The PGA TOUR and Southern Company have announced that Ernie Els will be the recipient of the 2015 Payne Stewart Award.
Ernie receives this award for his devotion to improving the lives of those with autism spectrum disorder (Els for Autism) as well as development of junior golf talent in South Africa (Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation). Ernie will be honored at a ceremony on Tuesday, September 22, in conjunction with the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola in Atlanta and televised live on Golf Channel as part of a GolfCentral special from 7-8 p.m. ET.
The Payne Stewart Award is presented annually to a professional golfer who best exemplifies Stewart’s steadfast values of character, charity and sportsmanship. Stewart, an 11-time winner on the PGA TOUR and World Golf Hall of Fame member, died tragically the week of the TOUR Championship in 1999. That week in tribute to Payne, many golfers competing in the TOUR Championship, including Ernie, wore his signature attire of plus-fours (pictured below).
Southern Company, the “Official Energy Company of the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour,” was the TOUR Championship sponsor the year of Stewart’s passing. A year later, the PGA TOUR created the Payne Stewart Award in his honor, and Southern Company has supported the annual presentation since its inception. Past winners have all distinguished themselves through their respect for the game, the TOUR’s tradition of charity and their ability to make a positive impact in the lives of others.
“I have so many fond memories of Payne and always had the greatest respect for him as a golfer and as a person and I think this award is a wonderful way to honor his memory and the values that he stood for,” commented Ernie. “To be considered worthy of receiving such an award makes me feel proud and very humble. It really means a lot. Of course, the work that we do is a massive team effort and I thank my wife Liezl and everyone at the foundations for their work and commitment as well as all the individuals and corporations that support us in helping improve the lives of kids, young adults and families who need and deserve our help. Thank you also to everyone at the PGA TOUR and to Southern Company for the incredibly generous donation that will help us in our ongoing mission to support causes close to our hearts.”
“Ernie is a legendary figure in our sport, both on and off the golf course,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. “His 70 victories across the globe speak for themselves, but his commitment to using his talents and celebrity to improve lives has made him a true Hall of Famer. It’s only fitting that we announce this award on the heels of an amazing milestone in his charitable work through Els for Autism, as Ernie and Liezl celebrated the grand opening of the first two buildings of The Els Center of Excellence on Monday. The number of lives that will be – and have already been – impacted through his passion and dedication to this cause is immeasurable. Ernie’s name belongs on the roster of distinguished names who have won the Payne Stewart Award before him, and he sets a high bar for those who aspire to be named after him.”
Southern Company Chairman, President and CEO Thomas A. Fanning said, “Southern Company is proud to join the PGA TOUR in recognizing Els for making a difference beyond the golf course. Ernie’s commitment and leadership in serving others align with our company’s values and honors Payne Stewart’s enduring legacy.”
In addition to a sculpture by Bob Pack presented to the recipient, the Payne Stewart Award is accompanied by an annual Payne Stewart Award Grant made possible by Southern Company. The $500,000 grant supports several initiatives in Stewart’s name and is distributed as follows: $100,000 to Payne and Tracey Stewart’s primary charity, The Stewart Family Foundation; $100,000 in Stewart’s honor to The First Tee of the Ozarks located in Missouri at Kids Across America, which is affiliated with Kanakuk Kamps; and $300,000 to a charity designated by the winner. Els has chosen Els for Autism and the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation.
Els is the 18th recipient of the award, joining a distinguished group of respected golfers including Sir Nick Faldo, who was recognized in 2014, and the inaugural recipients Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer (2000). Other recipients include Peter Jacobsen (2013), Steve Stricker (2012), David Toms (2011), Tom Lehman (2010), Kenny Perry (2009), Davis Love III (2008), Hal Sutton (2007), Gary Player (2006), Brad Faxon (2005), Jay Haas (2004), Tom Watson (2003), Nick Price (2002) and Ben Crenshaw (2001).