On Sunday at Royal St. George's in the 1993 British Open, Payne Stewart was ambling along, playing an early-morning round with no gallery to speak of, when he looked across the fence and noticed four of us, golf writers sneaking in a quick 18 before the leaders teed off. "Excuse me," he hollered over at us. "Have you seen a pink Flying Lady 6?"
Golf will be a little less colorful without Payne Stewart. Less colorful, literally. You would stop by his hotel room for a word or a beer, and you would find a Sherwin-Williams explosion—bright red knickers, long, blue, argyle socks, and green and yellow Hogan caps all laid out. The shoes were the best. They were custom-made, $400 a pair, of alligator or eel, each with silver toe and heel plates, and all traveling in a compartmentalized leather trunk. It was like meeting Liberace's pro.
The cocky son of a Missouri salesman who wore loud sport coats, Stewart loved his role as golf's dandy. He took to heart his father's motto: Wear something they'll remember. We used to ask him if he ever wished he could dress like everybody else, just for a week, but the answer was always no. "Most guys get bothered when they go out," he said, "but when I put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, nobody recognizes me!"
One swing of a driver, though, and you knew it was Stewart. He had the most classically beautiful golf swing on Tour, and he worked constantly on that buttery tempo. He would go to the range, tee a ball up high and hit it with his driver 40 yards. Then he would tee up another and hit it 50 yards. Then 60, 70, 80, until he was hitting full 250-yard drives with swings that were every bit as slow and creamy as the first.
Stewart had style. Once he started making good money, he always rented houses at tournaments so that he could cook—he was a wonderful chef—and play driveway basketball. Once I found myself trading serious box-outs and nasty elbows with him under the hoop, him grinning all the while. Both of us seemed to forget he was leading the Byron Nelson Classic at the time.
Some people found Stewart too cocky, too arrogant, but he found religion at the end of his life, and it showed. He laughed more, listened more, shook hands longer. When he made the defining putt of his career—to win this year's U.S. Open—he turned to the man he'd defeated, the father-to-be Phil Mickelson, and said, "You're going to be a father, you're going to be a father!" and then threw a bear hug around him.
It was a good finish in that way. Like his golf swing, he had life grooved at the end.