The golfer still touches lives 15 years after his unlikely U.S. Open victory and untimely death
Tracey Stewart was five deep in the gallery on 18 when her husband lined up for the biggest putt of his life. She could see him, but not the hole. She craned her neck and watched the ball rolling, rolling, rolling — until it disappeared, like a magic trick. Payne Stewart and his knickers had just won the 1999 U.S. Open. Pandemonium.
This week, as the golf world returns to Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, Stewart's life and legacy will be celebrated at the scene of one of his greatest triumphs. They'll remember him as golfer and prankster, family man and friend, philanthropist and patriot.
They'll also, unavoidably, remember how they lost him. Four months after that U.S. Open, Stewart was flying in a chartered Learjet from Orlando to Dallas — with agents Robert Fraley and Van Ardan, golf architect Bruce Borland and pilots Michael Kling and Stephanie Bellegarrigue — to discuss a new golf course for Southern Methodist University, Stewart's alma mater.
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The plane was cruising on autopilot at altitude when it lost cabin pressure. Investigators theorized all on board became incapacitated by lack of oxygen. The plane flew on for almost four hours and 1,500 miles before it ran out of fuel and crashed near Mina, South Dakota.
Jon Brendle, Stewart's close friend and next-door neighbor, remembers holding Stewart's 10-year-old son Aaron in a rocking chair in the moments after they knew. How to speak of the unspeakable? Brendle told Aaron they would keep his father's memory alive by talking about him, and all the good times, just as often as they could.
USA TODAY Sports talked to 20 people —family, friends, PGA Tour players and more — who knew Stewart best. Here is the perfectly imperfect man they remember, in their own words.
Tracey Stewart is Australian and still speaks with the pleasing lilt of an Aussie accent. She remembers seeing her future husband for the first time before he was famous, love at first sight.
TRACEY: "We met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1980. I was over there with my brother and his wife on vacation. My brother was a golf professional and he was playing in the same Asian Tour. I saw him from across the room and thought he was gorgeous. I asked my brother about him but he didn't know who he was. So we played eye games for several days. I met him one afternoon right when I was ready to leave for the day so it was a brief conversation. When I went back to the golf course the next morning for breakfast he came over to the table and asked me to go to dinner that night. Of course I was pretty excited about that. (She laughs.) And the rest is history."
Payne and Tracey Stewart had two children, Chelsea, who is 28, and Aaron, who is 25.
AARON: "He was great. The biggest thing is that when he was at home he was just a regular dad, out on the lake, barbecuing in the backyard. Those are the things I remember more than that he was professional golfer in the spotlight. It wasn't like that at all when he was home. It was just normal."
CHELSEA: "I think that I was definitely a daddy's little girl. Whenever he came home he was the one I ran to. He would spin me around in the kitchen and dance with me."
Stewart often attended Chelsea's basketball and volleyball matches and Aaron's football and baseball games.
CHELSEA: "One of the more told stories would be him as a line judge at my volleyball matches. He was so intense and part of the action (as a fan) and yell and intimidate some of the girls. The solution was put him as line judge, put him right in the action where he couldn't say anything. It worked really well. He loved it."
TRACEY: "After Payne died, the kids became my fulltime job. I needed to give them my full attention until they went off to college. For Aaron, that was eight more years. I had to be the mother and the father for 24 hours a day. When I dropped Aaron off (at SMU), I just prayed to the Lord that I'd done a good enough job. They had a good grounding and a good conscience and made good choices. And basically that's all I could have done. And thankfully I'm blessed with two wonderful children."
AARON: "Like any single parent, it was very hard for my mom. Going through all the changes a boy goes through becoming an adult male. It was hard having that womanly mother figure in your life and not have the father figure there to give some man-to-man advice. That being said, looking back, I think I could have been a lot nicer to my mother. (He laughs.) I couldn't be more thankful for all that she did and all the sleepless nights and all the grief I gave her."
TRACEY: "Not at all, you were pretty good."
CHELSEA: "Well, I was a tough act to follow, wasn't I, Aaron? (Mom) is such a blessing to me. She is my best friend. And I get to talk to her every day now. You watch her and the strength and the dignity and the class she has shown over the last 15 years being both the mother and the father and the disciplinarian and the jokester. She is something to aspire to. I miss my father every day. I just went to a friend's wedding over the weekend and her father walked her down the aisle. That's not something I'm going to get to do. But I'm blessed to have my mother and Aaron and they're so strong and I'm very much looking forward to them walking me down the aisle one day."
Chelsea graduated from Clemson and is tournament services manager with The Barclays, a PGA Tour event in New Jersey. Aaron graduated from Southern Methodist, where he played golf, like his father. He is marketing director for Diamonds Resorts International in Las Vegas.
AARON: Golf "gets harder at each level you go up. I learned a lot at college. One of them is that golf is not exactly what I want to do. But I wouldn't trade the experience I had for anything."
CHELSEA: "Especially working with the PGA Tour, it is a great thing to be able to correlate my father's life and what he stood for in the game of golf and the principles of golf and the sportsmanship. I get to honor him in that way."
JOHN COOK, 20-time winner on PGA Tour and Champions Tour: "You can tell in his children who Payne was because they are great children. They are great to be around. And that was Payne."
Jon Brendle, Stewart's close friend, lived next door. The night before, Brendle invited Stewart to a night out at the House of Blues.
BRENDLE: "I said, 'Kenny Wayne Shepherd is playing. Let's go.' He says, 'Jonny, I can't. Got an early trip tomorrow, build a golf course, got a group of guys going.' I said, 'OK. You're going to miss a good show.' And we were on cell phones and I was in my front yard and looking up at him in this giant closet, with a big window, and he was packing and that was the last time I saw him. That was our last conversation. We were just trying to hook up to have some more fun like we did all the time."
TRACEY: "That morning Payne came down and made pancakes for the kids. I had a chiropractic appointment after I got the kids off to school and then I went to do some other errands. I got home and walked into the house and Gloria, our assistant, was there. She told me she had received a strange phone call from one of Payne's friends asking what was wrong with his plane. And I said that doesn't make sense because he should have been there a couple of hours ago. I immediately called him on his cell and it went to voice mail. Then the phone rang again and it was Barry, one of Payne's closest friends. And I said, 'Barry, where are you hearing this?' And he said on TV. And I turned on the TV and it was on every channel."
Brendle, who slept late after his night out, awoke to news something was wrong with the plane. He immediately went next door.
BRENDLE: "I had a key, went in the back door through the kitchen and into the office. Tracey was on phone with the airport giving them the tell numbers to ask what the status of that plane was. I was pretty dumbfounded. We turned on the TV and we could see the F-16s, video of the plane flying. I still had this strange belief that things were going to be OK. And Tracey just kind of shook me and said, 'Jonny, it's going to run out of petrol.' At that point I realized there's no James Bond stuff to really fix this.
"I was so close with those kids and I didn't want them to find out except (from their mother). I left (to pick them up at school) right then. It was a good 15- or 20-minute drive and I shut the radio off and just thought about what I would tell them. I went straight to the office and picked them up.
CHELSEA: "I remember getting called to the principal's office. And I was a goody-two-shoes who never got called to the principal's office. My ears piqued a little bit, like what's going on?"
AARON: "I was a little more worried that I was in there for different reasons."
CHELSEA: "Aaron was already there. They didn't really tell us much. They just said, 'Jon Brendle is coming to get you.' One of my best friends, her mom worked at the school and she rode with us. I remember Aaron asking, 'Can't we have some tunes?' They wouldn't turn the radio on and I knew something was going on."
BRENDLE: "We drove home and I said 'Look, guys, Robert (Fraley) and Daddy are asleep on the plane, flying out of control, nobody controlling it.' Chelsea had a shrill, 'Oh my gosh.' Aaron said, 'Let's call him and wake him up.' I said, 'There's my phone. Call him.' And he called and got Payne's voice mail. It was funny at the time. 'You've reached Payne's cell phone and I'm not with it so leave me a message,' or something like that. So Aaron left a message. We kept driving home and when we got to the corner where we lived there was already sheriff cars, police cars, news trucks. Chelsea screamed, 'Oh my God!' "
BRENDLE: "Tracey took the kids right in to her bedroom and they stayed about 30 minutes and they talked and the plane had already crashed at that point and Tracey told them the whole story. When I went in finally we sat around and talked."
Brendle, who likes to say he was Mr. Wilson to Aaron's Dennis the Menace in those days, held Aaron in a rocking chair and tried to comfort him.
BRENDLE: "At 10, there's not a lot you can say to him. We sat and rocked and had the boohoos but you can only cry so much. So we sat there and the only thought I had at the time, 'Aaron, we have to keep Dad alive with the memories of all the good times and the fun things we've done with him. We've got to talk about it and keep him alive in our thoughts.' That's where it went. Pretty bad day. Stormy Monday, that's an old blues song we listened to a lot."
The plane that left Florida bound for Texas crashed in South Dakota, on Jon and Clara Hoffman's farm.
JON HOFFMAN: "I was hosting a group of pheasant hunters, 18 or 20 guys, from Texas. The plane crashed a mile from us. We didn't have TV and didn't know what was going on, like the rest of the world. All of a sudden one of the members of our group saw a plane go down, straight down. He said, 'Boy, they could not have pulled out of that.' He did not see it crash because we were behind a bit of a bluff. We thought he was crazy but then all of a sudden all these F-16s flew right over top of us, I mean right over top of us. They were circling over the crash and they were circling and circling and circling. And it was weird, really eerie. Pretty sad day."
With a stylish, fluid swing and spotty putter, Stewart turned pro in 1979 but struggled and went to play the Asian Tour, where he won twice. He earned his way onto the PGA Tour where dedication to his craft paid off with 11 titles, including two U.S. Opens, as one of the best of his generation.
MARK LYE, former professional golfer: "As soon as he came out on the Tour in the early '80s you knew he was going to be something but you just didn't know what. I didn't think he had the capacity to win a major. He wasn't a great ball striker, or a great putter, but he had a lot more inside him that I ever thought he had inside him."
PAUL AZINGER, 12-time winner on PGA Tour: "The game dealt him a lot of heartache. He got large doses of humility through all that heartache, and that was probably good for his game and his personality. When you fail sometimes you don't want to get back in that position because of the spotlight but Payne kept getting back there and overcoming it all."
PETER JACOBSEN, nine-time winner on PGA Tour and Champions Tour: "I think Payne was really complicated as a young man, fighting for recognition. He was tough to play with, tough to be around as a young man because he kind of wanted to lead with his bravado."
SCOTT HOCH, 11-time winner on PGA Tour: "He had to be gracious in defeat because he had a lot of tough falls. He played well a lot of times and was right on the edge of winning a lot of tournaments and a lot of big tournaments. And he was gracious in defeat. When you lose you find the true character of somebody and he was gracious in defeat. He was as good as you could be in defeat. He never was a horse's ass when he lost."
LEE JANZEN, 1993 and 1998 U.S. Open winner to Stewart's runner-up each time: "We had a nice rivalry. Often I would see his name on the leaderboard and it would be an inspiration. I knew he didn't need me to inspire him but he inspired me. And I know there was a rivalry there."
In the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, Janzen and Stewart were paired in the final group in the final round.
JANZEN: "He already was a two-time major winner (1989 PGA and 1991 U.S. Open) and I'm a young guy trying to prove myself and he thought he had the upper hand as the veteran. As the day went on it was close. When I won I just wanted to shake his hand and get to the scoring tent and get on with it because I knew he just lost and I didn't think he'd want to talk with anybody. But he put his arm around me and he pulled me in and he started talking to me. He said, 'Great playing, way to go, I'm happy for you. It will change your life. Great job.' It was amazing he was so genuinely happy for his competitor that he tried to beat all day long."
There is a tendency when someone dies tragically to remember them as saints. Many of Stewart's friends say he wasn't one when they first knew them. Many also say at some point he was a changed man.
AZINGER: "I met him at the Magnolia Classic in Hattiesburg, Miss., in 1982. I had never heard of him before. He had his hair dyed blonde with little blonde tips. He was fraternizing on the putting green with a few guys and I just immediately couldn't stand him. He ended up winning the tournament and that solidified why I didn't like him because of his comments afterward, when he said the PGA Tour needed more blonde-haired, blue-eyed guys. Then when he started wearing knickers I was really sure I didn't like him. I never got paired with him because he was playing way better than me, but by 1987 I was player of the year and I started getting paired with him. And when that started I have to admit I kind of liked the guy. A lot of times your first impression, that's it. I grew to like Payne and I was sort of forced to hang out with him because our wives got along so well. And we became really good friends. Probably around 1991 Payne and I became really close. He became a guy who you knew would be there for you if you needed him to do anything."
HOCH: "He enjoyed life. Especially early on and at the end. There was a part in the middle, three or four or five years, where he didn't enjoy life as much. He got a little too big for his britches. He became big business. He didn't have as much time for everybody. But he changed and that is a good measure of a man. At the beginning and definitely at the end, you wanted to be around him."
LYE: "He wasn't a perfect guy. He was far from perfect. He drank a lot, he screwed up a lot, but at the end, after he became a Christian, he was a much better person than he ever was before."
MIKE HICKS, Stewart's caddy for nearly 12 years: "Chelsea and Aaron played a big part in Payne's transformation with his relationship with God. He started to go to church, got into a Bible study group, and they did a lot of things off the course, like go to ball games. He started surrounding himself with good people. Not that he was around bad people before. But being in that group of people, his relationship with God, it really changed him. He became a more patient person. When I first started caddying for him, he was a moody guy. The last few years he enjoyed every day. He was great to be around."
TRACEY: "We got to a point where we wanted to have more religion in our lives. It's hard when you travel on Tour and you're traveling every week. We didn't go to church a lot. If you could go to church on Sunday it means you didn't play well. So we decided when they were younger we wanted to get them in a Christian school. And they were going to camp in Missouri where Payne is from, Kanakuk camp, a Christian sports camp. We saw such a big difference in the children when they would come home from camp in their whole attitudes that we decided we wanted that to be more prevalent in their lives. And the kids bringing home what they learned at school every day and both of us realized we wanted to be better people and better parents."
CHELSEA: Kanakuk (camp) made a huge difference in my life and prompted a change in them. I think going to the academy where we went to school, learning different Bible verses every week, and that was helpful because on the way to school, mom or dad, whoever drove us, would be quizzing us in the car so we were learning it and he was learning it at the same time."
Aaron remembers bring home a bracelet from camp with the letters WWJD — for What Would Jesus Do? — and how his father took it to heart.
KEITH FERGUS, former pro golfer: "We all mature. The older we get, we mature. When he was younger he was a bit wild. The older he got he became a better father, a better husband, a better friend. When we're young, we're like lions. Sometimes we're a little rough around the edges. But as he got older he started to appreciate the other things, the more important things."
LYE: "When we were there in the First Baptist in Orlando (for the funeral) and they had the players and the caddies and the wives in one area, like a holding area before we went out for the ceremony. There was so much grief in that room. I can still feel it. It was hurt in a bottle. I literally still feel it today, because we loved that guy. We really loved him, for all his faults and his glory. He was so much damn fun. He was perfectly imperfect."
When Stewart won the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando in 1987, he gave the $108,000 first-place check to the Florida Hospital Circle of Friends in memory of his father. His charitable arm continues today through the Payne Stewart Family Foundation, a key contributor to Kids Across America, camps that bring 7,500 children from 550 urban centers to Missouri's Table Rock Lake every summer. They were founded by Joe White, Stewart's friend, who is president of Kanakuk Kamps where Chelsea and Aaron attended.
GREGG BETTIS, president of Kids Across America: "Payne had a passion to help underserved, underprivileged, under-resourced young people. When he visited Kids Across America camps he was all in. He wanted to come alongside us in our mission to serve urban young people. He had a real heart for our vision."
TRACEY: "We're very proud of that. Kids Across America has a Payne Stewart Leadership camp, a chapel, a place to study and learn. It's a great program."
BETTIS: "We're a nondenominational Christian camp, with some 35 sports and activities. Our vision is to transform urban youth to impact their communities for Christ. We raise about $5 million a year and the Payne Stewart Family Foundation is a significant part of that. Tracey and her kids came alongside to help us with the Payne Stewart Memorial, one of the prettiest driving ranges and short game golf facilities in America."
CAMMRYNN STITH, 24, former Kids Across America camper: "I fell in love with having golf in my life at camp. I won a scholarship to play golf at Jackson State and I'm very grateful for the opportunities for young people made possible by Payne Stewart."
The PGA Tour's Payne Stewart Award is given annually to those who respect the traditions of the game, are charitable with their time and money and present themselves in the most professional way through dress and conduct.
HAL SUTTON, 2007 winner: "It is so fitting it bears Payne's name because he gave back and he represented the game so well."
A year after a bitter loss in the 1998 U.S. Open when he squandered a 4-shot lead in the final round at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, a rejuvenated Stewart arrived at Pinehurst, N.C. He had won the 1999 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for his first win since 1995. On a misty Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2, he held off David Duval, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson to win his third major and last tournament, his final stroke an 18-foot putt to beat Mickelson by one.
HICKS, caddy: "He really didn't say five words to me that day. He didn't change expressions whether he did something good or when he hit a bad shot. He was as focused as I've ever seen him. Look at the leaderboard that day. David Dual was No. 1 and he was right there. Tiger, Phil, VJ, they were all right there. And here's a 42-year-old guy who withstood the pressure and won the tournament. To me that's what really sticks out.
COOK: "The golf course was really difficult. That is where Payne basically thrives, when there are difficult conditions on a hard golf course, and if you don't have the patience of a Payne Stewart, it's really difficult. The last day was brutal. It was a little bit raining, but not terrible. It wasn't cold, but it wasn't warm. If you weren't playing good, look out."
TRACEY: "I didn't walk the final 18 because there were so many people. I told him I would watch it on TV. I knew he was in the last group so they'd show every shot. As soon as he finished 17 I got in the car and drove straight over. We stayed close to the course. He hadn't hit his third shot so he was still on the fairway when I got to the green. I saw him hit the third shot onto the green. I was five-deep with people in front of me so I could see Payne but I didn't know where the hole was. After he hit that putt, I saw the ball rolling, not knowing where the hole was, and suddenly it disappeared — and the whole place went crazy. It was exciting. Then I tried to make my way towards him. So did everyone else. When I finally got about 5 feet from him I called him but he couldn't hear me because everyone was going crazy and then finally he saw me and made his way to me and he said to me, 'I did it, Lovey. I kept my head down all day, I did it.' And I said 'I know you did, love.' "
AARON: "I remember I was staying at my friend's house. We had kind of been catching the highlights with mom and dad on the phone every day. The final round on Sunday I watched every shot and when that final putt went in the entire place erupted. Everyone started yelling and running around."
CHELSEA: "I didn't watch a single shot. I was coming back from a basketball camp at Florida State and coming back to Orlando on a school bus and luckily they were nice enough to turn on the radio to the broadcast. So we could hear it but we couldn't see anything. We got back right before they teed off on 18. So I couldn't even hear anything and someone ran into the building where we had just parked and they were screaming, 'He made the putt! He made the putt!' "
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE, golf analyst: "I've always said golf reveals so much about someone. But tournament golf is like an ink blot test in that if you want to know who someone is, watch them lose, or better yet, watch them win. Watching him win the U.S. Open in 1999 and immediately realizing that when he won, somebody lost, and then grabbing Phil's face and looking at him and talking to him about the larger picture of his impending parenthood; that kind of empathy is as rare as that moment. So that tells you who Payne was as a human being."
Red, white and blue fueled Stewart's competitive nature. In 15 starts in the U.S. Open, he had seven top-10s, including wins in 1991 and 1999, plus runner-up finishes in 1993 and 1998. He played in the Ryder Cup five times, with the U.S. winning the last three he played. He had the habit of playing — loudly — Bruce Springsteen's anthem Born in the USAto get his teammates raring to go.
HICKS: "Playing for his country meant the world to him. The U.S. Open and Ryder Cup were definitely the two most important tournaments in his life."
TRACEY: "If he went to an Orlando Magic game or the Ryder Cup he always, whenever the national anthem played, had his hand over his heart and sang along. And when tax time came around he always said, 'I'm proud to pay taxes because this is the best country in the world.'"
In 1999 at The Country Club near Boston, the Ryder Cup was far from cordial as patriotic passion ignited over-the-top patron participation and one controversial premature celebration. Stewart was the anchorman that day against European stalwart Colin Montgomerie, who was the biggest target of verbal abuse. The Yanks' historical comeback was capped when Stewart graciously conceded his match to Montgomerie on the 18th hole after the U.S. had wrapped up victory.
MONTGOMERIE: "That was the kind of guy Payne was. He conceded the putt during the competition. I was having particular troubles with the crowd and he was brilliant with me even to the detriment of his own game all day. From the first tee he was brilliant. And at the end, when he conceded the putt, that showed you the class of the man."
HICKS: "That concession proved to me he had come a long way. The Payne Stewart I first caddied for would been thinking about his individual record in the Ryder Cup. So that's how far he had come as a person and as a professional. The Ryder Cup was over and we had won and that was the most important thing. What he did with Monty showed a lot of class. And that day was just incredible how bad Monty was treated. We were walking to the 10th tee and someone threw a beer at him and a lot of it got on Monty's wife. It was brutal. And Payne tried to make Monty as comfortable as he could. Payne went into the crowds and pointed out people and told them to knock it off or have them escorted out."
Stewart was never just a face in the crowd. With his big personality and unique attire — knickers and Tam O'Shanter cap — he was one of a kind. He stood out at a barbeque in his backyard, a pub anywhere in the world and on every golf hole he played.
PHIL MICKELSON: "My favorite memory of Payne was from the (1999) Ryder Cup after we won and he was standing around with a cigar in his hand and these wild flower sweatpants lit (up) and partying that night. And I think that was the last time I saw him. He knew how to have a good time and knew how to celebrate. And he also was a fierce competitor. That's a great quality when you can be intense and focus at one moment and then enjoy your successes in another moment."
JACK NICKLAUS: "He was a fun-loving, joking guy, a little bit of a wise-guy. He'd come along, always have a little needle for you and this and that, you give him a little needle back. And he liked that. Give him another needle. I think that was the game he played with everybody. I enjoyed it."
In 1993 at Nicklaus' tournament, The Memorial, Azinger holed a bunker shot on the final hole to beat Stewart by one shot. Azinger went to his locker and found bananas stuffed in his expensive loafers.
AZINGER: "It was a good hour after I made the bunker shot to beat him and I had made my way up to the locker room. I remember sitting down and I opened my locker and everything seemed normal. But things weren't quite as they seemed. When I saw the bananas in my brand new shoes, I knew he was OK with what had happened.
" … Payne was different from everybody else because he wanted to be different. And Payne always made a difference. Always made a difference. He was a great cook, a terrific family man, he loved sports, and he loved beer. He was the life of the party. He was a guy's guy, even though he wore knickers."
When the Stewarts moved to Orlando, they stayed at Hoch's residence as base camp for their home search.
HOCH: "Funny thing, early on, he was in the kitchen with his skivvies on in our house. We told him to be right at home but that's being home a little too much. But he was comfortable with anything. And they were tight whiteys, too."
HICKS: "We celebrated the 1999 U.S. Open win in my house. He spent the night and was that a celebration. We drank everything we could out of the trophy. Finally went to bed at 4 a.m. I never saw him so happy and he was so at peace with himself.
SUTTON: "I used to give a hard time about the knickers. I used to ask him all the time what it was like to stop at a 7-Eleven on the way home. I asked him if people gave him a hard time when he walked in there. And he'd laugh and just say, 'You're just jealous.' He had a good spirit. He was the right guy to pull those outfits off. He had the right physique and everything. And he had the inner peace to do that. Most people couldn't do it."
COOK: "We were playing a practice round at Augusta and he had this set of fake teeth that were really rotten and terrible looking teeth. And he'd keep them in the golf bag during practice rounds. And were walking off the second green and he put them in and said watch this. And there were these little old ladies who were in love with Payne and they were right near the exit way to go to the third tee. And they go, 'Oh Payne, will you stop and take a picture with us?' And he said sure and he put the teeth in his mouth and they went aghast at how bad he looked. 'Oh Payne, you should get your teeth fixed.' He just loved to have fun, to be a jokester, to poke fun."
TRACEY: "And he'd come home with these gnarly teeth in and come over for a kiss and I'd be, 'Oh, yuck, go away.' He was always trying to make us laugh."
There is a memorial to the six people who died on the plane that crashed on Jon and Clara Hoffman's South Dakota farm, put up about a year later with input from the families.
HOFFMAN: "They wanted something natural to the area that didn't stand out and they just wanted to mark that spot forever. So a friend and I began looking around for a rock and lo and behold we found a rock they had dug out at the crash site, and we took it over to an engraver and he shaved the front of this rock down and they put a bible verse on it and the date of the plane crash."
To this day, every so often someone calls and asks for directions. Hoffman thinks maybe 70 or so pilgrims have visited over the years. He sees no great cosmic significance in where the plane came down.
"That's where she ran out of fuel, that's all. And if a plane had to come down, that was an excellent spot. Didn't hurt anybody on the ground, didn't hit a city. It's just a nice little area out in the middle of nowhere. Robert Fraley's brother came out just a few days after that plane crash. He looked, and it's in this little depression, we call it a draw. He was very sad because he had lost his brother, and we were down in this little draw and he said, 'This is beautiful.' He had a little tear in his eye and he said, 'You know, Jon, everything from here goes straight to heaven.' And that's what I always think of."
VIDEO: Three reasons we remember Payne Stewart
USA TODAY Sports' Steve DiMeglio discusses the legendary golfer as this year's U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst No. 2.