Watch this: Zach Johnson gets choked up as Payne Stewart’s family surprises him with award

GREENSBORO, N.C. – When Zach Johnson logged on for a couple of Zoom calls scheduled by his business manager th

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – When Zach Johnson logged on for a couple of Zoom calls scheduled by his business manager three or four weeks ago, he thought he was going to be answering questions about the Ryder Cup and hoped to knock them out in 30-40 minutes.

“I thought, okay, whatever, I’ll be happy to do it,” he said. “My wife comes into the bedroom at the desk there and she’s like, ‘I just need a break, I’m just going to sit here and just watch.’ I’m like, that’s fine, it’s kind of weird but that’s OK.”

After struggling to get on, Johnson, 44, was greeted by the smiling faces of Tracey, Chelsea and Aaron Stewart, as well as PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, who together informed Johnson he was the recipient of the 2020 Payne Stewart Award. (The video below is worth your time.)

“At that point it dawned on me that I’m not doing a Ryder Cup interview, this is a little more heavy than that for me and that’s when the emotion flooded,” Johnson said. “Those that know me well, whether it’s my foundation board, certainly my family, my team of coaches, anybody that’s been associated with me in the game of golf know that I’ve always held this trophy in the most extreme and high of regards. I just think it is one of the coolest things on the PGA Tour. I love everything about it.”

The award is given annually to a player who shared Stewart’s respect for the traditions of the game, commitment to uphold the game’s heritage of charitable support and professional and meticulous presentation of himself and the sport through his dress and conduct.

“If I can live with those three pillars of this award, character, charity and sportsmanship, showcase that to our kids, then I’m probably doing something right,” Johnson said.

“I can’t think of a better recipient, to be honest with you,” two-time Wyndham Championship winner Brandt Snedeker said. “It seems like every year for me the Payne Stewart Award’s growing more and more and more with the list of champions they’re having and kind of honoring these guys who deserve it, so I’m really happy for Zach.”

Though Johnson never met Stewart, they do hold a connection of sorts on the golf course, and more specifically on the greens. Johnson employed the same SeeMore FGP putter that Stewart used to win the 1999 U.S. Open for all 12 of his Tour wins, including his most recent title at the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews.

In 2010, Zach and wife Kim established the Zach Johnson Foundation, which fulfills a dream of theirs to give back to children and families in his native Cedar Rapids, Iowa in a long-lasting and meaningful way. One year later, they introduced the Zach Johnson Foundation Classic, which was created as a two-part event: a fundraiser gala and auction for sponsors and participants and a Pro-Am charity golf tournament. In 2019, it raised $1.1 million to support their non-profit, Kids on Course, which serves 1,000+ students with the goal of closing the opportunity gap so all students can be on a path for post-secondary education.

Johnson has always held Stewart in the highest regard. Whenever asked to name his dream foursome, Johnson’s standard reply has been to say: “It’s my dad, because it’s my dad, Ben Hogan, because it’s Ben Hogan, and then Payne Stewart for me would be my fourth. And I say that in complete admiration – a Midwest guy, kind of like myself, but more so because, well, how he played the game. I felt like he’s kind of a grinder. His best golf came in the most trying and difficult of circumstances, two-time Open champion, PGA champion, Ryder Cup mainstay for the most part. So, execution down the stretch in difficult circumstances seem to be an area he flourished. I love that.”

Stewart, an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour and World Golf Hall of Fame member, died tragically 21 years ago during the week of the Tour Championship in 1999. A year later, the Tour created the Payne Stewart Award in his honor. The ceremony will be televised live on Golf Channel on September 2 as part of a “Golf Central” special from 7-7:30 p.m. ET at the Southern Exchange in downtown Atlanta. Johnson called winning the award a dream come true.

“I remember going to the Tour Championship and the Payne Stewart Award Ceremony my rookie year and thinking, ‘This is the pinnacle of a PGA Tour player’s career,’ ” Johnson said. “Since my rookie year when I saw the event at East Lake, I’m like, this is a dream right here. I didn’t necessarily believe or think it would be realized, but this is a dream. I feel like this is what golf’s all about, this is certainly what the PGA Tour and professional golf is all about.”
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