Payne Stewart was always memorable. His distinctive clothes, his colourful personality and his return to major-winning form in his 40’s ensured he received plenty of attention and coverage. When he died tragically in 1999, the golf and sporting world was shocked.
Kevin Robbins excellent book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart, tells 3 stories. Firstly it does an incredible job as a biography of a charismatic, fascinating golfer who died before his time. Secondly, it captures brilliantly the last 12 months of his life and career as he won his third major and returned to the very pinnacle of the sport. Finally, the book is also a meditation on the evolution of professional golf from a game of shot makers to a game of power hitters using cutting edge, scientifically designed, golf clubs.
Robbins doesn’t shy away from some of Payne’s less pleasant behaviour. He paints a picture of a brash, talented but at times uncaring man who, with the help of his loving wife and his rediscovered faith, grew into a more rounded, loving family man. That this maturing of Payne as both a golfer and a man comes just before his death makes it feel all the more tragic.
Robbins covers the plane crash and the reactions of those who knew Payne is significant detail. It is impossible to read without feeling intense sympathy for those who knew and loved him.
The third story, of the evolution of the game, is really fascinating. The turn of the millennium, and the death of Payne Stewart, marked the end of the ‘shotmakers’ era as power-hitters like Tiger Woods, David Duval and Phil Mickelson began to drive the ball to previously un-imagined lengths changing the way courses could be set up and the way professional golf could be played.
Robbins clearly had great access to Payne’s family, friends and other golfers. It is a sympathetic yet honest account of a charismatic yet flawed man who had a huge impact on those around him. It’s a brilliant book which I highly recommend.