Editor’s note: This story was originally published in April 2020. We’re revisiting it now as part of our year in review.
North Carolina’s Mike Hicks is a caddie legend.
A looper on the PGA Tour since 1980, Hicks currently caddies for Vaughn Taylor.
But Hicks’s most famous boss was the late Payne Stewart.
Hicks and Stewart were together for 11 years, up until Stewart’s tragic death in an airplane accident on Oct. 25, 1999.
Over that decade+ run, Stewart and Hicks won nine events together worldwide, including three majors: the 1989 PGA Championship, as well as the 1991 and 1999 U.S. Opens.
The ’99 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 — just months before Stewart’s death — is the most notable.
Hicks, along with his longtime friend and fellow caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan, was a recent guest on The Caddie Network’s ‘Caddies United,’ podcast.
Over the course of the conversation, Hicks was asked about his fondest memories of that magical week at Pinehurst.
Here’s what he told us…
“There are two things that stand out,” Hicks said, “1. The one thing that I really remember – and it didn’t happen during the tournament – it happened on the Sunday before. We had missed the cut in Memphis and that was a blessing in disguise, because that tournament did not finish until Monday, which meant that those guys who were playing the U.S. Open could only play two practice rounds – Tuesday, Wednesday. So, we had missed the cut and I flew home immediately on Friday night, went to Pinehurst on Sunday morning, got my work done. Payne showed up Saturday afternoon with his swing coach and they walked around the course and just chipped around the greens and putted. He didn’t have but two clubs – his wedge and his putter.”
Hicks then met Stewart the next day at 10 a.m. Cook and Coop were both there. Once Stewart arrived, he told Hicks he wanted to have a chat.
“He comes down, puts the bag down and says, ‘Come here. I want to talk to you,’” Hicks said. “So we go, we move away from Dick and Chuck. He looks at me and he says, ‘You know, you didn’t do a very good job last week.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I know. I mean…’ Usually, with Payne, I was always in his ear talking. That’s what he wanted. And I’ll admit it. My mind was elsewhere. It was on Pinehurst. And he was the same. I could tell from the start of that week at Memphis that he really wasn’t with it. So he says to me that Sunday morning, ‘You know, you didn’t do a very good job last week.’ So I said, ‘Yeah, I know. But I think we both were looking to this week.’ He just smiled at me and said, ‘Yeah. You’re right.’ That moment really sticks out to this day. I’ll never forget that.”
A year earlier in the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Stewart finished runner up to Lee Janzen. But not at Pinehurst. At Pinehurst, Stewart canned a clutch putt on the 72nd hole to edge a young Phil Mickelson and earn his third and most satisfying major win.
As the dust settled a few hours later at Pinehurst, well, that’s where part-two of Hicks’s story begins…
“We win the tournament, obviously, the next Sunday,” Hicks said. “I was doing a charity event, here at my club (the next day). I had Fred Couples, Paul Azinger, Hal Sutton and Payne Stewart doing a Skins game for the North Carolina Children’s Hospital. So, that night after we win, we drove the hour and a half back to my house. Here I am – I’ve got Payne Stewart, probably 20 of my closest friends in my area, in my community. We’re all drinking out of the U.S. Open trophy. He got a call from the president of the United States in my house. I had him there that night. The celebration was in my home that night.”
That night… and morning.
“I think we shut it down at like 4 a.m.,” Hicks said. “We’re the last two up and I’m sitting on my kitchen counter. He’s at my kitchen table and he’s bombed. His head is back and forth, and I say, ‘Hey, dude, it’s time to go to bed. We gotta get up at 9.’ He said, ‘You’re not going to bed until I tell you to go to bed!’ Then his head went back down on the table. I jumped off the counter and went to bed. Somehow, he made it up to his bedroom and I went up and knocked on his door at 9. He got up, came down about 30 minutes later and looked like he had slept for 20 hours. He was fine. He was ready to go. I had a great day that day. I had a great day that day. Skins game on my course, you know, there was probably 5-6,000 people out there, U.S. Open trophy in the clubhouse. It was just a special, special day. One that I can’t imagine many – if it’s ever happened to any other caddie, where the winner of the tournament spent the night in the caddie’s home and celebrated in his home. That was a memory that’ll be with a lot of people that were involved that night and people still talk about it to this day that live here in my community. Those two things really stick out for that week.”