Paul Azinger pulled a tam-o'-shanter cap snugly over his head and rolled up his trousers to knickers-length, revealing a garish pair of argyle socks--all part of a poignant tribute to his close friend, Payne Stewart.
On a table below the pulpit where Azinger offered his eulogy today, a gold chalice gleamed. The Ryder Cup rarely leaves its trophy case at the PGA of America headquarters, but there could be no better showcase.
In a moving service at a church where Stewart finally found peace, he was remembered above all for his passion--for his wife and two children, for the three major championships he won, for the Ryder Cup team he would have captained and for the game that made him such an endearing figure.
"Payne Stewart loved life," said Azinger, whose garb drew applause and laughter from the crowd. "He was the life of every party."
A party is what Tracey Stewart wanted for her 42-year-old husband, who was among six people killed on Monday when his Learjet flew uncontrolled across the country before crashing into a field in South Dakota.
She remembered him as "the most beautiful-looking man I'd ever seen" when they first fell in love, and as a father who was a line judge at 13-year-old Chelsea's volleyball match and who watched 10-year-old Aaron catch a touchdown pass two days before the crash.
She was a big part of his career, too. She noticed his head moving over his putts in the third round of the U.S. Open last summer. The next day, keeping that crucial tip in mind, he made crucial putts on the final three holes to win the championship in spectacular fashion.
"You will always be my soul mate and my best friend. We love you. Let the party in heaven begin," she told about 3,000 people attending the memorial at the First Baptist Church, causing many to crumple.
More than 100 PGA Tour players and officials were in attendance, including Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman and former Ryder Cup captains Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite and Lanny Wadkins. Also present was most of the field from the Tour Championship in Houston, including Tiger Woods, David Duval and Davis Love III.
The PGA Tour decided to shut down tournaments in Texas and Mississippi today, so players could honor Stewart. The tournaments will resume Saturday.
When the two-hour service ended, the players formed a line down both sides of the center aisle--a protective wall for Tracey Stewart to walk through. She held her head high and greeted them later at a private reception.
"I love the guy," Fred Couples said. "It's so easy to say now. Looking around at all the people, it was a beautiful ceremony. I feel our hearts were lifted."
There was only one round of applause--when Azinger, his close friend, reconfigured his outfit to look like Stewart.
"I figured it would take Payne Stewart to get me in a suit, never thought I would stoop to this," he joked. "I felt pressure this morning, knowing he would be watching."
Azinger concluded with a tearful "Goodbye, Payne. We loved you and we miss you, but we know we will see you again."
The service included a song written this week by country singer Vince Gill and played on tape, Christian singer Michael W. Smith and a video presentation that captured some of Stewart's 18 victories and comments.
"I'm going to a special place when I die," he said in one interview played on a big screen in the church. "But I want to be sure my life is special while I'm here."
Next to the Wanamaker Trophy for his PGA Championship victory in 1989 and the U.S. Open trophy, which he won for the second time in June, was the prize that meant as much as any to Stewart--the Ryder Cup, which the U.S. won last month after the greatest comeback in the 72-year history of the matches.
On the European PGA Tour, players at the Volvo Masters in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, paused for a moment on the 18th green to remember Stewart.
"We all have been blessed by knowing and spending time with Payne," Bernhard Langer said.
Stewart was perhaps most successful in the U.S. Open, the toughest championship in golf, during the 1990s.
Stewart won his first U.S. Open in 1991, beating Scott Simpson in an 18-hole playoff at Hazeltine in Minnesota, then again in June with his historic putt at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.
There were failures, too. He finished two strokes behind Lee Janzen at Baltusrol in 1993 and lost a four-stroke lead to Janzen at The Olympic Club last year.
"Don't worry about me, boys," Stewart said at the time. "I'll be back."
He kept his word.
CAPTION: Wearing a tam-o'-shanter, Paul Azinger drew laughter and applause for his tribute to Payne Stewart's attire.
CAPTION: Jack Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, join PGA Tour players and officials at the memorial service, which celebrated Stewart as a golfer and a father.