I went to a memorial service the other day, along with a bunch of friends and colleagues. I traveled to Orlando on a little Lear jet which is owned in part by Dave Pelz, and it was a very pleasant and uneventful flight in the company of good friends. It was the same flight, in the opposite direction, that Payne Stewart and his friends embarked upon just a few days before.
The scale of the memorial service, and the turnout, were enormous. It would have been a surprise to Payne, who was blissfully unaware of how much respect he commanded among his peers. It was not always this way. He had changed somehow, over the last few years, but not a whole lot, it seems to me. He was always generous, and to me at least, he had always been kind. On the surface, he was the same friend I had known for 15 years. He was a great winner and an even better loser. His Ryder Cup match concession to Colin Montgomerie typified the character into which he had evolved, largely because of the inner peace he had achieved through his new found faith.
Now, I am not a Christian, but something strange happened to me during the service. Everyone who attended was given a “WWJD” (What would Jesus do?) wristband, like the one that Payne wore, and just like everyone else, I tried to slip it on. It occurred to me that the first thing Jesus would do, would be to help me put the darned thing on, and I suppose he did, with the help of David Toms, who was sitting to my left. I figure that Jesus, in order to make it through his extraordinary life, must have had a sense of humor.
It was kind of nice to see, some of the players wearing plus fours (I can’t stand the word, “knickers”) on Sunday at the Tour Championship, as a tribute to Payne, but it was also a graphic example of why no one should ever be allowed to wear them again. They should be retired, like the jersey of a player who cannot be replaced. Payne was the only player in the modern era who could ever carry them off. Anyone else that wears them looks like they are trying to guarantee that they never get laid again. Now, before anyone gets upset about that last line, trust me, Payne would have loved it. I just want to remember that silhouette as being his, and his only.
I’ve been wearing my wristband for a few days now, and I have no intention of taking it off anytime soon. I’m a pretty happy guy for the most part, but I’ve got to admit, Payne Stewart left us feeling a lot happier for a reason I do not yet understand. In his honor, I’ll wear it until it falls off, and then, maybe, I’ll get another.
In closing, I’d like to thank Tracey, Chelsea and Aaron Stewart, whose amazing courage last Friday went a long way towards healing those of us who loved Payne.
GOLF Magazine contributing editor David Feherty and Payne Stewart faced each other in a singles match at the 1991 Ryder Cup with Feherty winning 2 and 1.