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Three legends presented Payne Stewart Award

A year ago, players wore knickers and tam o'shanter caps in the final round of the Tour Championship to honour Payne Stewart, the U.S. Open champion who perished in a plane crash.

A new memorial began today when the PGA Tour presented the inaugural Payne Stewart Award to three of his idols -- Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus.

"Payne treasured the friendships he shared and he had a tremendous amount of respect for these three men,'' his widow, Tracey Stewart, said in a ceremony on the 18th green of East Lake Golf Club.

"He greatly admired their achievements and contributions to golf,'' she said. "But more importantly, he valued their integrity and their leadership.''

Stewart and five others died Oct. 25, 1999, when his LearJet to Dallas flew uncontrolled until it ran out of gas and plunged into a field in South Dakota.

The accident took place on the Monday as players were heading to Houston for the Tour Championship.

Three weeks later, the tour announced the Payne Stewart Award to honor players who shared Stewart's ideals -- respect for traditions, presentation, character, community work, and charity.

Commissioner Tim Finchem said the nominating committee was split on who should receive the first award -- those who already have established golf's traditions, or a younger player who tried to emulate them.

"We have elected this year to honor those who have set the standard, and who Payne Stewart himself tried to emulate," Finchem said.

Nelson, 88, and Palmer came to the ceremony. Nicklaus had a previous commitment with the Boys Club of New York.

"I've received so many honors. I said 25 years ago I didn't think I'd get any more,'' Nelson said. "And each one gets more important.''

He called Stewart one of his "absolute great friends,'' a relationship that began when Stewart won the Byron Nelson Classic in 1990.

"That was one of the highlights of my life as far as association with people that think right, act right and love the game of golf,'' Nelson said. "That is the thing that I hope all of us professionals will continue to do.''

Stewart also won Palmer's tournament, the Bay Hill Invitational, in 1987, and donated his prize money to a local hospital. Palmer said Stewart often came to his office to talk about where golf was going.

"The tragedy has affected all of us,'' Palmer said. "I suppose that one of the things that's very important -- and I hope will come out of this -- is that young people understand what Payne Stewart meant to the game of golf. They have a responsibility to carry on the traditions and things that are important in golf."

Most of the players attended the ceremony, although it wasn't as emotional as what they went through a year ago when they were in shock.

Paul Azinger, Stewart's best friend on tour, wasn't sure he would ever get over it. He spoke Monday night at a fund-raiser for a women's crisis and pregnancy center, and couldn't get through his speech when he brought up the plane crash.

"I couldn't talk,'' he said. "I just had to stop. At some point, I'll be able to get through that. Closure is something that comes at different times. I don't think you can put an anniversary on anything and call it closure.''

 

 

 

 

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