#19 Payne Stewart

“They wanted something natural in the area that didn’t stand out and they just wanted to mark that spot forever. So a friend and I began looking around for a rock and lo and behold we found a rock they had dug out at the crash site, and we took it over to an engraver and he shaved the front of this rock down and they put a bible verse on it and the date of the plane crash.”

Payne Stewart died in 1999, just three months after winning his 2nd U.S. Open Championship.  Payne was 42.   From what I read today, Payne was not perfect.  He was a bit flashy, and a bit cocky, and before turning to Christianity, he was just a bit hard to put up with all the time.

But by the time that he and the other 5 passengers in the Lear Jet ran into a mountain in Mina, South Dakota after flying for 4-5 hours in a decompressed cabin, he had turned the direction of his life around and headed it in the direction that everyone could applaud.  After all Payne was a fun guy, a great guy to be around, and a great golfer.

This is one of those anguished stories of “why Payne” and why now, that are just another one of those questions that will never be answered.

There are many statistics from the many golf tournaments and stories from his eleven wins on the tour that included the U.S. Open in 1991 and the PGA Championship in 1989.  But the most telling story is that of his children.  Both his daughter Chelsea and his son Aaron have successful careers and happy lives.  In regard to their father, they emphasize that he was just a normal Dad, and when he came home from the tournaments, it was just family stuff as usual.

Payne Stewart will always be missed by his family and fellow golf competitors. And of course by golf fans everywhere.  Scott Hoch, a good friend and rival may have summed it up best; “He enjoyed life, especially early on and at the end. There was a part in the middle, three or four or five years, where he didn’t enjoy life as much. He got a little too big for his britches. He became big business. He didn’t have as much time for everybody. But he changed and that is a good measure of a man. At the beginning and definitely at the end, you wanted to be around him.”

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