Payne Stewart's Son Follows in His Father's Footsteps


The men polished off a bottle of the finest Australian rum that last weekend in Florida, watched a fight on HBO and chortled in the dark while the women and children slept. This, the boy must know.

Jon Brendle vowed, in his high-pitched Southern drawl, that Payne Stewart's son would hear every story about his daddy.

He'd tell young Aaron how Payne had a way of taking everyone along for the ride, of making them feel special. How Brendle winced, but now cherishes, that New Year's night when Payne planted a giant kiss on him and said, "Jonny, I love you."

VIDEO: Late golfer Payne Stewarts son takes up the game that made his dad a legend.

Watch Tom Rinaldi's story about Aaron Stewart on "SportsCenter" -- Sunday at 10 a.m. ET, and again at 11 p.m., on ESPN.

The game of golf was changing, giving way to the young and powerful. Brendle, Payne Stewart's neighbor and confidant, wondered if people would remember. Would the boy remember?

"I hate that Aaron didn't get to live that life," Brendle says. "Aaron never got to see how great his dad was because he was too young."

Aaron was 10 years old, towheaded with a Dennis the Menace streak, when his daddy died. He played with snakes, not golf clubs. But that's the thing about memories: They come in flickers, bouncing through time until someone, inevitably, fills in the gaps.

Visit ESPN for more about Aaron Stewart and the U.S. Open.

Brendle is here for that, one of two adults who could best remember what happened on Oct. 25, 1999, the day Stewart's plane crashed into a quiet cow pasture in South Dakota and all their lives changed. Brendle saw him packing through a window the night before.

Aaron sees pancakes, the ones Payne made that morning for his two kids, hears a silly song he sang, sees a final wave goodbye.

Brendle hears a promise. He's scooping up Aaron, who has just been told by his mom that Payne is gone; he's placing him in his lap on a rocking chair. They're staring out at Pocket Lake, where some of the hottest golfers gravitated to in central Florida, and where Payne laughed and played and entertained. It's quiet, and Brendle and Aaron are swaying back and forth.

"You know, buddy?" Brendle told him. "It's our deal keeping Dad alive in our minds. All the great times. & It's up to me and you."

The Love of a Mother

Before we get into the rather cliche notion that the PGA Tour is a family, bound by a brutal travel schedule, long hours and the pursuit of one superstar, let's get one thing straight. It does not take a village to raise two children. No, Tracey Stewart could've done it, and practically did do it, all on her own.

She turns 50 later this month, and her friends and family held a surprise birthday party last weekend for the woman who was so madly in love with Payne, so unaware of how strong she could be without him. Golfers Paul Azinger and Stuart Appleby were on the party guest list.

When Payne died, the tour, the dizzying lifestyle, was buried with him. But here it is, almost 10 years later, and so many of these faces whom Stewart hugged and wanted to beat the pants off are still in the family's life. We'll get to them later, because to understand the man who Aaron Stewart is now, at 20, you have to know Tracey.

"She has not even entertained the idea of dating," Azinger says. "She just focused on raising her children and doing the right things.

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