Payne Stewart was following me.
It started on the drive west to Hazeltine National Golf Club from the Mall of America. I was flipping through some old golf images on my phone and came across a scroll-stopper: Stewart on Friday of the 1991 U.S. Open, head-to-toe in Miami Dolphins teal and orange, crouching off the edge of the 16th green. Behind him, two spectators in a canoe peered through binoculars from Hazeltine Lake. The longer I looked, the more I realized how little I actually knew about the golf course I was approaching.
I had forgotten that eight years before Stewart was fist pumping and squeezing Phil Mickelson’s face at Pinehurst in 1999, he outdueled Scott Simpson in an 18-hole Monday playoff at Hazeltine to grab his second major title. Just like I needed a reminder that Tiger Woods had been beaten there, not once, but twice—the legends of Rich Beem and YE Yang were born on this brilliant green patch of Minnesota land.
If there was one person who could get me up to speed quickly, it was Chandler Withington. After stints as an assistant Seminole and Merion, the slender, Bob Ford-stamped pupil arrived as Hazeltine’s new head professional in 2013. But once on the ground, he found that despite already hosting seven USGA championships, two PGA Championships and soon its first Ryder Cup since its 1962 opening, the club hadn’t fully embraced its remarkable resume.
“One day I walked into a room down here and saw boxes of stuff just sitting there,” Withington says as he leads me down the stairs past the kitchen and into the bowels of Hazeltine’s sprawling clubhouse. “And I’m like, ‘Guys, this is Tony Jacklin’s scorecard from 1970. We need to catalog all of this.’”
And so in addition to his regular job, Withington became responsible for building and maintaining Hazeltine’s Heritage Room. After punching in the combination to the vault’s electronic lock pad, he swung open the heavy door and we stepped into the time machine. Ryder Cup locker nameplates, Tiger’s sun-faded Frank headcover, a computer database with every shot ever broadcasted at Hazeltine, a small Rich Beem shrine, you name it.
While admiring some Ryder Cup hockey sweaters (we were in Minnesota, after all), a nickel-plated sand wedge in a nearby staff bag caught my eye.
“That was Payne Stewart’s,” says Withington. “You can see where he nicked it in the hazard on No. 8 in the ’91 playoff.”
I pulled it out gently and flipped the face to find a small rock chip towards the heel side of the sole. Dirt was still in the grooves.
Tanner Grimmius and Brent Borgstahl grew up two blocks from each other in rural Minnesota. They stayed tight through high school and college, but jobs, marriage, children and the myriad chores of real life have limited their meetups to a few golf outings per year. When the 2-Man was announced at Hazeltine, they had to team up for old time’s sake.
After a slow start through their first six holes, the best-ball pairing arrived at No. 7 looking to take advantage of their length. If you remember, the PGA of America flipped the same water-guarded par 5 to play as the 16th hole during the 2016 Ryder Cup, where it served as a risk-reward amphitheater down the stretch. In a moment overshadowed by the morning Rory McIlroy/Patrick Reed match, Ryan Moore arrived there down two to Lee Westwood. With only three to play, Moore hit the shot of his career: a 243-yard, cutting hybrid that settled inside 10 feet of the back-right pin. He would win the hole and proceed to steal 17. After Moore nestled his birdie attempt close enough on 18, Westwood removed his cap, and the US were officially Ryder Cup champions.
Back on No. 7, Grimmius stared down a similar back pin with hybrid in hand. The lefty’s approach barely covered the front edge, and he managed to two-putt from 60 feet. The birdie steadied the ship, and Borgstahl soon found something in his driver. After a birdie on 17, Borgstahl smashed a drive down to the flat on 18, leaving a wedge up the hill to a pin in the narrow front portion of the green. He managed to squeeze it 10 feet right and past it, which left a slippery look at birdie. When it rolled in the heart, Borgstahl’s right fist clenched, and his back foot came off the ground ever so slightly as he punched it through the air.
It wasn’t quite Stewart in ‘99, but it was close enough.
“We’ve been to the Masters, Bandon Dunes and other golf trips together,” Grimmius said after the round, “but winning the Broken Tee 2-Man tops the list.”
That night at dinner, we hung on every word as Withington regaled the 100-plus TGJ Members in attendance with tales from inside the 2016 Ryder Cup team rooms. My favorite was how Tiger stood up following their win and explained to the team why it was so important everybody celebrated without regrets that night. He told them how he’d snuck away to bed following Team USA’s win at Brookline in 1999, only to hear someone knocking on his door a few minutes later. It was Stewart.
“I’ve got nothing left,” Woods told him. “You guys go ahead without me.”
“I’m not leaving without you,” Stewart replied.
“What’s the big deal?” asked Woods.
“The big deal is you never know if this will happen again, so you try to make it last as long as you can,” Stewart said.
“Payne, we’re going to win this every two years.”
“You don’t know that.”
Woods ended up getting dressed and going back down to celebrate. He has yet to play on another winning Ryder Cup team. Payne Stewart passed away three weeks later.
The morning after a night of celebrating another successful 2-Man with the team TGJ like true Ryder Cup champs, I sat in a hotel room with my dad, staring out at the rain that had washed out our morning golf plans. We were disappointed, but satisfied after playing White Bear Yacht Club, Golden Valley and Hazeltine over the last 72 hours. Much like Grimmius and Borgstahl and everyone else, the world has done its best in keeping us apart these last few years, and living on opposite coasts from my parents doesn’t help. Luckily, we share the love of a game that sometimes allows us to meet in the middle.
I turned away from the window and an alert flashed across Golf Channel on the hotel TV. Justin Rose had won the 2021 Payne Stewart award.
- Net champions: Gavin Monger & Adam Weiland
- Field size: 104
- Course yardage: 6,600 yards
- Previous Broken Tee 2-Man locations: Ballyhack Golf Club(‘20), Trinity Forest Golf Club (‘19) and Goat Hill Park (‘18).
- Former winners in the field: Jeff Ober (‘20 Gross), Joel Morgan (‘20 Net)