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Plane crash kills Stewart

The Associated Press

Not with the fancy clothes that brought images of golf at the turn of the 20th century.

Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Not with the fancy clothes that brought images of golf at the turn of the 20th century. Not with that gorgeous, relaxed swing that brought him three major championships and respect in the five continents on which he won.

When Stewart put his mansion in Orlando, Fla., up for sale, one prospective buyer was Michael Jackson. The pop singer had no idea who the owner was until his manager told him Stewart was the golfer in the colorful knickers.

”Oh,” Jackson said. ”That guy.”

Stewart was so much more. He embodied the spirit of the Ryder Cup. He played with grit and he won with grace.

On Monday, Stewart boarded a Learjet 35 that he co-owned for Dallas to consider a golf course design project. The plane flew uncontrolled for hours before crashing in South Dakota, killing Stewart and at least four others aboard.

”This was one of the most terrible tragedies of modern-day golf,” said Arnold Palmer, a former neighbor when Stewart lived in the Bay Hill development of Orlando.

Jack Nicklaus, who feared one of his golf course designers was also on the plane, recalled the graceful swing, indomitable spirit and contagious humor.

”Payne was just coming into his own, and it is truly saddening that he has been lost in his prime,” Nicklaus said. ”He will be sorely missed by anyone who ever knew him or had the pleasure of watching him play.”

Perhaps Tiger Woods best summed up the shock that hit the PGA Tour on Monday when news spread that Stewart was dead at age 42.

”There is an enormous void and emptiness I feel right now,” he said.

Also on the plane were two agents from Leader Enterprises – Robert Fraley, the chief executive officer whose clients included New York Jets coach Bill Parcells, and president Van Arden.

Nicklaus said Bruce Borland, 40, was believed to be on the same flight. Borland’s wife said she talked to an employee who had greeted her husband at the private jet airport and confirmed he intended to board the flight.

After a stop in Dallas, Stewart was on his way to the Tour Championship in Houston, the end-of-the-year tournament for the top 30 money-winners. Stewart was No. 3 on the money list at just over $2 million, his best season ever.

The pro-am today at Champions Golf Club was canceled. The tour said his spot in the field will not be replaced.

A blue ribbon was attached to his nameplate in the parking lot.

”It is difficult to express our sense of shock and sadness over the death of Payne Stewart,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. ”This is a tremendous loss for the entire golfing community and all of sports.”

Disbelief followed praise as word spread through the tight-knit community of professional golfers that spans the oceans.

”A true sportsman on the course and a gentleman off it,” said Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, choking back tears. ”We have lost a precious man and someone who still had good years ahead of him.”

Curtis Strange was leaving a news conference in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where he was named Ryder Cup captain for 2001, when he saw the first television reports.

”We have lost someone who is truly a great ambassador for the game,” Strange said.

Stewart’s finest moment in a 20-year professional career came on Father’s Day at Pinehurst No. 2, the famed course in North Carolina that became a stage for great drama.

A year after Stewart lost a four-stroke lead in the final round of the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, he trailed Phil Mickelson by one stroke with three holes to play, then one-putted the final three greens for a stunning victory.

His 15-foot par putt on the last hole was the longest ever to decide the Open in its 105-year history. Stewart thrust his fist in the air, an unforgettable image, let out a roar and later broke down in tears.

”He was a great credit to golf and to our country,” said former Masters and U.S. Open champion Billy Casper. ”Golf lost a great man.”

The U.S. Open secured a spot in the Ryder Cup for Stewart, who could wear the Stars and Stripes as easily as his knickers. He never apologized for his patriotism, something he carried to all five of his Ryder Cup appearances.

While Stewart had an edge to him at times, and was especially surly during an eight-year slump during which he won only once, he never lost his respect for golf’s traditions.

He stood up for Colin Montgomerie as the boorish Boston crowd at The Ryder Cup hurled vicious insults at the Scotsman. With the cup already decided, Stewart conceded Montgomerie’s final putt.

”He had a real reverence for the game,” Peter Jacobsen said. ”As a golfer, his record speaks for itself. He was loved by many people.”

Born Jan. 30, 1957, in Springfield, Mo., Stewart went to SMU in Dallas. He graduated with a business degree in 1979 and spent two years playing around the world. He met his wife, Tracey, while playing in Australia.

They had two children – Chelsea, 13, and Aaron 10.

Stewart’s first breakthrough came in 1989 when he won his first major, the PGA Championship, at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago. Two years later, he won the U.S. Open at Hazeltine by defeating Scott Simpson in an 18-hole playoff.

He reflected on his career last week before the Disney Classic, where he missed the cut.

”There were times when … I played very poorly and I wasn’t having fun playing golf, and I didn’t want to continue,” he said. ”I had a wakeup call to the fact that this is what I’m good at, and I’m still good at it.”

Part of his turnaround was a newfound faith, drawn to church through his children.

”I’m a lot older and I’m a lot wiser. I’m more mature,” he said earlier this year. ”I’m not going to blink and miss my family growing up. When I’m out at the golf course, I’m going to prepare myself to be the best I can. And when I’m home, I’m going to be a father.”

He also said his faith in God had blossomed. ”I’m so much more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been in my life,” Stewart said after winning the Open. ”Where I was with my faith last year and where I am now is leaps and bounds.”

Stewart won more than $11.7 million in a PGA Tour career that began in 1980. He was ranked No. 8 in the world and was third on this year’s money list with just over $2 million.

Stewart had planned to go to Spain next week for the final World Golf Championship event, and still had the Grand Slam of Golf next month for the winners of this year’s major championships.

”It is shocking. It’s a tragedy. I can’t even comprehend the scope of it,” Woods said. ”None of us can right now.”