“I’m going to a special place when I die, but I want to make sure my life is special while I’m here..”
Payne Stewart will forever be known for his flawless golf swing on the PGA Tour, flamboyant outfits, and a life cut short by a tragic accident. He was a winner at every level of play, including the Missouri Amateur Championship, the Southwest Conference Championship in college, and the PGA Championship. He was poised to win many more honors before a fateful flight claimed his life when he was only 42 years old.
THE EARLY YEARS
William Payne Stewart was born on January 30, 1957, and grew up in Springfield. His father was a champion golfer, so it didn’t take much for the youngster to develop an interest in the game. His father, Bill Stewart, was actually his first golf coach who taught him the finer points of the game that translated into the graceful style that he displayed on the professional tour.
RISE TO FAME
Stewart accepted a scholarship to play golf at Southern Methodist University, where he quickly adapted to the higher level of play. He was a standout at SMU where he won the Southwest Conference Championship in 1979 and became an All American in the process. He came back to Missouri during summer breaks where he picked up the title of Missouri Amateur Champion. His next step was the Asian Tour where he picked up a few more titles, and also a wife. He met Tracey Ferguson during a tournament, and they married a few years later.
Life on the minor tours was difficult, but the hard times paid off in 1982 when Payne finally got the chance to play on the PGA Tour and won his first event at the Quad Cities Open. He quickly became a fan favorite with stylish clothes and dramatic flair, but he later became a target of sports writers who claimed that Payne could never win the big one, which changed during a tournament in his own backyard in Orlando, Florida.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
The first big win for Stewart was at the Bay Hill Classic on Arnold Palmer’s home course. Over the next few years, the press was relentless on him for failing to win a major tournament championship. Then came the 1989 PGA Championship, in what many sports enthusiasts call the best championship in history. Payne was still reeling from a disappointing loss the previous year, so he focused his sights on finally winning the major. The outcome of the tournament came down to a
fifteen-foot putt on the very last hole, which Stewart made, giving him a coveted major championship win and a spot in golf’s history books.
He went on to win the U.S. Open in 1991 and 1999, represented the United States on five Ryder Cup teams and three World Cup teams. He ended his pro golfing career with eleven Tour wins, more than $11 million in earnings, and a place in the hearts of golf fans around the world.
One month after his team rallied to win the Ryder Cup in 1999, the golfer and five other people died while flying in a private jet. Investigators say the aircraft lost cabin pressure, which killed everybody on board. Television viewers around the world were glued to pictures of the plane flying on autopilot across the country until it finally crashed in South Dakota. The nation mourned the passing of a legend, as he left behind a wife, two young children, and millions of devoted fans. In 2001, just two years after his death, Stewart was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
*A golf course in Springfield is named after Payne and his father, Bill.
*Michael Jackson was one of the prospective buyers for Payne Stewart’s mansion in Orlando.
*He was ranked eighth in the world at the time of his death