HARTFORD, Conn. — Watching Rhode Island native Billy Andrade receive the prestigious Payne Stewart Award on Tuesday night on Golf Channel elicited two of the most memorable moments of my life.
One year when I was covering the Canon Greater Hartford Open for The Hartford Courant, I wanted to write a story on Andrade. I met him on the 10th tee at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell and asked if I could meet him after he finished his round to do an interview. The words barely left my mouth when Billy said, “Come on. Walk the back nine with our group and ask your questions.”
Talk about a rarity. The only other player who ever did that for me in 52 years in journalism was Fuzzy Zoeller.
Several years later, my wife Nancy and I attended the CVS Charity Classic hosted by Andrade and close friend Brad Faxon, whose last of eight PGA Tour wins came in the 2005 GHO. The headliner at a Monday night dinner/concert was Huey Lewis and the News, one of my wife’s all-time favorite groups. I asked Billy if we could attend the event after I finished my story, and he said, “Of course.” When we arrived where it was being held, we were detained by a security guard despite saying Billy had invited us. Fortunately, he wasn’t far away and waved us into the concert. Minutes later, we were 20 feet from the stage, and my wife was in Seventh Heaven.
While those are thoughtful gestures, many of Andrade’s actions are far more significant. He is mainly known for his outgoing personality that has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for charity over more than three decades. He and Faxon were instrumental in more than $25 million being raised in 23 years for the non-profit Andrade-Faxon Charities for Children in southeastern New England, mostly in Rhode Island. In 1999, He and Faxon received the Golf Writers Association of America’s Charlie Bartlett Award for their “unselfish contributions to society” and the 2002 American Heart Association’s Gold Heart Award in recognition of their charity efforts. Also in 2002, the duo was named winners of the Ambassadors of Golf Award.
Andrade and two-time GHO champion Stewart Cink later raised millions as co-hosts of the East Lake Invitational held at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, where the season-ending Tour Championship is being played this week that will determine the FedExCup champion. Andrade and his wife, Jody, a Presbyterian priest, now reside in Atlanta.
“Raising money for golf remains my passion,” Andrade said.
Andrade said he was “so overwhelmed and emotional” about receiving the Payne Stewart Award, given by the PGA Tour and presented by Southern Company since 2000. The award in honor of the World Golf Hall of Famer who died tragically in a plane crash in 1999 only months after winning the U.S. Open and the week of the Tour Championship is given to a player whose “values align with the character, charity and sportsmanship that Stewart showed.” It includes 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.
“Now I know how Steve Stricker feels after every win,” a smiling, choked-up Andrade said. “This is highest golf honor of my life.”
Andrade, 58, began his climb to the pinnacle of golf in Bristol, R.I., as the youngest of three children of Portuguese parents. He’s an American Junior Golf Association alum and 1981 Rolex Junior Player of the Year. He attended the Providence Country Day School for high school, won the 1983 New England Amateur and earned an Arnold Palmer Scholarship at Wake Forest University, where he helped lead the Demon Deacons to the 1986 NCAA Championship. He played on the U.S. team in the 1987 Walker Cup and turned pro later in the year.
Andrade was the first athlete to sign a contract with Southern Company, and his first agent was current PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford. He has won seven titles and $12,5 million in 822 starts on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions and was the first golfer to capture a PGA Tour event using the ProV1 ball at the 2000 Invensys Classic at Las Vegas. Five other wins included three in the Fred Meyer Challenge, two with Faxon and one with Tom Kite.
One of the first PGA Tour players that Andrade befriended was Stewart.
“He busted my chops and needled me for three straight years,” Andrade quipped. “He kept calling me ‘rook’ and his caddie, Mike Hicks finally said, ‘Enough is enough, Payne. You need to leave him alone. Billy’s one of the good guys,’ and after that, we became good friends. I always believed in Faith, Family and Fun, but after I met Payne, I added one more — Fraternity of One, me.”
But Andrade has given back thousands of times over.
“This is one of the most special and impactful nights of the year,” Monahan said. “Billy has never stopped sticking out his hand for charity. Hands are always better to give than to take.”
Past Payne Stewart Award recipients in attendance were past GHO winners Brad Faxon, Stuart Cink and Peter Jacobsen, Jay Haas, Tom Lehman, Hale Irwin, Zach Johnson, Davis Love III and Hal Sutton. Players competing in the Tour Championship who were on hand were No. 1-ranked Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns, Billy Horschel, Sungjae Im, Adam Scott, Tom Hoge, Aaron Wise, Joaquin Niemann and former Bridgeport resident Cameron Young, a shoo-in for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year thanks to five runner-up finishes, including in The Open Championship.
Andrade began to believe that he might never receive the Stewart Award when younger players were named in recent years. But those fears ended on the evening of the East Lake Invitational in May when he played golf all day with donors and had 200 people for dinner at the club. The PGA Tour asked him to go upstairs and film an interview about the day’s activities and the impact the annual event has made on the community.
But it didn’t take long for Andrade to realize something was up. His parents, who hadn’t left their Rhode Island home for two years because of COVID-19, were waiting there, expressionless. So was his wife and their children, Cameron and Grace, all full of smiles.
“I thought I was in trouble,” Andrade said. “Like, what’s going on here? Is this an intervention? I felt like I was in grade school again. I just didn’t have a good feeling.”
That feeling quickly changed. His wife pointed to a big screen, and there was Tracey Stewart, the widow of Payne, and their two children. “I was overwhelmed with emotion,”
Andrade said. “To get the call was a shock, and I was just so honored.”