Payne Stewart

Remember when … there was a PGA Tour professional nicknamed "Avis"? There was, and it wasn't seen as a desirable nickname. You see, the nickname wasn't because the golfer was a spokesperson for Avis like Steve Stricker. The nickname took because the golfer in question “always finished second”. Finishing second on the PGA Tour requires sublime talent -- most tour golfers would be happy to have the ability to take home a second place finisher’s paycheck. But “Avis” wasn't completely happy with the nickname.

"I want to win but if I started turning down all these second-place checks, my banker would kill me." -- Payne Stewart, 1987

The nickname for Payne Stewart was well-known, yet was never really fair. He already had two PGA Tour wins before the nickname really took hold but when he won the Hertz Bay Hill Classic in 1987 for his third tour win, the Orlando Sentinel ran the headline "Avis Wins Hertz". Despite many second-place finishes, Stewart would eventually win 11 tournaments in two decades as a pro. Those 11 wins included three majors -- the 1989 PGA Championship, the 1991 U.S. Open, and the 1999 U.S. Open. The last major -- the 1999 U.S. Open -- created one of the most indelible images in the history of golf when he sank the final put on the 18th hole.  

The fist pump and leg kick while wearing plus fours and argyle socks are immortalized in a statue.

Four months later, Payne Stewart was gone. He and five others sadly passed away in a plane crash 18 years ago next Wednesday (October 25, 1999), after missing the cut at the National Car Rental Golf Classic at Disney. His LearJet had lost cabin pressure, the occupants were incapacitated, and the plane flew on autopilot until running out of fuel. Since 2000, the PGA Tour's Payne Stewart Award has been given to the golfer who best exemplifies character, charity, and sportsmanship.  

More recently, ESPN's Hannah Storm directed a short about Stewart's widow Tracey for the ESPNW Nine for IX series available here.

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