PINEHURST, N.C. -- Rickie Fowler was only 10 when Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999. Stewart died in a freak plane crash four months later and his championship has been given extra celebration at Pinehurst since.
That’s most obvious in the Stewart statue that stands between the 18th green and the clubhouse. But Fowler did his part to further honor the memory Thursday, donning Stewart’s trademark knickers with argyle socks.
“Payne was one of my all-time favorite players,” Fowler said. “I never had a chance of meeting him, but obviously loved watching him play and loved how he handled himself on and off the golf course.”
Fowler carries himself with a similar wardrobe flair and an energizing on-course panache like Stewart had. Fowler also recalled exactly where he was when he learned of Stewart’s death – in the back seat of his mom’s car.
“I started crying,” Fowler said.
On Thursday, Fowler’s knickers scored style points with the galleries and even with many of the players, including Phil Mickelson, who finished as runner-up to Stewart in 1999. Mickelson spotted Fowler in the locker room before Thursday’s opening round and offered a smile and a thumbs up.
Fowler then went out and shot an even par 70, putting himself in early contention. As for whether the knickers will be back on display Friday?
“This was just to come out of the gates today,” he said. “I think I'm back to pants tomorrow.”
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