Payne Stewart was a colorful character and major championship winner in golf in the 1980s and 1990s whose life was cut short by a plane crash.
Date of birth: January 30, 1957
Place of birth: Springfield, Missouri
Date of death: October 25, 1999
PGA Tour Victories:
• U.S. Open: 1991, 1999
• PGA Championship: 1989
Awards and Honors:
• Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
• Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1999
• Payne Stewart: "My father always said the easiest way to set yourself apart in a crowd is by the way you dress."
• Mark O'Meara: "Payne was an extraordinary person with extraordinary flair, and he went out on top - on top of his game and on top of life."
• "Payne" was his middle name. His first name was William.
• A year after his final victory at the 1999 U.S. Open, and months after his death, Stewart was honored when 21 of his friends on Tour opened the 2000 U.S. Open by simultaneously hitting balls into the ocean at Pebble Beach - a 21-ball salute.
• The PGA Tour annually presents the Payne Stewart Award to a golfer who represents Stewart's commitment to charity and respect for the game.
Payne Stewart Biography:
Payne Stewart's life ended tragically in a bizarre airplane crash, just months after Stewart won his third major championship. But it was a life in which Stewart made an impact on golf through his play and his passion.
Growing up in Missouri, Stewart learned golf from his father, who played in the 1955 U.S. Open. Payne went on to much amateur success and played collegiately at Southern Methodist University.
He turned pro in 1979, but failed to make it through Q-School qualifying. So Stewart went overseas, winning a couple times on the Asian Tour. He returned to America after two years and this time played his way on the PGA Tour.
Stewart was a hit with fans immediately because of his talent and because, well, he just looked like a golfer. But a stroke of marketing genius soon turned him into a true star.
Stewart first dressed in knickers for a tournament early in 1982. The fans liked it, so he wore them again at the 1982 Quad Cities Open for what turned out to be his first win on the PGA Tour. His style of dress was entrenched after that: and old-style get-up consisting of colorful knickers or plus-fours and colorful socks, along with a tam o'shanter on his head. Stewart always stood out on the course.
Early on, however, he was tagged as someone who didn't win as much as he should based on his talent. Stewart had near-misses at three majors in 1985-86, and was the loser in four playoffs around this time.
However, when he won his first major at the 1989 PGA Championship, Stewart silenced that criticism. He won two more majors in the '90s, both U.S. Opens.
And his victory at the 1999 U.S. Open was special. Stewart dueled Phil Mickelson down the stretch, taking the lead with a birdie at No. 17. He struggled with his tee shot and approach on the final hole, then faced a 15-foot par putt. Miss it, and there'd be a playoff.
Stewart rolled in the par putt - the longest ever made on the final hole to win a U.S. Open - then thrust his fist into the air while kicking his leg out behind him. It has become an iconic pose, one now enshrined in bronze at Pinehurst, site of that '99 U.S. Open.
But in October of that year, Stewart's life ended. He was on board a plane taking off from Orlando, Fla., and heading to Texas. Somewhere along the way, the plane took an unexpected turn and began heading north, up through the Midwest. Air traffic controllers could get no response from the plane.
An F-16 fighter jet pulled alongside and tried to contact the crew. There was no response and the windows were fogged over. It was determined later that a cabin leak caused the plane to slowly lose air pressure, rendering the crew and passengers unconscious.
In a bizarre scene played out on television news channels, the plane continued to fly on autopilot. Air Force pilots were authorized to shoot it down if it appeared headed for a populated area, but it finally ran out of fuel and crashed in a field outside Aberdeen, South Dakota. Stewart and the five others on-board were already dead from hypoxia - lack of oxygen - before the crash.
Since 2000, the PGA Tour has presented the Payne Stewart Award to golfers who uphold the traditions of the game and work on behalf of charitable causes.