Payne Stewart’s fashion sense made him a true leader of the game. He was born in Springfield, Missouri, in 1957 and became a professional golfer in 1982 after getting his PGA tour card in a qualifying school. He went on to win 11 tour events in his career, including the US Open twice and the Ryder Cup. Stewart was popular with the fans, the media, and other golfers on the tour. He was a natural showman and show-off who famously pumped his fist with his leg in the air after hitting an 18-foot putt to win the US Open four months before his tragic death.
Standing out in the Crowd
In 1982, Stewart was at the driving range during his first PGA tour event. He looked up and down the line of golfers hitting balls and realized that they were all wearing uniforms. Polo shirts and slacks were what everyone wore because the rules didn’t allow for much else. He remembered his dad telling him the best way to stand out in a crowd was to dress differently. Being the show-off that he was, he did just that and reinvented himself as a golf fashion icon. Early in his career, he was known only as the goofy-looking golfer in the short pants. When he started winning tournaments, attitudes changed. He borrowed his look from Australian golfer Rodger Davis because he had always admired his look and just thought he looked “neat.” Payne tracked down some of the plus-four trousers, also known as knickers, paired them with the requisite polo shirt and peaked cap, and had himself a signature look.
Stewart never strayed from his brand, and that landed him a contract with the NFL. He agreed to wear the colors and logo of the football team that was closest to each tour event. Orange and blue for the Bears if he was near Chicago or red and black for the Falcons if he was near Atlanta. It made for some hilariously bad-looking outfits, but he was laughing all the way to the bank. He would continue the themed outfits all season long, wearing red-white-and-blue patriotic polo shirts and knickers on the Fourth of July and dressing in color combinations that matched other holidays as well. Wearing such daft outfits on the course gave him an unforeseen perk. He could walk around and go about his life undetected and completely anonymous when not in “costume.” Putting on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt made him unrecognizable to his fans and the public at large.
The Tragic End of a Fashion Icon
In 1999 Stewart boarded a flight from his home in Florida to Dallas along with three other men and two pilots. Shortly after takeoff, the plane had a catastrophic failure that led to a loss of air pressure in the cabin. The plane was being tracked and lost all communications as it veered off-course, traveling northwest toward South Dakota. An F-16 tracked down the flight and reported that the windows were frosted over, and there was no sign of life. The plane crashed when it ran out of fuel after several hours. There were no survivors.