October 23, 2009
Ten years ago Sunday, Payne Stewart died in a tragic plane accident. It was an unimaginable tragedy for his family and friends, one of the most vibrant personalities in the game gone in an instant. And in a way, the game of golf has never recovered.
Stewart was everything you want a golfing partner to be -- funny, quick-witted, genial, and insanely talented. Along with Paul Azinger, Stuart Appleby, Lee Janzen and others, he characterized the post-Jack, pre-Tiger landscape of golf. At the time of his death, he was 42 years old, and already aware that a younger generation of power golfers -- Woods and Phil Mickelson chief among them -- were working their way onto center stage and making Stewart and his contemporaries obsolete.
Nonetheless, Stewart had a vibrancy to him that no one since has matched. He combined trademark throwback outfits with a deep respect for the game, and as a result the PGA named an award in his honor, to be given to the player who best exemplifies Stewart's traditions of respect and honor. Kenny Perry was the 2009 winner, and previous winners have included Hal Sutton, Davis Love III and Tom Watson.
Since his passing, the PGA family has kept a close eye on Payne's widow Tracey and his two children Chelsea and Aaron. And golfers, officials and media have never forgotten that day; check here for an oustanding, heartrending collection of remembrances of Payne and that tragic day from Golf Digest. From the final pancakes he made for his kids that morning to the frantic phone calls and prayers, it's a difficult but necessary read.
And I defy you to get through this ESPN article, from earlier this year, about how Tracey Stewart is coping and how Aaron Stewart resembles his father, without the room getting a little dusty. The final photograph and caption are an absolute heartbreaker.
Payne's gone, and no player will ever replace him. But as long as the game remembers him, and the way he played, it'll be something. Not nearly enough, but something.