Looking back, Dr. Coop doesn’t think Stewart’s improved performance was an accident.
“I think that was one of the first places he committed to doing something more structured rather than just playing by feel," he said. "He was better with his pre-shot routine, using his intermediate target fairly religiously, and he had a game plan for the whole round. Those things sound simple today, but, for him, those things were not simple.
"Those things were like a rope around his neck because he did not like structure. That was kind of the ‘buying in’ time that I saw during that tournament. He bought in early that week to ‘structure plus feel.’”
Added Hicks: “He was flawless that week. He hit it great. He made putts. We shot 16 under which was the tournament record.”
Stewart shot a 69 in that final round, his fourth consecutive round in the 60s, to win by five shots and tie another tournament record for largest margin of victory. And this was no fluke win or against lesser competition. Other than Perry, the names behind Stewart on the final leaderboard -- Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Lanny Wadkins -- would all eventually be in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
"When he won The Heritage, it kind of kicked it all off for him,” Jacobsen said. "When he won at Sea Pines, it set him apart as a player. That golf course is so demanding. He became a force to be reckoned with.
"He was no longer Avis.”
It was Stewart's fourth TOUR win, but this one felt different. He seemed different.
“That win really pushed him over the top, confidence-wise," Hicks said.
Stewart went on a roll. He nearly won The Memorial and Buick Open. Then at the PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes in August, Stewart fought back from an opening 74 with three consecutive rounds in the 60s. With four birdies on his last six holes, he chased down the leader, Mike Reid.
When Reid struggled coming home, Stewart won his first major championship.
Recalled Hicks: “He shot 31 on the last nine holes to get into position. Obviously, Reid kind of messed up coming in, but (Stewart) still posted the score. And that happens a lot of times -- especially when you’re trying to win your first major like Mike was -- someone posts a score, and it’s hard to handle it.”
Stewart had now won twice in one season for the first time in his career. He finished second on the money list and surpassed the $1 million mark for the first time in a season. He won the ’89 Byron Nelson Award for lowest scoring average on TOUR.
And he did not slow down.
Back at Harbour Town in 1990, he became the first player in tournament history to successfully defend his title. This is no small accomplishment; the roster of RBC Heritage champions reads like a Who’s Who in golf history. In each of the tournament’s first 23 years, its winners had either already won a major championship or would finish their career with a major.
The ’90 RBC Heritage victory was also significant because it was his first win in a playoff; he beat Steve Jones and Larry Mize in sudden death. Two weeks later, he won the rain-shortened Byron Nelson Classic in front of his SMU friends in Dallas, ridding himself of the demons from five years earlier. He finished the ’90 season third on the money list.
But the following season, Stewart was slowed down by a nerve problem in his neck. He missed 10 consecutive weeks on TOUR in the winter and spring, including the Masters.
In addition to Stewart’s physical health issues, Dr. Coop was concerned about his psyche.
“With him, you had to really look closely," he said. "He hid a lot of his emotions. I think the thing with him was getting too confident or not getting confident enough. It was always a balancing act. There was a yin and yang always going back and forth with him. He would get too high or too low pretty fast.
"Trying to find that middle point was the hardest thing with him. And he would tell you that was the hardest thing for him to do, too.”
Not surprisingly, Stewart chose Harbour Town for his return to action in 1991. The Pete Dye design demands so much out of a player: work the ball both ways off the tee into tight doglegs; hit crisp iron shots into the proper pocket on the greens; and get up and down from some awkward spots if – when – you miss the greens.
The unique challenge seemed to bring out the best in Stewart. He finished tied for fourth at the RBC Heritage, regaining his confidence and reviving his season. The U.S. Open at Hazeltine National was just a few weeks away.