|Subject: Archive: Payne Stewart, Oct. 25, 1999
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Date Posted: Saturday, October 26, 04:33:51pm
Even casual fans could recognize Payne Stewart on the golf course, with the trademark knickers, or plus fours, that he wore during competition. But beyond his colorful apparel, Stewart was recognized and appreciated for his talent and his competitive spirit.
Demonstrative and outgoing, Stewart was one of the world's best golfers, a two-time winner of the United States Open. And he was enjoying the finest year of his career when he was killed yesterday at the age of 42 in a plane crash in South Dakota.
A winner of 18 tournaments worldwide during his 19-year career, Stewart won three major championships -- this year's Open, the 1989 Professional Golfers' Association Championship and the 1991 United States Open. He was third on this year's tour money list with more than $2.07 million. His career earnings on the tour totaled almost $12 million.
But it was his victory in last June's United States Open, the signature triumph of Stewart's career, that secured his status as one of golf's most popular and accomplished players. After staging a riveting duel down the stretch with Phil Mickelson at Pinehurst, N.C., Stewart sank a 15-foot par putt on the final hole to win by one stroke. It was one of the great pressure putts in golf history, the longest putt ever to decide the Open on the final hole in its 99-year history. It was also a memorable climax to what would be Stewart's final victory on the PGA Tour.
''It is difficult to express our sense of shock and sadness over the death of Payne Stewart,'' Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner, said.
Stewart lived in Orlando, Fla., near many of his peers, including Tiger Woods, one of Stewart's teammates at this year's Ryder Cup. Stewart was one of the most enthusiastic members of the team, which staged an incredible rally on the final day to win the cup back from the Europeans last month.
''It is shocking,'' Woods was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. ''It's a tragedy. I can't even comprehend the scope of it. None of us can right now. There is an enormous void and emptiness I feel right now.''
With a beautiful swing and a superb short game, Stewart solidified his place as one of the game's top players this year, accomplishing his two biggest goals -- winning the United States Open again and making the team for the Ryder Cup, the international competition that is held every two years. Meanwhile, Stewart talked openly about his newfound peace and maturity because of a renewed faith in God. After winning the Open in June, Stewart took an extended vacation, determined to savor his victory.
''When I won the Open the first time, I didn't take enough time to enjoy it,'' Stewart said. ''This time I'm going to enjoy it.''
Stewart had tears in his eyes after his victory at Pinehurst, proving to himself and to others that he was still one of the game's best players. In a classic back-nine duel on that Sunday with Mickelson, Stewart made pressure putts on the final three holes, but it was the last putt that will live in history. When the putt at No. 18 dropped into the hole to clinch his victory, Stewart raised his fist and let out a scream as the gallery roared with him.
The victory was even more impressive because the 1998 United States Open had been bitterly disappointing for Stewart. He took a four-stroke lead into the final round, but he lost to Lee Janzen by one stroke.
Before this year, Stewart had not won on tour since 1995, and there were those who wondered whether Stewart would ever win another major, or perhaps even another PGA tournament. But that loss motivated Stewart to new heights. He started this year strongly, winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in March, then winning the Open three months later.
Those two victories helped earn Stewart a spot on this year's United States Ryder Cup team, and Stewart made no secret that he believed his presence would help the United States win back the cup.
Though Stewart was not at his best during the Ryder Cup, winning only a half-point, his enthusiasm helped unify the team. One of his teammates, Mark O'Meara, joked about Stewart's habit of playing Bruce Springsteen's song ''Born in the U.S.A.'' on the stereo in the team's lounge.
''If we hear Bruce Springsteen, we know Payne's around,'' O'Meara said at the time. ''That's the way Payne is. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He's great. What you see is what you get.''
Ben Crenshaw, the United States Ryder Cup captain, said he would remember Stewart as ''the life of the party,'' and cited something Stewart brought to this year's cup team: Ping-Pong. He insisted that the team have access to a table to help wind down from the cup matches.
Stewart began wearing the colorful plus fours because he wanted to stand out from the crowd.
''Early in my career, I went to the driving range and I looked down the way, and there was a guy dressed exactly the same as me,'' Stewart said. ''I decided right then that I would do something different.''
Stewart was born in Springfield, Mo., on Jan. 30, 1957, and attended Southern Methodist University. He turned professional in 1979 after graduation.
His first victory came in the 1982 Quad Cities Open, and it was a special one because it was the only tournament his father, William, saw him win. William Stewart, who introduced his son to the game of golf, died in 1985, and when Stewart won the Bay Hill Invitational two years later, he donated the winner's check to a hospital in his father's memory.
Stewart's first major championship came in the P.G.A. Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago in 1989, when he beat Mike Reid by one stroke. Two years later, Stewart won his first United States Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., defeating Scott Simpson in an 18-hole playoff.
Then came tougher times, when Stewart won only once on tour between 1991 and 1998. He had sometimes exhibited a gruffness, and he was severely criticized in the summer of 1990 for his seeming insensitivity to the issue of racial exclusion raised at that year's P.G.A. Stewart said players were not concerned about the issue, which he said was a news media creation. ''The players have probably made more jokes about it than anything else,'' he said.
Yet as he recovered his golf game through the 90's, he also refurbished his image, transforming himself from someone who might brush past reporters or fans when he was upset to one of the most approachable players on the tour.
''I'm a lot more mature and happier,'' he said earlier this year. ''I've learned what's really important.''
He also cited a newfound faith that he said he was drawn to by the involvement of his children, 13-year-old Chelsea and 10-year-old Aaron. He is also survived by his wife, Tracey, and his mother, Bee.
Stewart's place in this week's Tour Championship, an elite event for the year's top 30 money winners, will not be filled. Normally, an absent player would be replaced by the next player on the money list. A blue ribbon was tied to his name plate on his parking space at Champions Golf Club in Houston.
The tour announced that today's pro-am tournament at the Tour Championship had been canceled and that the normal tournament schedule would resume tomorrow, pending further information about memorial services.
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