Amazing Sports Stories 6: Payne Stewart

If golf is an art, Payne Stewart was the colour.  Friend and fellow PGA golfer, Paul Azinger

A golfer and a gentleman

by Roger Childs

Payne Stewart US OpenHe died in a plane crash in South Dakota in 1999 at the height of his career. Compared with greats like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart only won three majors, yet nonetheless has become a golfing legend.  He has had roads and a golf course named after him; he was admitted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001; there is a statue of him at Pinehurst Resort and the Payne Stewart Award is presented annually to a PGA golfer. What makes this guy so special?

A talented golfer

Payne Stewart had a stylish and fluid golf swing: one of the best in the modern game. He regularly drove around 266 yards, usually with deadly accuracy, and when his career was tragically cut short had averaged just under 70 a round.

Payne Stewart statueHe won a total of 11 PGA tournaments including three majors: the PGA in 1989 and the US Open in 1991 and 1999. The latter victory was at Pinehurst Resort, North Carolina, where six years later New Zealand’s Michael Campbell would win the same title.

To remember Payne Stewart’s last victory, a statue of the man in characteristically triumphant pose, now stands near the first tee at Pinehurst.


Style, colour and sportsmanship

Payne Stewart was a stylish golfer and there was plenty of style about his clothes too, which harked back to a bygone era. His on-course wardrobe invariably included

  • tam-o-shanter cap
  • colourful shirt
  • patterned pants
  • plus fours: knickerbockers tucked into long socks.

PS clothesThe colour, flamboyance and skill he brought to the game made him a great favourite of golfing fans the world over. On hearing of his death, a television announcer remarked: We have lost one of the most colourful players the game has ever known.

He was a self confident, candid and sometimes emotional player, but he always respected the traditions of the game and his fellow players. He once said The game is about sportsmanship.

In 2000, a year after his death, the PGA established the Payne Stewart Award to be given annually to the player who showed most respect for the traditions of the game. The ceremony each year is always emotional and the 2012 winner Steve Stricker was in tears as he said Payne Stewart was a remarkable man, one I look up to.

The ultimate tribute

Payne Stewart was hugely popular with other players. Although many have driven further, won more PGA tournaments and averaged less per round, the Missouri born sportsman is a golfing legend, because of the flair, dedication and sportsmanship he brought to the game.

An estimated 5000 people attended his funeral in October 1999, however it was the following year that a wonderfully appropriate tribute was made to Payne Stewart.

~ The place: Pebble Beach

~ The occasion: the 100th US Golf Open

~ The date: Thursday June 15 2000

US OPENReuters described what happened:

Twenty prominent players lined up along the fairway with Stewart’s caddie Mike Hicks at the front and, on command, simultaneously struck shots over the cliff, the white golf balls soaring high above the mist rising off the water.