Gary Koch honored with PGA TOUR’s Payne Stewart Award presented by Southern Company
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Written by Staff @PGATOUR
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida – In recognition of his character, sportsmanship and commitment to charitable giving, six-time PGA TOUR winner and former NBC Sports golf commentator Gary Koch has been named the 2023 recipient of the PGA TOUR’s Payne Stewart Award presented by Southern Company. Koch will be honored on Tuesday, Aug. 22, at the Payne Stewart Award Ceremony in conjunction with the TOUR Championship. The ceremony will be televised live on Golf Channel as part of a “Golf Central” special from 7-8 p.m. ET at the Southern Exchange in downtown Atlanta.
“Gary Koch is the epitome of what it means to be a Payne Stewart Award recipient,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. “For someone who spent more than three decades telling the PGA TOUR’s story to the masses, at the heart of his character is the desire to usher the game forward through his charitable work.
“That’s what would make Payne smile: A passion and love for sharing the game with the world while looking after the next generation.”
The Payne Stewart Award is presented annually by the PGA TOUR 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 24 years ago during the week of the TOUR Championship in 1999. Southern Company, the “Official Energy Company of the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions,” was the TOUR Championship presenting 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.
Koch, 70, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but calls Tampa, Florida, home. He earned six victories during his 15-year playing career on TOUR, followed by 33 years with ESPN and NBC Sports calling some of the game’s greatest moments, including Tiger Woods’ iconic putt at the 17th hole at the 2001 PLAYERS Championship, where he delivered the famous “Better than Most…” call that still reverberates through the tournament’s history.
“To be honored with this award and to think that people may think of me in the same vein as Payne Stewart is truly unbelievable,” Koch said. “When you’re recognized by your peers for something you’ve accomplished and how you treat people, it means a tremendous amount. I would say this is the highlight of my career.”
He and his wife, Donna, have two daughters: Patricia and Rachel.
Koch’s Charitable Commitment
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 Payne Stewart Memorial, located in Missouri at Kids Across America, which is affiliated with Kanakuk Kamps; and $300,000 to a charity designated by the recipient.
Koch has chosen to direct funds to the Gary and Donna Koch Family Foundation, Gift of Adoption’s Florida chapter, and First Tee – Tampa Bay. The Gary and Donna Koch Family Foundation was launched in 2014 to help fund scholarships and student aid in their community, and to date the Kochs have awarded scholarship dollars to 20 First Tee graduates. Koch’s support of Gift of Adoption’s Florida chapter will buoy their mission of providing adoption assistance grants to complete the adoption of children in vulnerable circumstances, giving them permanent families and a chance to thrive. Koch has served as the honorary chairman of the organization’s annual fundraising event for the past 17 years.
Much of Koch’s charitable focus has been geared toward the junior and amateur game, where he has helped provide a platform for the next generation of golfers to reach their potential. In 2011, Gary and Donna stepped in to support their local First Tee – Tampa Bay chapter when it was in dire need of financial assistance and on the brink of closure. Koch rallied together a group of supporters called the “Friends of First Tee Tampa” to help provide the necessary funds to keep the chapter going. Eight years later, First Tee – Tampa Bay was recognized as the largest chapter in the country in certifying participants and annually reaches more than 90,000 youth in the area.
The momentum at First Tee – Tampa Bay has continued, with Koch in 2022 proposing the idea to build a par 3 course at the local First Tee facility that can be better utilized by younger First Tee participants. Koch enlisted golf course architect Steve Smyers – his former college teammate – to design the course. Smyers waived his design fee.
Koch also hosts the annual Gary Koch Invitational Pro-Am at Old Memorial Golf Club to support both First Tee – Tampa Bay and ART International Training & Research, with the latter being focused on supporting those who suffer from PTSD and other psychological traumas.
As an elite college golfer at the University of Florida, Koch found it important to give back to the amateur game. For more than 20 years, he hosted the Gary Koch Intercollegiate, a mainstay on the college golf circuit that saw several future PGA TOUR stars compete against some of the best college teams in the nation.
And with the PGA TOUR’s Valspar Championship taking place down the road from Koch’s home in Tampa, his involvement with the Copperheads has helped drive additional charitable funds for various local charities. Koch was named Copperhead of the Year in 2021 in recognition of his volunteer work.
“Through his myriad contributions to the game and his community, Gary has displayed a level of commitment that we at Southern Company truly admire,” said Chris Womack, Southern Company president & CEO. “His selfless acts of kindness and involvement are apparent across the entire Tampa Bay area. The access he has provided to this great game has inspired countless young people to chase their dreams in golf and in life.”
Koch’s Two Golf Careers
As a player, Koch burst onto the scene with his unlikely victory in the 1969 Florida Open as a 16-year-old amateur. One year later, he won the 1970 U.S. Junior Amateur at Athens Country Club and later decided to pursue his collegiate career at his beloved University of Florida. Once in Gainesville, Koch became a four-time All-American, won 10 collegiate titles, and helped lead the Gators to victory in the 1973 NCAA Championship, where he finished second individually behind 2001 Payne Stewart Award recipient Ben Crenshaw.
His two Walker Cup appearances (1973, 1975) were highlighted by a perfect 3-0-0 record in 1975 at the Old Course at St. Andrews, where he was teammates with 2004 recipient Jay Haas.
Officially joining the PGA TOUR in 1976, Koch collected six career victories in his 15 seasons on TOUR, including the 1984 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, which Stewart won three years later in 1987.
In 1990, as a 37-year-old, Koch began his transition to a career in broadcasting, where he became a mainstay on PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions broadcasts for ESPN and NBC Sports. He was on the call for some of the game’s most iconic shots, with his “Better than Most…” moment from the 2001 PLAYERS Championship among the most revered.
Two years prior, as an on-course reporter for NBC during the 1999 Ryder Cup, Koch was assigned to the Singles match between Stewart and Colin Montgomerie. Following the match, which ended with Stewart conceding a long putt to Montgomerie in an act of sportsmanship, Koch spoke to Stewart for what was one of his final live interviews before his passing one month later.
Koch was inducted into the Florida State Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Florida Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
Koch is the 26th recipient of the Payne Stewart Award, joining a distinguished group of respected golfers including Billy Andrade, who was recognized in 2022, and the inaugural recipients Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer (2000). Other recipients include Justin Rose (2021), Zach Johnson (2020), Hale Irwin (2019), Bernhard Langer (2018), Stewart Cink (2017), Jim Furyk (2016), Ernie Els (2015), Sir Nick Faldo (2014), 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).