There was no lone bagpiper disappearing into the early-morning
mist as there had been the day before during a ceremony at the
Tour Championship, but there was a larger sense of occasion last
Friday when Payne Stewart's memorial service was held in
Orlando. More than 3,000 mourners, including about 100 pro
golfers, attended the service at cavernous First Baptist Church,
while millions more watched on television.
The items on display in the front of the church--there was no
casket--reflected great feats and small but endearing moments:
Stewart's trophies from the U.S. Open, the PGA and the Ryder Cup
alongside his harmonica and the set of buck teeth he would
sometimes pop in his mouth as a joke. Three rows were filled
with the members of his son Aaron's Pop Warner football team, in
full uniform, and as Paul Azinger began his eulogy, he donned a
tam-o'-shanter and tucked his pants legs into the knee-length
argyle socks he had borrowed from Stewart's closet. Most
striking, though, was the sense of community displayed by the
golfers, rare in a sport that demands insularity and independence.
In honor of Stewart, the Tour had shut down the Tour
Championship and the Southern Farm Bureau Classic in Madison,
Miss., for the day, and everyone in the 29-man field in Houston,
except Notah Begay, John Huston and Ted Tryba, made the journey
to Orlando, while about 40 of the 131 players in Mississippi
came. Stewart's teammates on this year's Ryder Cup team walked
into the church together. Several other pros, including Fred
Couples, Ben Crenshaw, Peter Jacobsen, Tom Kite, Jack Nicklaus,
Greg Norman, Jesper Parnevik, Sam Snead, Lanny Wadkins and Tom
Watson, also attended. (Notably absent was Orlando resident
Arnold Palmer, whose wife, Winnie, is seriously ill with
cancer.) Looking out over the gathering, Stewart's wife, Tracey,
said, "Payne would have been so proud."
The large turnout defined--to a degree that surprised even the
attendees--the unspoken bond among the players. "In the end we
are all part of the same deal," said Wadkins. "We try to beat
each other's brains out, but we know each other's families and
we share the same hopes and dreams. We're closer than we know."
Stewart was one of the lucky princes of the sport, blessed with
talent, wealth, a loving family and, at 42, a second U.S. Open
title. For most of his career he had been known as a fun-loving
character with a big heart but a bigger ego. "For many years it
seemed that Payne Stewart was first in Payne Stewart's life,"
said Azinger. But in the last few years, he added, the annoying
kid had finally grown into a caring and admired man. That
transformation intensified the sense of loss at his sudden death.
Azinger's remembrance was full of levity. He related how the
mechanically challenged Stewart blew the engine in his bass boat
by running it in the garage, and how Stewart would ask another
player, "Did you get a free bowl of soup with that hat?" if that
player's cap did not meet his fashion standards. But at the end,
Azinger's voice broke, and he could barely be heard to say,
"Goodbye, Payne." When the two-hour service came to a close, the
players lined the center aisle as the Stewart family, including
Payne's mother, Bee, were led out to the strains of Amazing
Grace. Several players cried, others dabbed at their eyes, and
all hugged the Stewarts and each other.
Afterward the guests lingered and the stories flowed. Friends
chuckled when they recalled how proud Stewart had been when he
was told that after meeting him, Princess Stephanie of Monaco
had remarked, "That Payne Stewart, he's quite the cat's meow."
Wadkins remembered a deep-sea fishing trip during which Stewart
wolfed down a cheeseburger in front of an extremely seasick
Crenshaw, just to see if he could get Crenshaw to run for the
rail. His Ryder Cup mates spoke of Stewart's 5:30 a.m. wake-up
call in the team hotel: Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA at
full volume. Jacobsen, who together with Stewart and Mark Lye
made up Jake Trout and the Flounders, recounted how, during a
recording session, a studio technician went up to Stewart and
pleaded, "Payne, I'm begging you. Don't sing."
Other glimpses were more intimate. Lamar Haynes, a teammate at
SMU, remembered that during this year's U.S. Open, Stewart took
time to call Haynes's mother, Nell, on the eve of an operation to
remove her larynx. "Payne said, 'Nell, I just wanted to hear your
beautiful voice one more time.'"
Last Friday, everyone--even that studio technician--longed to hear
Stewart's sweet, high-pitched voice once again.