‘The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Forever’ by Kevin Robbins (2019)

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.

2014 Documentary on Payne Stewart’s remarkable U.S. Open win in 1999
Payne

‘Moment of Glory: The Year Tiger Lost This Swing and Underdogs Ruled the Majors’ by John Feinstein (2010)

Moment of Glory recounts the story of golf’s major championships in 2003 – a year with four first-time major champions. From the vantage point of 2010, Feinstein looks back at the 2003 season and chronicles the careers of the those 4 champions – Ben Curtis, Mike Weir, Jim Furyk and Shaun Micheel.

In 2003, Tiger Woods began work on a complete remodelling of his swing resulting in a dip in performance to the extent that he didn’t seriously compete in any of that year’s majors.  This left a vacuum which was filled by 4 first time winners whose lives would all change.

The most fascinating part of the book was the focus on what major victories meant for the 4 and the comparison with how the runners up fared after the tournaments.  Feinstein also pays close attention to the nearly-men who came so close to winning those 4 majors – none of whom had won a major and all who would be heavily impacted by the experience of coming so close but missing out.  The insight into how a single putt could change two different golfers’ lives really helped to put the stakes at play into perspective.

TIger-Woods-Mike-Weir-golfaustralia

For me the book suffers from the fact I have already read, and really enjoyed, two of Feinstein’s other golf books – A Good Walk Spoiled and Q School.  In a lot of ways this felt overly similar in chronicling the challenges of professional golfers outside the very very top rung.  The book is well written and a very enjoyable easy read that benefits from Feinstein’s accessible writing and clear ability to put to interviewees at ease.  I just feel like I’d already read the book before in some ways.

Overall, I’d recommend it.  I think it actually works even better reading it now in 2018 when we have more info at our fingertips on how the players careers have progressed since 2010 as well.  Amazingly, after this book was published, both 2011 and 2016 also saw 4 different first time major winners crowned.

While it isn’t Feinstein’s best book, it’s well worth picking up as the long wait for next season’s Masters begins post Ryder Cup.

Moment of Glory