Can 20 years have gone by so quickly? Incredibly, they can and they have. October 25, 1999, the day Payne Stewart and his friends perished in an incredible freak aviation accident that is vividly remembered still.
On that day I remember flying to Orlando Florida from Chicago to attend some business meetings and get in some golf. Ironic that day Payne's flight took off locally about an hour before I landed at MCO. Having gotten on the ground, fetched a rental car, and headed over to the nearest Edwin Watts golf store to fetch some golf paraphernalia....
When I strolled into the store it was really odd, as there were maybe 15 people staring up at the TV monitor near the registers. You know the one, always with some golf event or sports game on. Yet here were a group of people, men and women, staring blankly at a screen showing nothing more than the faint image of an airplane. Not a person in that store was doing anything but watching that scene.
I ambled up and casually asked someone what was going on, and he said in a very hushed tone that the image was Payne Stewart's plane, and something very bad had happened, though no one knew quite what it was. The television announcer, I can't recall the network, went through the various commentaries about the cracked window or fuselage leaks. The relaying of communications with the Air Force jets shadowing the plane. All of that.
I stood there for well over an hour, and almost no one left. Everyone stood there transfixed by the images that were shown. There were a couple local cutaways to local newscasters outside the Stewart home, but fortunately no cameras got too close. We just staring at the TV, coming to the realization the outcome was truly bad, but not fully grasping it well.
At some moment one of the ladies, probably a gentleman or two, began to cry. I think I teared up too, and it was at this moment I realized I simply couldn't watch any more, so I left. Went to my hotel, and did not turn on the TV the entire night. I just couldn't handle any of this.
Payne Stewart was one of my favorite players. I bought his apparel from Marshall Field's department store (long gone now), picking up sweaters, shirts, and ties. Like many, I found his style and demeanor pretty sweet, I was just a few years into playing, so he was my "guy." Incredibly saddened by the whole thing on so many levels.
So on this 20th anniversary of his passing I raise a cold beverage, I tip my cap, and I remember a true golf great. Here's to you Payne.