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Private Planes Part of Tour Routine

October 29, 1999|THOMAS BONK

The irony of the week is that days after Payne Stewart's death in a private plane crash, the PGA Tour was busy helping players line up private planes to fly to Orlando, Fla., for today's memorial service for Stewart.

Of course, private airplanes are the rule--not the exception--for professional golfers these days. And it must be pointed out that the deaths of Stewart and five others on Monday were clearly a tragic accident, a fluke.

Most of the top pros travel by private airplane either regularly or on occasion.

Tiger Woods, who flies privately, said he isn't going to change.

"I use it for probably a different reason than most guys do," Woods said. "If I go through an airport and go to sleep, it wouldn't happen. So that's why I use it.

"But for players such as Payne and Scott Hoch, and Mark [O'Meara] has been doing it a little bit . . . they have families and they want to get home. But, still, from what I have been told and from what I have read, actually flying is the safest mode of transportation.

"It's just unfortunate that when you have an accident, it is more catastrophic and there are deaths."

Gil Morgan, who leases private jets for his travel, estimated that more than 20 Senior PGA Tour players own or lease jets for professional purposes. Hale Irwin, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Trevino own their own aircraft.

For the last two years, Morgan said 90% of his golf travel has been on private jet charters.

"Safety is always a concern, but we know it's safer than most travel. But if anything happens, your chances of surviving are not good. But in this day and age, charter jets are a way of life."


Sam Snead may be 87, but he knows a good guy when he sees one, so Snead was terribly upset by Stewart's death.

"He was a likable cuss," Snead said. "I don't have anything bad to say about Payne Stewart. He got to become one of our biggest stars out here--and not just because of his clothes. He could play."

Ben Crenshaw, who was captain of the fifth and last Ryder Cup team that featured Stewart, said it's difficult to lose a member of the golfing family.

"Payne was a great, great competitor," Crenshaw said. "And he accomplished great things. He won three major championships. His spirit, he was so affable, very much a gentleman.

"When you're 42 and you tell people your goal is to win a major and to get on the Ryder Cup team and then you do just that, gosh, how special is that?

"I cannot believe this thing has happened. I cannot."


Stewart was scheduled to play in the Skins Game the weekend after Thanksgiving, along with O'Meara, Sergio Garcia and David Duval. Fred Couples and possibly Paul Azinger have been mentioned as possible replacements. Maybe even Woods, if he isn't too weary.


Two days after Stewart's death, prices jumped for his memorabilia in online auctions. A signed golf ball, previously listed for $10, was listed for $200, a signed scorecard increased from $1 to $103 and a signed photo increased from $10 to $750.


With $4.716 million in prize money, you would have to say it has been a decent money-making year for Woods.

But here's the bad news: He doesn't have a shot at $7 million.

That must really hurt. Even if Woods wins the Tour Championship this weekend ($900,000) and the World Golf Championship event at Valderrama next week ($1 million), he would finish with just more than $6.6 million.

Right now, Woods leads the PGA Tour in scoring (68.48), greens in regulation, birdies, total driving and all-around.

Woods' six PGA Tour victories are the most in 19 years, since Tom Watson had six in 1980. Nick Price gets an asterisk. In 1994, he won five times, but his British Open victory wasn't included as a PGA Tour event because the British Open didn't count as official money until the next year, when John Daly won at St. Andrews.


What Woods said after he won his sixth PGA Tour event of the year: "I would like to get seven and then eight would be nice."


Curtis Strange is the new Ryder Cup captain and he is about as plain a talker as you're going to find in pro golf. Strange said a great captain is made by 12 great players.

Said Strange: "If they play good, we all look great. If they don't, I look dumb."


Woods is probably going to be pretty tired by Thanksgiving because of his schedule--a six-event, four-country tour in just more than a month.

Here's his itinerary: Last week at the Disney in Florida, this week the Tour Championship in Houston, the World Golf Championship stroke play event in Spain, the Johnnie Walker Classic in Taiwan, the World Cup in Malaysia and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, the PGA is postponing its awards luncheon, scheduled for Nov. 23, because Woods is in Hawaii. It's not going to be an awards party if the No. 1 award-getter isn't there, is it?


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