Commentary: Stewart’s memory lives on in Augusta
by John Bednarowski
sportseditor@mdjonline.com
April 12, 2014 04:03 AM | 1689 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Payne Stewart’s likeness joins that of his 1999 Ryder Cup teammates as part of a mural on the facade of a building in Augusta.
<BR>The Augusta Chronicle
Payne Stewart’s likeness joins that of his 1999 Ryder Cup teammates as part of a mural on the facade of a building in Augusta.
The Augusta Chronicle
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AUGUSTA — The Masters and Augusta National Golf Club are synonymous with the city of Augusta.

But drive downtown and you find a small part of the city dedicated to the Ryder Cup.

There, over Bill’s Place, a liquor store on the corner of 5th Street and Broad Street — just two blocks from the Savannah River and only 5 miles from Amen Corner — there’s a mural of the 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team that stretches the length of the building.

One of the focal points of the painting is a profile of the late Payne Stewart.

It was out of respect that Bill Prince, owner of the package store, decided to commemorate the team and pay homage to the three-time major champion, who tragically died at the age of 42 in a plane crash, only weeks after the American team’s near impossible rally at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Prince did so through the artistic impression of locally renowned artist William Fahnoe.

“He usually painted one for me every four or five years,” said Prince, who added that Augusta native Larry Mize had come to his store to see a mural Fahnoe had done of Mize’s famous chip-in to win the 1987 Masters. “This time, I wanted to commemorate Payne Stewart and the great comeback victory of the Ryder Cup team. It was only a few weeks after that (Stewart) was dead.”

The mural is done in four segments.

From left to right, it depicts the players running onto the 17th green to celebrate after Justin Leonard made a dramatic 45-foot putt to seal the victory, a large image of the Ryder Cup trophy, and then two rows of portraits depicting Stewart, the other 11 players on the American team that year — Leonard, David Duval, Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman, Davis Love III, Jeff Maggert, Phil Mickelson, Mark O’Meara, Steve Pate, Hal Sutton and Tiger Woods — and captain Ben Crenshaw.

Ironically, the current mural replaced one depicting Augusta National co-designer and President in Perpetuity Bobby Jones, which Fahnoe had painted four years earlier. The change was something Prince said he had no second thoughts about doing.

“All the players in the mural are still connected to the Masters,” he said.

That’s true. Crenshaw, Mickelson, O’Meara and Woods have won the tournament, and the others had all played in the event. But since Stewart was the main inspiration for the mural, you can’t help but begin to wonder what he would have looked like dressed as a Masters champion.

If you close your eyes it’s an easy sight to imagine — Stewart dressed in his traditional plus-fours or knickers, probably in a soft yellow or beige with the matching Ivy hat, all wrapped in a green jacket.

“It would have been nice,” O’Meara said with a great big smile and a laugh. “It would have been so nice.”

Stewart didn’t have the best Masters record, but he was competitive. His best showings came when he finished eighth in 1986 and ninth in 1993.

To that point, they were his only top-10 finishes, but Stewart arguably played the best golf of his career in 1999. While he could only muster a tie for 52nd that spring in Augusta, he won at Pebble Beach early in the season and the U.S. Open that summer. It was good enough to win more than $2 million, and he finished seventh on the money list.

With his free-flowing golf swing and superb iron play, it would be nice to know how golf history would have changed if Stewart had four or five more years of his prime, and a handful more trips down Magnolia Lane.

O’Meara thinks Stewart would have had a good chance to win.

“To play here, you have to have imagination and great touch,” he said. “Payne had that.

“He would have been a great champion and a welcome member to the club. He meant a lot to golf and we all miss him.”

Despite it nearing the 15th anniversary of Stewart’s death and the “Miracle at Brookline,” Prince said the mural is still in good shape and there for all to see. The only things different are the colors, which have faded thanks to the beating they take in the afternoon sun, but he refuses to redo it out of respect for Fahnoe, who passed away in 2009.

However, Prince did add there may be one way he could consider changing the mural.

“Well, I’m definitely not planning on taking it down tomorrow,” Prince said. “But if Larry Mize should win the Masters again, I might have to think about putting him back on the wall.”

Considering Mize is 55 years old and past his competitive prime, Stewart and the 1999 Ryder Cup team should have their place overlooking downtown Augusta for a long time to come.

John Bednarowski is sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal. He can be reached at sportseditor@mdjonline.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski.
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