Friday, October 25, 2013

Remembering Payne Stewart January 30, 1957 - October 25, 1999

If you ever watched professional golf tournaments during the 90's on television, there was always one golfer that stood out from the rest.

William Payne Stewart was one of the most popular golfers in history.  With his unique style of dress, always wearing flamboyant colors that included his ivy cap, his patterned knickerbocker pants, and colorful shirts, he was one of the most admired and best dressed golfers in the history of the game.  He was also remembered as having one of the most gracefully fluid and stylish golf swings of the modern era.

Stewart was born in Springfield, Missouri and began playing golf at the age of four.  He attended high school at Greenwood Laboratory School that was part of Missouri State University.  From the time he was a child, he was well liked by just about anyone he came in contact with.  After graduating from high school, Payne attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas and graduated with a degree in business.  While in college during his senior year, he was the co-champion of the Southwest Conference.

He won his first title at the Miller High Life tournament in 1982 during his first season on the tour.  His father's death in 1985 from cancer had a huge impact on Stewart's life.  Payne donated all of his winnings in 1985 ($108,000) to a Florida hospital.  Two years later, he won his first major title, the 1989 PGA Championship.  Although Stewart was a crowd favorite, he occasionally annoyed other golfers with his self confidence and classy demeanor.

During his career, Stewart won eleven tour victories including three major titles and was 3rd on the PGA Tour's all-time money list of career earnings during the 1999 season.   He represented the US on five Ryder Cup teams and played for the US on three World Cup teams. During most of his career, he was known for his NFL sponsorship and would wear the colors of the closest NFL franchise to where he was playing.

He appeared as himself on an episode of the popular sitcom "Home Improvement" titled "Futile Attraction."

On October 25, 1999, Stewart was preparing to play in the year end tournament "The Tour Championship" and boarded a Learjet in Orlando, Florida en route to Dallas, Texas.  He planned to stop in Dallas to discuss plans for building a new home golf course for the Southern Methodist University golf program.  The plane depressurized.  The plane remained in the air until it ran out of fuel and crashed in South Dakota.  Stewart and five others aboard died from hypoxia.

Nearly 3000 people said good-bye to Stewart on Oct. 29, 1999 in the First Baptist Church of Orlando, Florida (program pictured)  It was said that the memorial service fit the personality of Stewart--emotional, humorous, unique, and unforgettable.  More than 100 of the world's greatest golfers attended the service including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton, and Davis Love.

Wristband, memorial program and recording from Payne's memorial service
The front of the church sanctuary was filled with Payne's trophies, clothing, portraits, and a bottle of Rogaine.  Music was performed by the likes of Vince Gill and Michael W. Smith.  Gill sang a song he wrote in tribute to Stewart called "Hey, God-A Tribute to Payne"Among those who spoke of Payne was his wife and daughter and pro golfer, Paul Azinger.  The back of the memorial program includes the words to Michael Smith's song "This Is Your Time"

Payne Stewart was laid to rest in the Doctor Phillips Cemetery in Orlando, Florida.  His epitaph reads "The Champion of Our Hearts."
Payne Stewart gravesite

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