His swing was sweet music as he hit the ball effortlessly, leading him to

three major victories on the PGA tour, and his greatest days seemed to lie

ahead.

Payne Stewart's refreshing attitude towards life, family and the game he

loved was reflected by each seemingly agonizing putt and crucial chip. He

always emerged with a smile on his face. The smiles were echoed by millions

of golf fans alike who seemed to think of Payne as a regular guy.

However, the smiles turned to tears Monday as a plane on which he was a

passenger crashed into a South Dakota field after flying uncontrolled for

hours.

Growing up in a house where golf was adored, a man the same age as my

father became a hero to me throughout my youth. With his knickers and odd

hats, Payne was a gem in a floundering game throughout the late '80s and

early '90s.

As one of my father's favorite golfers, he became my role model. I tried,

to no avail, to model my golf swing after him as I chipped balls toward

trees in my front yard.

In today's golf world, full of beefy contracts and endorsements of pouting

superstars who whine at obligations to represent their country in a highly

revered Ryder Cup tournament, Stewart was a sharp contrast to what the game

is becoming.

His victory at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst on Father's Day was not only

against the odds-- one-putting the final three holes-- but also against

time.

A man almost half his age, Phil Mickelson, was comfortably leading the

tournament and balancing the tedious spotlight of every shot with his

wife's pregnancy hundreds of miles away, vowing to forfeit the tournament

at the first signs of her going into labor.

However, as Stewart stole the spotlight, draining an improbable 15-foot

putt to win the tournament on the eighteenth hole, Stewart's first move was

not to his trophy, but to his opponent, grabbing Mickelson and reminding

him that this was only a tournament, he was about to become a father.

A father of two himself, Stewart reminded his fans of what a role model

should be. He was never as flashy as David Duval and didn't win as many

tournaments as Tiger Woods, but he was a gentleman, and a gentle giant of

the sports world.

Stewart won 11 tour events and was a member of five Ryder Cup teams, but

his accomplishments are far greater than that. He was a husband, a father,

a competitor and a model athlete.

In the minds of the fans who watched his almost-magical career, he will

always be dearly missed, and remembered for more than a symbol of

consistency, but a symbol of the game of golf as well.