News Articles

Friends, family, colleagues remember Payne Stewart

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–More than 2,000 people — including Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and other well-known figures from the world of professional golf — filled the auditorium of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., Oct. 29 to celebrate the life and faith of Payne Stewart. The 42-year-old two-time U.S. Open championship winner was killed with five others in the Oct. 25 crash of a small jet.
Stewart was described by friends and colleagues as a man “comfortable in his own skin” with “the common touch,” one who took time for his wife and children, who cared about others and whose life was dramatically changed when he got serious about his relationship with Jesus Christ.
Among those offering eulogies was fellow golfer Paul Azinger, whose faith in the face of cancer inspired Stewart to move — in Stewart’s words — “in a more spiritual direction.”
Azinger brought both laughter and tears to those attending the memorial service, appearing in a tam-o’-shanter cap and pulling up his trousers to imitate the knickers Stewart was known for wearing on the golf course.
Accepting Stewart’s death has been difficult, Azinger acknowledged, but family and friends are not without hope, “because the God of the universe joins us in our sorrow.”
Azinger also offered words of tribute to sports agents Robert Fraley and Van Ardan, two Christians who also were killed in the crash with Stewart. Fraley and Ardan did many things to help Stewart professionally, Azinger affirmed, but “only God had the power to change Payne Stewart’s heart.”
Azinger recounted the change he had seen in Stewart’s life after he came to faith in Christ. His “pride, cynicism and sarcasm” began to soften; he began to care about people as much as he cared about winning; and he was “gracious in victory, gracious in defeat.” People began to see in Stewart “what the Bible calls a ‘peace that passes understanding,'” Azinger recounted.
Including an invitation to receive Christ as Savior in his remarks, Azinger urged, “If you feel the tug of God’s Spirit on your heart, do not turn away.”
J.B. Collingsworth, First Baptist’s assistant pastor to young married adults, spoke of his friendship with Stewart and acknowledged the golfer’s love for the church and for its Christian school, The First Academy, where Stewart and his wife, Tracey, had enrolled their two children, Chelsea, 13, and Aaron, 10.
“A lot of guys are afraid to express emotion,” Collingsworth observed, “but not Payne. … There were so many people in his life, and he loved them all.”
Stewart changed because of Christ and gave the honor back to God, Collingsworth said. He recalled Stewart once told him he wasn’t going to be a “Bible-thumper,” but “I want everybody to know it’s Jesus” who had made the difference in his life.
Stewart has “gone to get the big trophy” and it’s “one you don’t have to give back,” Collingsworth reminded the crowd. All those attending the memorial service were presented with WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets similar to the one Stewart had worn on his wrist while playing in tournaments.
“He wore that proudly,” Collingsworth noted, “and he began to see the power behind it.” Collingsworth asked the PGA golfers to wear the bracelets in Stewart’s honor during the weekend’s Tour Championship in Houston.
In closing remarks, Jim Henry, senior pastor of First Baptist, Orlando, said he will remember Stewart as a “cheerleader.” He recalled watching Stewart and a group gathered around him perform a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday, Brother Jim” in the stands at one of The First Academy’s football games.
Henry used an allegorical approach — picturing heaven as a golf course and Stewart seeking entrance into the tournament there — to present the plan of salvation, emphasizing that being a good family man, generous gifts to charity or going to church “won’t get you into the championship.” He spoke of the “moral hooks, slices and missed putts” that come with the flaw of a sinful nature, and the need to accept Jesus’ sacrificial gift and make him “your life coach.”
He pictured Stewart in “the gallery” of heaven, cheering “Yes!” as the angels declare “Worthy is the Lamb!” Using the acronym GOLF, Henry pointed out that each person must choose between “Go Out Lost Forever” or “God Offers Love, Forgiveness.”
“Payne’s in the gallery of God’s children,” Henry affirmed. “He’d like you to join him.”
The service ended with a video montage, ranging from Stewart as a lad to his clutch 18th-hole victory at this year’s U.S. Open — and an interview in which he had said, “I’m going to a special place when I die. I want to make sure my life is special while I’m here.”

    About the Author

  • Shari Schubert