Can you believe that we are approaching the 15-year anniversary of the Duel at Pinehurst? I was reminded of that remarkable display of golf drama between Phil Michelson and Payne Stewart as this year’s US Open makes its return to the site of the duel. For those not familiar with one of golf’s greatest moments – one that would have made a fine script for a Disney sports movie – here’s my recreation of that awesome day. And for the faithful of the sport, let this be a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
It was the final round of the 1999 US Open and the crowd was giving a round of applause to Stewart, who had just annihilated a downhill 25-foot putt in order to stay tied atop the leaderboard with the then No. 2 ranked Michelson. The significance of the amazing putt by Stewart would be the first act of drama that would ensue for the Duel at Pinehurst. I imagine it was a huge confidence booster for Stewart as well, since he had squandered a four-stroke 54-hole lead just a year prior.
Fresh off the adrenaline of the putt, Stewart was four feet away from a birdie and had Mr. Momentum starting to swing in his favor. As expected, Stewart followed up with a birdie. Then Michelson missed his putt wide right. Stewart was now seemingly in control with a one-stroke lead going into the final hole. But would a win be this concrete and easy for Stewart? Not exactly.
One of the most memorable 18th holes in the history of the sport would follow. Mickelson took two shots to the right of the green and was 25 feet away from his target. Stewart, on the other hand, encountered difficulties from thick rough, which left him 15 feet short of the back-left hole. At this moment it appeared that a playoff wasn’t out of the question. But Stewart still had a less complex putt than Michelson, who had the challenge of the sidehill. Phil ended up putting well, but his shot stopped one inch from the hole. This opened the door for Stewart, who sank the 15-foot par putt to redeem his failure to close the previous year. The Duel of Pinehurst was in the bag and Stewart was now a two-time US Open champion and three time Major winner. Unfortunately, Payne never got a chance to defend his title as he died in a tragic plane crash less than five months after outdueling Michelson.
The Duel of Pinehurst highlighted the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the human drama of athletic competition, and it still holds us in sway 15 years later on the anniversary of the great golf spectacle. It is a reminder of how much we miss Payne Stewart and all the golf legends like him who are no longer with us. Time sure flies.