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Best U.S. Open Player

Best U.S. Open Player

Best U.S. Open Player

Or maybe Best U.S. Open “Performer” is more accurate.

(The growing case for Payne Stewart’s deserved golf immortality.)

First off, I will apologize for not including Jack Nicklaus (four career U.S. Open wins in 44 appearances) here. It’s just that being a man that was born in 1979, I didn’t have the opportunity to see the greatest golfer ever to play in his prime. So, I believe I deserve some sort of exception (If you don’t like it, feel free to express you displeasure in the Comments Section below.).

Nicklaus started playing in the U.S. Open at age 17 and went on to win four times in 44 tries. But he's not the best "performer," according to our writer.

Nicklaus started playing in the U.S. Open at age 17 and went on to win four times in 44 tries. But he’s not the best “performer,” according to our writer.

Additionally, being a huge Tiger Woods supporter (yes, even to this day) — and because I think nobody can move the needle quite like Tiger — but still I’m going to pass over Woods as well. His dominance seems to be fading — fast.

Despite the enduring images of '08, Woods is not our writer's pick for best U.S. Open "performer" either.

Despite the enduring images of ’08, Woods is not our writer’s pick for best U.S. Open “performer” either.

I’m going to say Payne Stewart should be recognized as one of the greatest U.S. Open players, or maybe performers is a more accurate term. Here’s why: I was recently watching The Golf Channel where they showed a replay of the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst Course No. 2, where it’s being played this very week in 2014.

Who then? Duh. Payne. '99. Those pants. Of course.

Who then? Duh. Payne. ’99. The putt. The punch and kick. And those pants. Of course.

When I turned it on Steward was around the 14th or 15th hole, and the other names on the leaderboard were Vijay Singh, Woods, Tim Herron (Minnesota homer reference) and Phil Mickelson.  At that moment I realized how amazing that was — I am used to first-time Major winners occurring about three out of four times a year (if not more), and never have I seen Mickelson versus Woods coming down the wire at a Major championship.

How did I miss this? And who is this Payne Stewart guy who gets up and down from everywhere and has ice in his veins on every putt?

My memory of Stewart is clouded by his colorful old-school outfits and his tragic death in a plane accident months after his big win.

But, I never knew (or forgot) that Stewart also took down three Hall of Famers to win that Pinehurst U.S. Open.

When is the last time you saw Woods, Mickelson — and let’s say Ernie Els and Tom Lehman (another Minnesota homer reference) battling it down the back nine at a major? It’s always Woods or Mickelson it seems over the past decade and a half. Oh, and some other guy is three that if he walked by you at the grocery store later that day you wouldn’t be able to recognize. I just thought it was sweet to see that many recognizable names on the leaderboard.

And that putt Stewart hit to win it was fantastic. I got the same goose bumps when Woods hit his close-out putt at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Since Woods is slipping, I grasp to the “what could have beens” for Stewart. I think it’s fair to say he would have won three or four U.S. Opens — and justified my theory.

 


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