Remembering Payne


We have the luxury of time. After five years its possible to unscramble those terribly complex human emotions we sorted through when Payne Stewart died. Shock. Pain. Grief. Acceptance.
Sitting here with a days activities ahead, with kids to get off to school and deadlines to meet, those words read like items on a grocery list. Wed each have to plumb the darkest depths of our own personal experiences to get a sense of how profound it all really is. Thats a tough place to visit.
Not surprisingly, there were detailed newspaper accounts this morning that swept me back to the fateful day.
A plane had lost contact but at a glance not control.
Someone famous may have been on board.
The windows were iced over.
Payne Stewart was on the flight.
There was no response. No response.
Minutes went by.
Hours went by.
With morbid fascination so many of us stood transfixed before the television. Were sadly accustomed to seeing grisly images after a crash. But this was so different. This was truly impending doom.
The memorial celebration in Orlando was befitting a head of state. The parking lot looked like a giant mushroom farm with dozens of white satellite dishes attached to so many network trucks.
Ive wondered why Paynes death reverberated so strongly far beyond the small world of golf. First, he was a famous golfer, our reigning United States Open champion. The guy with the tam oshanter cap and the plus fours.
Oh that guy, yeah, I know who youre talking about! was the standard reply from so many who may have watched NASCAR or opera or sitcoms but not golf.
Secondly, and I hope Im not in any way being insensitive, but his death was a famous death. There werent too many who didnt see it play out on television.
Most importantly, though, Payne was, pardon the clich, an American original, with a super sized personality. He was a genuine showman who dressed like he was starring on Broadway but competed like it was fourth and goal from the one in the final minute of the Super Bowl. Payne Stewart was a hell of a story and you didnt have to like golf to like the story.
Hed have been a Ryder Cup captain and Im not going to speculate as to how the outcome may have been affected either at Oakland Hills or the Belfry. We can leave it at this: a Payne Stewart captaincy would have been Fun with a capital F.
I do wonder how hed fix whats ailing the U.S. team. Would he have offered just the right words or just the right touch the way he did with Phil Mickelson after he made the putt at Pinehurst?
On the whole though, I dont think about what more he might have done had he lived because he lived so fully.
I do wonder if well see the likes of Payne Stewart again, someone with that much passion and playfulness and pride.
Its then that I get a bit wistful.
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