In mid June of 1999, one day after Payne Stewart's historically clutch 15 foot putt to win the U.S. Open, I stood over a 15 foot putt of my own.
It may not have been to win the U.S. Open, but it was equally important for my career.
I was on the 18th green at the Monday Qualifier for the Nuevo Laredo Shootout, the Mexican Mini-Tour's 4th Major (Glory's Last Shot), trying to hole a putt that would give me a double-bogey free 81 and a spot into the all important 12 for 1 playoff.
The stakes could not have been higher.
As I stood over the putt, I attempted to channel my inner Payne. "Keep your head down" I mumbled to myself. "Keep your head down" I softly repeated.
Truth be told, I thought about pulling the trigger right then, but instead found myself debating whether I should say it one more time?
Then, for some unknown reason, at that exact moment I began to wonder whether Ernesto remembered to grab the Kenwood 'pull out' stereo from my Miata before the round. It cost over $300 and it had my Def Leppard 'Hysteria' cassette in it.
FOCUS DAMMIT !!! WHY ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT A CASSETTE TAPE RIGHT NOW!!!!
As my lower back started to tighten up, I decided to go ahead and say it one more time....
"Keep your head down".
Now some doubt was creeping in, because on that 3rd rendition I felt like I said it a little faster than the others, like I really didn't mean it. As if I was going through the motions.
At this point, so much time had elapsed since I addressed the putt that I had totally lost my sense of the line and speed. I thought about stepping off and restarting but I knew everyone would be annoyed by that so I rigidly maintained my posture.
Like a child jumping off a diving board for the very first time, I hesitated, paused, flinched, hesitated, paused, jerked, paused....then pulled the trigger.
Two cups right and a foot short.
It never had a chance.
As I left Nuevo Laredo and headed for the tour's next stop (Reynosa), I became angry.
Why do all of Payne Stewart's clutch putts go in and mine don't? I asked myself.
What was he born with that I wasn't?
It became an issue of fundamental fairness.
To me and others like me, great putters on the PGA Tour at that time (Tiger, Duval, Don Blake) were seen as hurtful symbols of the talent disparity that existed between those who could make putts, and those of us who couldn't.
As Brad Faxon was making putt after putt, cashing check after check, I was down in Todos Santos fighting off demons by experimenting with a left handed, 'stand alone' belly putter.
Ask yourself: Is that a level playing field?
From the games inception, great putters have enjoyed an inherent and unfair advantage simply based on a skill they were born with.
I call it "Putting Privilege"
And nothing symbolizes the stain of Putting Privilege more than the statue Pinehurst erected in 2001 of Payne Stewart celebrating his iconic putt. It's an 'in your face' monument to the ugliness of putting inequality.
For me and the thousands like me who have never made a clutch putt, Payne's statue is a hurtful reminder of the unfairness that has existed in this game for far too long.
There is only one remedy.
Payne's statue needs to come down.
I don't think we should rest until this monument is defaced, ripped from its pedestal, dragged down the 18th fairway and set on fire. It's the only way great putters can be cleansed.
Once the ashes cool and the smoke clears, we need to "come together" as a community of golfers and replace Payne with a more suitable player. One who more accurately symbolizes putting mediocrity....like Johnny Miller, Sergio Garcia, or maybe a late '80's Tom Watson.
If Pinehurst refuses, then we take the next logical step by looting the pro shop until the only thing left is a shredded Peter Millar quarter zip and a charred Pinehurst #8 poker chip ball marker.
It's time for Jack, Tiger, Phil and Payne to be held responsible for their actions.
Enough is enough.