Payne Stewart still missed after 5 years
Payne Stewart never got to defend his second U.S. Open title. He was unable to help teammates try to retain the Ryder Cup after their dramatic comeback at Brookline, or serve as the U.S. team's captain.
His death left a void in golf still felt five years after his private jet crashed in a South Dakota field.
Stewart was deeply engrained in the fabric of golf, particularly the PGA Tour. He won three major championships. He was a fierce competitor who let his emotions show, a walking promoter of the Tour with his identifiable knickers and youthful exuberance.
He was one of the most popular players, a gentleman on the course and a practical jokester in the locker room. He brought personality to golf when the sport needed a face.
"He added a lot of flavor, a lot of color to the game," veteran Tom Lehman said. "There are definitely a lot of times that go by when you think about Payne Stewart."
Stewart's presence remains strong. When Phil Mickelson broke through to win his first major at the Masters in April, he thought of Stewart while hugging family members outside the scoring tent.
Mickelson and wife Amy were expecting their first child during the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Stewart beat Mickelson on the final hole. Then, Stewart looked Mickelson in the eyes and spoke to him about the joys of fatherhood. Mickelson's daughter, Amanda, was born the next day.
"As I was holding my kids, I thought of it, too," Mickelson said of his Masters celebration. "He was very prophetic about family. I did think about that as I was holding Amanda."
Stewart was a major player for the United States, competing in five Ryder Cups. His leadership, and especially the way he kept the team loose, was missed by the U.S. team in September, when the Ryder Cup was played on home soil for the first time since the improbable Brookline win.
Captain Hal Sutton paid homage to his former teammate with a picture he put in the team room at Oakland Hills. The framed photo showed Stewart, Sutton and David Duval spraying champagne on fans from a balcony at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
Stewart died 29 days later. Authorities later ruled that a loss of cabin pressure killed Stewart and five others aboard their chartered Learjet, which flew on autopilot for four hours before crashing.
"I felt like everybody needed to remember Payne," Sutton said.
Who knows if Stewart would have played in the last two Ryder Cups. If not, he probably would have been selected as captain.
"Every time we play one of these, we think about him," Davis Love III, who was paired with Stewart in morning foursomes at Brookline, said before the matches in September. "He is missed in the team room, he is missed as a competitor."
Stewart died the week of the Tour Championship. So the PGA Tour created the Payne Stewart Award, which is presented at each Tour Championship to a player sharing Stewart's respect for the traditions of the game, particularly regarding charitable support, dress and conduct.
"The PGA Tour, and golf in general, misses Payne, not just during Ryder Cups or major championships," Love said. "The game misses a lot because of him. He was a bright spot."
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