Jun 22, 2009

Most Memorable Sports Moment #5

USA Wins Ryder Cup/Payne Stewart Dies

One of the sports I have learned to really enjoy watching over the last few years is golf. I have always liked to play golf and sometimes would watch an occasional major tournament, but never really followed golf until September 1999. One of the main reasons for that year was I had started to really follow the career of Payne Stewart. Payne had been a great golfer for many years who struggled to win the major tournament. He won the PGA championship in 1989 and the US Open in 1991. However, his win at the 1999 US Open at Pinehurst had tons of drama. He beat out up and coming golfers David Duval and Tiger Woods and won an epic battle against one of my now favorite golfers, Phil Mickelson.

I had never really followed the Ryder Cup until 1999. The Ryder Cup is a golf format held every two years featuring the best gofers in the US against the best golfers in Europe. Prior to the 99 Cup, Europe had dominated for several years. The US entered with some hot golfers - Tiger, Payne Stewart, Duval, Jim Furyk, Davis Love, and Mark O'Mera. Europe had a strong field as well. The US started the competition on Friday with the foursomes and was throughly trounced by Europe, ending Friday down 6 points to 2. (Each team gets a point for a match win, 1/2 point for a tie). In the Saturday competition, the US failed to make ground and ended with a 4 point defecit (10-6). This meant that the European team only had to grind out 4 points in 12 individual matches on Sunday, a seemingly easy feat. However, the US guys came out on fire! They dominated the singles matches, winning the 8 of the first 9 matches. The competition came down to a late match between Jose Maria Olazabal and Justin Leonard. Leonard fought back to come to the 17th hole needing to drain a 45-foot putt to secure 1/2 point and win the Ryder Cup for the US. He drained it and all America went crazy! It was the kind of drama that makes sports so entertaining.

One of the key players in keeping the American hopes alive was Payne Stewart. He jumped and celebrated with his teamates and wrapped up an incredible year for him - US Open and Ryder Cup wins. One month later, Stewart would board a small plane headed to Dallas, TX. On route, the plane lost pressure, killing all inside. The world watched in horror as this plane randomly flew off course and then crashed in a South Dakota field. Payne would be a guy who in his later years on tour would be known as a strong family man and a devout follower of Jesus Christ. Through some friendships with other Christian golfers on tour, Payne had come to a personal faith in Jesus and had an influence on many on the Tour in his life and an even greater impact on the world after his death. Watching those events - the US Open win by Stewart, the Ryder Cup comback (with Stewart), and the subsequent plane accident that took Payne's life - would have a dramatic impact on me and became together one of the most memorable sports moments of my life.