Stuart Appleby wasn't alone when he won the Coolum Classic in December in his native Australia. Not really. He dedicated that week in Brisbane to the memory of his late wife, Renay, who had died in a freak auto accident five months earlier in London. He won that tournament for her and, in a sense, with her, because the resort where the tournament was played, the Hyatt Coolum, was one of Renay's favorite places. "It was our tournament," Appleby said last week at the Shell Houston Open. "It was an event I played for her. I didn't go there because I wanted to play that tournament so much as I went because she had a great time. It was a week off. Her week to go to the beach, ride a bike, do whatever she wanted. She has to put up...." He stopped, realizing the tense wasn't right but not wanting to dwell on that thought. "Well, you have to put up with a lot of crap from me, playing golf. I didn't really want to go back. I knew it would be emotional."
He didn't face those emotions by himself. Renay's parents were there to see him win for the first time since That Day. His parents were there, too, as were many friends. The tournament was in Renay's honor.
Destiny didn't dial up an encore in Houston, where Appleby won again. This time he did it by himself and for himself. There was a sense of closure, real or imagined, after he had won. Maybe the victory was another small step in the rest of his life. Another step away from the life and the love that he had lost. Appleby didn't win with an impressive display of golf, as he had done in Australia. He won with an impressive display of determination. "The win in Australia was as sweet as this in a different way," Appleby said. "I went in there with a relaxed attitude—not as businesslike as this week—and won. I was a bit hungrier this week. Australia was a victory in which I played by pure relaxation, like you do on a Saturday. This was work, real work."
Last Saturday, Appleby turned 28. He celebrated the birthday with a round of 70 followed by a long practice session. Two hours after he had finished play, he was still on the putting green at the TPC at The Woodlands. "It gets frustrating if you don't putt well," he said. "Your mind gets worn down. You come to the 1st tee and you're already tired and on edge, temperamental and moody."
Maintaining a positive attitude on the course has been one of Appleby's biggest challenges this year. He had played 11 Tour events before Houston but wasn't satisfied with his results. He had missed three cuts, and his best finish was a tie for ninth in the Honda Classic, an event he had won in 1997. Last week he came to some conclusions about his state of mind. "I realized that nobody else was responsible for the way I was feeling. It was me, and I had to get out of that mood or I was going to go backwards," Appleby said. "Renay was always telling me that I had to stay positive and keep practicing. I had to try to be Renay and talk to myself about what I had to do to win. The answer was to get my act together, stay positive and believe in myself. That's hard to do when you lose someone you love so much, but you've got to turn it around."
It has been nearly 10 months since Renay, 25, was killed in front of London's Waterloo train station a few feet from her husband. She was unloading luggage from their taxi, which was double-parked, while Stuart was paying the driver. As she turned toward the curb, the driver of the car in front of the Applebys' cab, 52-year-old Ravi Kuriyan, who was in reverse, accidentally stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake. Renay was crushed between the two cars and died two hours later from multiple rib and abdomen injuries. Six weeks ago in a London court, Kuriyan pleaded guilty to careless driving charges and was fined �1,000, ordered to pay �100 in court costs and was banned from driving for a year.
The Applebys were headed for a second honeymoon, in Paris, when the accident occurred. The plan was to go from France to Orlando and the new house they had just purchased. Three weeks later, after Renay's funeral in Tweed Heads, New South Wales, Appleby was unsure if he could deal with being in that house, so he opted to play in the PGA Championship in Seattle instead. At Sahalee he endured a tearful, gut-wrenching press conference in order to get all the painful questions out of the way. "I feel very lucky that I knew her," he told reporters. "I feel she was the first prize in the raffle of life, and I was lucky enough to pick her." Then he missed the cut.
Appleby played in three more Tour events in '98 and made a couple of checks, but he didn't seem to rebound until he returned to Australia. In early December he tied for second in the Australian Open and then, in the Presidents Cup, went 2-1-1 to help the International team score a lopsided win over the U.S. The next week he won the Coolum by four strokes.
Many people find it remarkable that Appleby not only has been able to cope with his wife's death but also to play well enough to win. "It's hard to concentrate when you're asked the same questions all the time," says Tour veteran Willie Wood, who lost his first wife, Holly, to bone cancer in 1989. "It takes time for the questions to stop. It was the same story each week in the local paper. After a while I said, 'I've got to stop reliving this.' I've got to talk about golf."
When Wood won the Deposit Guaranty Classic in 1996, the questions stopped for good. "People began associating me with my win instead of with the loss of my wife," he says. "Maybe it will be that way for Stuart."