The following is from the July 1, 2008, edition of The Montgomery Advertiser.

Stewart blazes his own path behind father

By Tim Gayle

There are more than a few sets of eyes on Aaron Stewart as he lines up for a putt on the 18th hole at Lagoon Park Golf Course.

It isn't because he's one of the top young golfers in America. And as a red-shirt freshman at Southern Methodist University, he doesn't have the experience many of the other golfers competing in today's Collegiate Players Tour might possess.

But 50 feet away from the 18th hole, a print of Aaron's father, Payne, hangs in a display case in the golf shop, a reminder nine years after his father's death of the burden of being the son of one of the most recognizable and immensely popular players in professional golf history.

"There are always high expectations," Stewart said. "It helps when you're playing good, but when you're playing bad, it's hard."

Aaron was just 10 years old when many of us lived through that unforgettable moment in sports history on Oct. 25, 1999. Payne Stewart, who had won the U.S. Open four months earlier, boarded a private jet in his hometown of Orlando, Fla., with the intention of flying to Dallas to meet with a developer about building a home golf course for his alma mater, SMU.

As the nation followed along on television in horror, Stewart, two pilots and three others blacked out as the plane traveled on autopilot across the country before running out of fuel and crashing into a South Dakota wheat field.

Among the six dead was former University of Alabama quarterback Robert Fraley, who served as Stewart's agent.

"It's been hard, as anyone who's grown up without a father would tell you," said Aaron, now 19, "but I'm surrounded by good people all the time, and we have a lot of close family friends."

What may be the cruelest twist of fate for Stewart is the burden of living up to his father's legacy without the benefit of his father's wisdom.

"When he was alive, I didn't play golf," Stewart said. "I'd go out to the course, but I wasn't really serious about it. I played basketball, baseball and football. After (his father's death), I started playing golf in about the seventh grade."

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