Payne Stewart isn’t a man we should idolize.
Like all humans, Payne had his faults. Over the course of his 19-year PGA Tour career, he challenged authority and pushed the buttons of everyone around him. He was the quintessential jokester, always pulling a prank or applying the needle to someone. He was moody. With his caddy, Mike Hicks, with his wife and especially with the media, Payne’s temperamental behavior was disconcerting. People often said early in Payne’s career that when he opened his mouth, they didn’t know which Payne they would get.
Indeed, Payne had a beautiful golf swing. But “Avis”– as he was insincerely nicknamed on Tour— was ironically, not known as the ‘hardest worker’. Scott Hoch said in a recent USA Today article that Payne “enjoyed life, especially early on.” Mark Lye, another one of Payne’s peers on the PGA Tour, talked about Payne’s liking of beer and late-nights. None of this translates to a Tiger Woods’ style work-ethic. Don’t get it misconstrued– anyone who makes it on the PGA Tour works hard, but Payne didn’t stand above his fellow PGA Tour players in this aspect of his career. We need to admire hard-workers, right?
In 1999, I remember life as a 9-year old boy watching the Pinehurst U.S. Open with my dad. I was cheering for Phil Mickelson. I thought the beeper story was so stressful. I wanted Phil to “hurry up and win already” so he could go be with his wife. When Payne made the putt, I was not a happy camper. But I remembered the way Payne embraced Phil. I didn’t think much of it, but I remembered.
Upon the ages of my puberty, I read Tracey Stewart’s biography of her husband Payne’s life. He instantly became my favorite golfer. I loved reading the stories of mini-tour golf in Asia and the anecdotes of his day-to-day. Payne lived life. It was odd, admiring a man and a golfer whom I could no longer watch. I would envision barbecues with Payne and a handful of other PGA Tour players, picking their brains about golf and listening to jokes. While reading, he felt like an uncle of mine. He seemed so real. Payne never hid behind veils. He lived as boldly as the knickers he donned.
Payne took his playing career very seriously, but made it clear where his priorities stood. He was a man of character– the family-first type. He loved his wife. He followed and supported his kids. He played harmonica in a music group with his closest friends on Tour. He was a man of perspective.
Today, Payne’s legacy lives on with the award in his namesake and the people he touched over the 42 years of his life. When I was in college (thanks to my college golf coaches Brett and Jenny Coluccio), I was fortunate enough to visit Payne’s childhood hometown of Springfield, Missouri, play the course built in his honor and mingle with one of his oldest friends (Jenny’s father, Mike Schneider). It was great getting to know Payne, without actually doing so directly.
I look at myself and I think about my personality and my idiosyncrasies. I draw the similarities I have to Payne. I too, struggle with controlling my tongue and sometimes get obnoxious and loud in social gatherings. I speak my mind on things which maybe I shouldn’t. But like Payne, I am a man who treasures my faith in Jesus Christ. I work to communicate with people and make their days ones that are better. I love golf. In a way, I don’t only idolize Payne, but embody him– if not only a little.
So why should we not idolize Payne Stewart? Well, because I don’t think Payne wouldn’t want us to. He would want to have a beer with us, tell stories, share laughs, talk about faith and be people. It was Payne’s way anyway.