There is symmetry to the legendary careers of Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
Each man owns at least 50 career victories on the PGA TOUR and is ranked among the top five in lifetime wins.
Each man was among the inaugural class of 14 inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Each man has a highly popular PGA TOUR event to call his own -- Nelson, the EDS Byron Nelson Championship; Palmer, the Bay Hill Invitational Presented by MasterCard and Nicklaus, the Memorial Tournament.
Each man has a PGA TOUR year-end award named in his honor. The PGA TOUR Player of the Year receives the Jack Nicklaus Award. The leading money winner receives the Arnold Palmer Award. And the player with the best adjusted scoring average receives the Byron Nelson Award.
So somehow it seems fitting that, when the PGA TOUR decided to honor the late Payne Stewart by naming a post-season award after him beginning in 1999, the first recipients carried three of golf's most recognizable names: Nelson, Palmer and Nicklaus.
The late Stewart always had a quick answer when asked to name the three professional golfers he admired most. They were Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, three men who hold golf's wonderful traditions so dear.
"Payne treasured the friendships he shared and he had a tremendous amount of respect for these three men,'' Tracey Stewart, Payne's widow, said at the first awards ceremony. "He greatly admired their achievements and contributions to golf. But more importantly, he valued their integrity and their leadership.''
Stewart and five others tragically perished Oct. 25, 1999, when his LearJet flew uncontrolled until it ran out of gas and plunged into a field in South Dakota. The accident took place as players were heading to Houston for THE TOUR Championship.
Three weeks later, the TOUR announced the Payne Stewart Award to honor players who shared Stewart's ideals -- respect for traditions, presentation, character, community work and charity. The nominating committee was split on who should receive the first award.
"We have elected this year to honor those who have set the standard and who Payne Stewart himself tried to emulate,'' Finchem said then.
Stewart couldn't have picked finer role models.
Golfing great Nelson, a man described most often as being a true gentleman by those who met him, passed away at the age of 94 in September 2006. The humble Texan, who received his indoctrination into the game as a caddie, set three PGA TOUR records that seemingly will forever remain unreachable. He won 11 consecutive tournaments, as well as 18 overall, in 1945 and finished in the top 10 in 65 straight events. Despite the fact that his career on TOUR was shortened because of health reasons, he amassed 52 career victories, including two Masters, two PGA Championships and a United States Open.
"I've received so many honors,'' Nelson said at the inaugural ceremony. "I said 25 years ago I didn't think I'd get any more. And each one gets more important.''
Nelson called Stewart one of his "absolute great friends.'' Their strong relationship began when Stewart won the Byron Nelson Classic in 1990.
"That was one of the highlights of my life as far as association with people that think right, act right and love the game of golf,'' Nelson said. "That is the thing that I hope all of us professionals will continue to do.''
More than any player before him, Palmer brought the game of golf to the masses with his go-for-broke style of play. He won four Masters titles in a sequence of alternating years, beginning in 1958. His final-round 65 in the 1960 U.S Open at Cherry Hills cemented his place in the game's lore. Palmer won 63 tournaments, including eight major championships, in his storied career.
Stewart also won Palmer's tournament in 1987 and magnanimously donated his prize money to a local hospital. Palmer said Stewart, a fellow Orlando, Fla., resident, often came to his office to talk about where golf was going.
"The tragedy has affected all of us,'' Palmer said when receiving the award. "I suppose that the one thing that is very important -- and I hope will come out of this -- is that young people understand what Payne Stewart meant to the game of golf. They have a responsibility to carry on the traditions and things that are important in golf.''
Nicklaus also is credited with turning golf into the major sport it has become. While Palmer brought golf into the TV era, it was the developing Nicklaus-Palmer rivalry that drove subsequent interest. But it was Nicklaus, arguably golf's all-time best, who set golf's gold standard, winning 18 major championships -- three British Opens, four U.S. Opens, five PGA Championships and an unparalleled six Masters -- as a professional, seven more than Walter Hagen. That is the record Tiger Woods, who has won 12 majors, wants more than any other.
Nicklaus won a total of 73 PGA TOUR events, 11 international titles, 10 on the Champions Tour and nine others, including five international team competitions with Palmer. Nicklaus also finished second 58 times and was in the top 10 in nearly 50 percent (286 of 591) of the tournaments he entered. He finished in the top 10 on the money list a record 17 consecutive seasons.