further away, leaving Stewart with a safe two-putt for bogey and a Monday play-off, or the Hollywood ending of draining it for the win. An ending that befitted the man.

"All I wanted to do was give myself a chance," a tearful Stewart said after his win - which came 12 months after losing the US Open just as dramatically. "I never gave up. I got the job done."

Stewart led from the start in the 1998 US Open, but shot a final-round 74 to lose by a shot to Lee Janzen.

"Last year after the Open I kept hearing from people, 'What a great try. What a great effort you gave it. Well, I didn't want to hear that today," Stewart added at Pinehurst. "That motivated me like you can't believe."

Payne Stewart career highlights

One of the most popular figures on the circuit, Stewart was a photographer's dream with his colourful outfits including flat caps and plus fours carving him out as a unique figure in the game.

He was far from all style over substance though, with a silky swing that anyone would dream of having, Stewart could also deliver in the big events - winning 24 titles all across the globe.

Stewart won on five different continents including 11 PGA Tour victories and titles in countries such as the Netherlands, India, Australia, Indonesia, Japan and Morocco.

Payne Stewart's statue at Pinehurst

Payne Stewart's famous statue at Pinehurst

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Far from just a classic PGA Tour golfer, Stewart travelled very well and even took to links golf with five top 10s in The Open including finishing runner-up twice in 1985 and 1990.

A five-time USA Ryder Cup player, Stewart was part of three winning teams including in 1999 at Brookline just a month before he sadly passed away.

Aged just 42 at the time of his untimely death, Stewart may well have landed a few more big titles in his career, but regardless would've been a huge figure in the game on and off the course.

Paul Higham
Contributor

Paul Higham is a sports journalist with over 20 years of experience in covering most major sporting events for both Sky Sports and BBC Sport. He is currently freelance and covers the golf majors on the BBC Sport website.  Highlights over the years include covering that epic Monday finish in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor and watching Rory McIlroy produce one of the most dominant Major wins at the 2011 US Open at Congressional. He also writes betting previews and still feels strangely proud of backing Danny Willett when he won the Masters in 2016 - Willett also praised his putting stroke during a media event before the Open at Hoylake. Favourite interviews he's conducted have been with McIlroy, Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjorn, Rickie Fowler and the enigma that is Victor Dubuisson. A big fan of watching any golf from any tour, sadly he spends more time writing about golf than playing these days with two young children, and as a big fair weather golfer claims playing in shorts is worth at least five shots. Being from Liverpool he loves the likes of Hoylake, Birkdale and the stretch of tracks along England's Golf Coast, but would say his favourite courses played are Kingsbarns and Portrush.