By PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
Bob Payne has been around some of the greatest golfers to play the game.
His golfing journey started at the age of 9 at Mt. Vernon’s Green Hills Golf Club and ended as a professional on the PGA tour.
This year he is being inducted into the Mt. Vernon Township High School Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s just humbling to think that you can go back and kind of be honored 50 some years later,” Payne said.
He was among the class of 1961 graduates at Mt. Vernon and played on the inaugural golf team at the school as a sophomore. He qualified for the state tournament a season later as a junior. Payne said being notified about his induction into the Hall of Fame brought back memories from his playing days.
“When I sent in some of the pictures and all that stuff, I sit there and look at my old high school teammates,” Payne said. “It just takes you back to when you were a kid.”
When Payne was 9 years old his family moved about a mile away from Green Hills where he started caddying.
“I went out there just to make a buck,” Payne said. “Of course a buck back then you lugged a ball around all day, actually for two bucks. It was just something great.”
As Payne aged, his sports interest turned from basketball to primarily golf. His caddying at the golf course took him across the path of Percy Pipes.
“Of course he was my mentor and just spent every day with me and taught me the game,” Payne said. “As I got a little older of course I enjoyed it and practiced and things just kind of fell into place.
“He was one of a kind and like I say he’s 95 years old now about to be 96. When I talked to him last week it sounded like it just continued on from 50 years ago.”
Payne turned professional at the age of 19 and his first event came in 1968 at the Cajan Classic in Louisiana. He played full time for about a decade. The professional ranks took Payne around the country competing in hundreds of tournaments with legendary golfers like Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
“Of course like I say it can be a little nerve wracking if you get your tee sheet and the next day you’re playing with Nicklaus or Trevino or a Palmer.”
Payne played in an era of golf vastly different from today’s where money is lavished on stars because of television contracts and endorsement deals. But Payne said he wouldn’t trade the era he played in because of his experiences.
“I’ve had such a fantastic life, playing the tour, I was able to travel all over the United States and other counties Europe and different places,” Payne said. “Golf has just taken me so many places. I’ve played the best golf courses with the best players in the world.
“You can’t replace those things with money.”
He currently lives in Texas in a townhouse on a golf course. He doesn’t play the sport much now but still stays active.
“I just spent my whole life doing it, and I do miss it but I’m kind of like an old racehorse,” Payne said. “When you’re in a race and you had something to run for it’s one thing. When you’re just an old dog, all you’re doing is just out there killing time.”
In 2005 he was honored by the Southern Illinois Golf Association with an induction into its Hall of Fame.