Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lee Janzen and Payne Stewart

Lee Janzen was watching the 2007 Father Son Challenge on NBC.  It was Sunday afternoon.  His heart was hurting.  Lee picked his phone up and called me.  He said, "Tommy, will you call NBC and ask a favor?"  I asked him what he wanted me to talk to them about.  The two-time U.S. Open Champion simply said, "Ask them if they will make an exception next year and allow me to play with  Payne Stewart's son Aaron in the 2008 Father Son.

The qualifications to enter this tournament for the pro participants is they had to either have won a major Championship or Players Championship.  Lee qualified in both categories. Aaron Stewart's Father, Payne Stewart, also qualified as a three-time Major Champion.  He won the 1991 and 1999 U.S. Open and the 1989 PGA Championship.  Payne died tragically in a plane crash near Aberdeen, South Dakota October 25, 1999.  He was 42 years old.  

My first two years in sports management I worked for Leader Enterprises.  We represented both Payne and Lee among others.  I co-founded my own sports management company at the time of the plane crash.  We lost three friends in that crash.  The other two were Robert Fraley and Van Arden.  Lee and Bev Janzen and Marcia, my wife and I drove together to the memorial service for Robert.  We then went to Van's memorial service.

 On Friday, a day after the memorials for Robert and Van, services for Payne were held at the First Baptist Church of Orlando.  The huge sanctuary was filled and include a who's who of golf.  It was also televised live on CNN.  Lee and Payne had become friends and competitors at the same time. Both of Lee's U.S. Open wins, 1993 and 1998, the runner-up was Payne.

Lee had been torn in 2007 thinking about his old friend Payne never having the opportunity to play in the Father Son with Aaron.  I called NBC.  They responded immediately with a resounding , "Yes!".  Lee and Aaron played together in 2008.  Aaron hit an incredible approach shot to the 18th green in the final day on national TV.  It was shades of Dad.  Aaron played golf at SMU just as his Dad.

This weekend Lee will fulfill his dream.  He will play with his 19 year old son Connor in the PNC Father/Son Challenge at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Grande Lakes in Orlando.  Connor is a freshmen at Rollins College where he is playing on the baseball team.

Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo, Raymond Floyd, Vijay Singh, Fuzzy Zoeller, Mark O'Meara, Bernhard Langer, Davis Love III and Hale Irwin are some of the 18 Champions participating.  The 18-team field will compete in a scramble format over 36 holes for the $1 million prize.  No doubt Lee Janzen will have thoughts of his friend Payne and Payne's son Aaron during the tournament.

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