Memories of Payne Live On Forever


It was a sunny spring day when I arrived at the family home on a cul-de-sac in Bay Hill. Payne Stewart was dressed in shorts and a golf shirt, not the familiar eye-catching garb for which he was famous. A British magazine had asked me to do an at-home article on Payne, something which would capture the day-to-day activities of the man, and the photographer and I were to have the run of the place for a couple of hours.
I am thinking of that day 10 years ago because today is the five-year anniversary of Payne Stewarts untimely death. Everyone remembers the circumstances - the private jet which underwent a mysterious decompression early in the flight, the quick demise of all the passengers, the final crash into a corn field in South Dakota.
But today, five years before the tragedy, he was totally relaxed. Payne was just Payne. He could be a little prickly when he was in a certain mood, but in all the years that I had known him as the golf writer from the Orlando newspaper, he and I had developed a personal relationship. I cant honestly say it was always a warm and cozy relationship, but over-all it was a very friendly one.
On this March day, I met the nanny of his two children, a mature woman from England. The Stewarts had found her though an agency. They had some young girls in here who thought it would be a glamour job, said Payne. They had no idea how much work it is.
Daughter Chelsea and wife Tracey were away for the afternoon, but five-year-old son Aaron danced excitedly around Payne. Payne grabbed a bat and a softball and went out to the street to throw underhanded lobs to him.
Aaron gripped the bat cross-handed, but he could hit. He popped a few over Paynes head, pretty impressive for a little lad. Payne explained that he also gripped a golf club cross-handed. He went with me the other day when I was hitting a few balls, and his godfather said, Aaron, youre gripping it the wrong way.
He said, When I grip it the other way, I make big holes in the ground. At this age, I just let him grip it and swing away. I believe hes just got to have fun.
We went inside and took a tour of Paynes personal closet, where he had about 40 pairs of his trademark knickers, all neatly hung. They are cooler in the heat, and believe it not, theyre warmer in the cold, Payne said. Actually, theyre very comfortable.
By this time, Aaron had a little rope around his dads ankles. Uh-oh ' hes got me tied up, laughed Payne. I guess hes the sheriff now.
I mentioned the kitchen ' I had read recently where Payne considered himself something of an amateur chef. Oh yes, he said excitedly. I can flat-out burn it. Ill fix you guys something and you tell me if I can cook or not.
He then proceeded to make a couple of ham-and-egg sandwiches, carefully frying the eggs just so, heating up the ham, doing everything with much pomp and circumstance. What he lacked in expertise, he certainly made up for in flourish.
He then gave a little history of the life of Payne. If you couldnt cook in my house when I was growing up, you didnt eat. Im trying to explain that to my kids, but they say, Oh daddy, why should we learn, everybodys doing it for us. Thats a bad attitude, I tell them.
I remembered this day when I first heard the news in 1999 that he was on the plane that was lost in the skies. A month before, I had joined him, Lee Janzen and Scott Hoch for breakfast in the locker room at the NEC Invitational at Akron. He had joked with Hoch, said something in mock sarcasm to Janzen ' as usual, totally full of life.
Suddenly, like someone suddenly snuffing out a match, he was gone. And then, a conversation we had had that day five years earlier came flooding back.
He had talked expansively about his children, talked about young Aaron coming up to him as he lay sleeping at 7 in the morning after flying home from a tournament and arriving at 1:30 that night. He really didnt care how sleepy I was, said Payne. He said, Hey dad, look at this new gun I got. I was just his dad, and he could care less that I only had five hours sleep.
And Chelsea? Payne was planning a special surprise for Chelsea some day. He had developed a special marinating sauce, and the recipe he was saving for that time when Chelsea would be married.
I said, Chelsea, when you get married, Ill give you the recipe. When you are out of the house, you will have it. But not until then.
Chelsea will never get the recipe from her father. Hes gone. But his memories will remain forever. He loved his children, he loved life, and the world is just not the same without him.
Email your thoughts to George White