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  • Chris McAndrew

Payne Stewart Grave - Horrific Death

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Winning in golf didn’t come easy for Stewart. While he was in college at Southern Methodist in Dallas, Texas he didn’t win any tournaments until the second semester of his senior year when he won three times. After college he needed more training before he could make the PGA tour so he headed off to play golf in Australia and Asia. It was in Asia where he met a young lady by the name of Tracey who later became his wife. He also won two tournaments in Asia while he was there.


His father only got to see him win once on the pro tour when he won the tournament now called the John Deere Classic in Illinois in 1982. Shortly after that his dad got cancer and passed away from it.


Stewart was a three time major winner first winning the PGA Championship in 1989 then winning the US Open in 1991 and again in 1999 just about four months before his death. A month before his death he was a part of the American team that came from behind to win the Ryder Cup. He also finished in a tie for 8th at the Masters in 1986, but he never cared for the Masters too much because he wasn’t one of the best putters on tour.


Some of the people who were closest to him say Stewart wasn’t satisfied in life for many years despite all of his success at golf, and having a loving wife and family. There was something missing.


He was extremely competitive and could be rude and obnoxious to other players while also being egotistical at times. But he always had a caring loving side as well. In 1987 after winning at Bay Hill he donated his entire check to a children’s hospital. When Paul Azinger was diagnosed with cancer Stewart drove to go visit with him many times just spending time with him fishing and doing other things. He also put his caddie Mike Hicks on salary even though no other caddie he knew of was on salary at the time. When Mike’s wife got pregnant Stewart told him he could take all the time off he needed, and he would continue to get paid.


But, according to former PGA tour chaplain Larry Moody, Stewart would make fun of other players who went to a weekly Bible study that was held on tour telling them they were obviously bad people who were sinning and that explained why they needed to go to Bible study.


Things started to change for Stewart in his final two years on earth. The Stewart’s sent their kids Chelsea and Aaron to First Academy School which was part of First Baptist Church of Orlando. They also made sure the kids were at a Christian summer camp every year. At one of those camps both of the kids accepted Jesus as their savior, and they made sure their dad knew about it.


Stewart started going to a men’s Bible study led by former Major league baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser. Orel taught Payne that being accepted by God is not based on the good works we do, but rather on faith in Jesus.


In 1998 Stewart made the decision to commit his life to Jesus Christ, but he didn’t let too many people know about his decision until his son Aaron gave him a WWJD bracelet which stands for What Would Jesus Do and told him to let more people know about his decision to accept Jesus. So Payne wore the bracelet and started explaining to people who asked about it what it meant to him.


After winning his second US Open Championship in 1999 pictures of him wearing the bracelet were broadcast around the world.


Four months later the Learjet 35 with registration N47BA took off from Orlando at 9:19 am Eeastern time. At 9:27 Air traffic control in Jacksonville told the pilot to climb and maintain flight level at 39,000 feet. The pilot responded to this in the affirmative, and that was the final transmission from the plane. When it hit Cross City Florida it was supposed to take a left on its way to Dallas. It did not make any sort of turn and just continued flying straight.


Jacksonville tried to contact the plane multiple times starting about six minutes after the previous transmission to no avail. Eventually F16 jets were sent to check on the plane with one of the pilots saying he couldn’t see into the plane due to the windows appearing to be frosted over with ice which is a sign of cabin depressurization.


As the plane continued to fly high above the ground word spread around the PGA that a golfer was on the plane. A lot of pros were taking flights out of Orlando that day after playing in the National Car Rental Golf Classic at Disney World. An event Tiger Woods won. Some news shows began to toss around the idea Woods might be on the plane. He said he was at the Isleworth Country Club in Florida, and when he showed up at the men’s grill there, people were saying they thought he was on the plane. He said his phone was blowing up and everyone thought it was him.


Friends and family members of other golf pros were calling their loved ones praying they were ok until eventually news got out that Payne Stewart was on that flight.


A couple of F16 fighter jets followed the plane as it continued its flight for about four hours until it eventually crashed into a field in a remote part of South Dakota. The plane left a large crater, but there was no fire since it had run out of fuel.


It’s impossible to know how many lives were changed because of Stewart’s death, but we know of one for sure.


One of Stewart’s childhood friends Darin Hoff said he flew from Indiana to Orlando for his friend’s memorial service. He said he spent the majority of the trip thinking about what a different person Payne had been for the past couple of years.


He said, “At the memorial service, I realized that I didn’t have what Payne did. It was like God was standing right there calling me to come to Him. My life was changed forever on that day, and I know I will never be the same.”


Stewart was born in Missouri, and part of his remains are buried in a cemetery there, while the rest of his remains are buried here in the town he and his family were living in when he died.


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