Golfers Compete in U.S. Open Championship
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The US Open golf championship begins this morning at Pinehurst No. 2 in the Sandhills region of North Carolina. As the tournament gets under way, a lot of attention is focused on memories of the last Open played at Pinehurst six years ago. Commentator John Feinstein joins me now.
Good morning, John.
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's begin in the past and the tragedy of that winner six years ago.
FEINSTEIN: Well, Payne Stewart won one of the most memorable US Opens ever in 1999, made a 15-foot putt on the 18th hole, the longest winning putt in the history of the US Open to beat Phil Mickelson by one shot. Phil Mickelson was carrying a pager on him because his wife was about to give birth to their first child. The baby was born the next day. And Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh were chasing Stewart and Mickelson right to the finish. So it was an extraordinarily dramatic finish, and then it became all the more poignant four and a half months later when Payne Stewart was killed in that mysterious plane crash.
So now here we are going back to the site of his greatest victory. There's a statue to him behind the 18th green. There was a ceremony there honoring him on Tuesday evening. And obviously, he was on the minds of many of the players as they arrived here in Pinehurst for the week.
MONTAGNE: Will you talk about that dramatic finish. What is it that makes Pinehurst unique?
FEINSTEIN: The greens. They look like they're upside down, Renee. They look like you've baked something and it rose up. And if you miss the landing area, the ball is going to roll downhill for quite a while. As a result, you don't have to grow the rough very long to protect the golf course to keep the scores from being too low. The last time it was played here the rough was only about three inches long. Guys were able to play out of it fairly easily, and yet Payne Stewart's winning score was only one under par.
MONTAGNE: And Tiger Woods won the Masters in April. So where does that put him coming into this Open?
FEINSTEIN: I would think it puts him in a very confident frame of mind. He's been playing well all year. He's won three times. And I would think his confidence is 180 degrees different than it was at the Open last year at Shinnecook when he was having trouble keeping his ball on the planet.
MONTAGNE: And last year's champion; not a lot of talk about him, is there?
Mr. FEINSTEIN: There's never talk about Retief Goosen, Renee, because he doesn't talk. He's got to be the quietest guy on tour. It's funny, because his countryman, Ernie Els, from South Africa is his best friend, very outgoing. And Retief Goosen is--rarely has very much to say at all. He likes being in the background. He's the fifth-ranked player in the world, and yet you would think he's just, you know, another guy walking through the locker room unnoticed most of the time.
MONTAGNE: So what will you be keeping an eye on over the next couple of days?
FEINSTEIN: Well there are a lot of different stories at an open, Renee, with 156 players, but I'll be watching, the first couple days anyway, Lee Janzen and Mike Hicks. Lee Janzen beat Payne Stewart in 1998 by one shot at the Open, and they were very close friends. Mike Hicks was Payne Stewart's caddy for 15 years. He is now Lee Janzen's caddy. And I can imagine the memories that Mike Hicks has coming back to Pinehurst. It was he who jumped into Payne Stewart's arms when he made that putt in '99. And Lee Janzen now has become kind of a father to Payne Stewart's son, Aaron. He's played with him in father-son events, and there's a connection there between the absent Payne Stewart and that player and that caddy who now work together.
MONTAGNE: John, thanks very much.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein whose book, "Caddy For Life: The Bruce Edwards Story," is now out in paperback.
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