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
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 [pounds], ordered to pay 100 [pounds] 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."
Appleby stayed in control of his emotions on Sunday evening as
he held up the Houston Open trophy in his right hand, waved his
visor with his left and accepted the crowd's ovation during the
award ceremony on the 18th green. There was a bit of distance in
his voice as he addressed the gallery. "This is a very weird
moment for me," he said. "I feel great, really great to be here.
Obviously, not having Renay here--she's here in spirit--is a
Appleby's win surprised many of the fans, who had expected and
were pulling for a Hal Sutton victory. Sutton, who led by two
over Joey Sindelar and by three over Appleby going into the
final round, has had close calls before in Houston and is from a
Louisiana oil family, which makes him an honorary Texan. He
faltered down the stretch, though, bogeying two of the last
three holes to fall into a tie for second with John Cook, a
stroke behind Appleby. The fans were quick to change
allegiances. They roared when Appleby made a 12-foot birdie putt
on the dangerous par-4 17th to tie for the lead, and thundered
their approval when he two-putted for par at 18 to finish with a
71 and a nine-under total of 279.
Cook also finished heroically, holing a bunker shot for birdie
at the 16th and making another birdie at 17. "Sometimes you
think you've got a black cloud over your head," he said. "Then
you look at Stuart. It was very awkward talking to him at first.
I saw him at the PGA and all I could talk to him about was BMWs.
I couldn't look at him. You can see he's still a little hollow
Cook said the same is true for his mentor, CBS commentator Ken
Venturi, who lost his wife, Beau, to cancer in July 1997. "Ken
is happy to be around his friends and working," said Cook. "He
likes to work, but when he walks through the front door [of his
house] on Marco Island [Fla.], you don't know. Once he and
Stuart go back to their rooms, that's the difficult part."
The TPC at The Woodlands proved to be the difficult part for
everyone last week. Appleby's 279, on rounds of 70, 68, 70 and
71, was the highest winning score there in a decade. Gusty winds
kept The Woodlands' many water hazards busier than usual. Even
defending champ David Duval, the No. 1-ranked player in the
world, who was coming off a two-week vacation, proved that he's
human. He moved into contention at seven under through 14 holes
on Saturday, then sailed a drive way left and out of bounds on
the 15th, resulting in a double bogey. He limped in with a 78
and a 76 on the weekend, his worst numbers since missing the cut
in the '98 PGA.
Meanwhile Appleby quietly hung around the lead, his only
spectacular shot coming on Thursday, when he salvaged a bogey on
the 7th hole by playing out of ankle-deep water. He finished the
tournament, though, with a familiar flourish. At last year's
Kemper Open, Appleby drilled a fearless three-iron through the
wind and onto the final green to clinch a one-shot victory. On
Sunday, after he had ballooned his tee shot at the watery 18th,
Appleby provided a Kemper replay. He hit a solid three-iron over
the pond fronting the green of the 445-yard par-4 and made the
par he needed.
Appleby's victory was a feel-good moment for just about
everyone. "If somebody had to beat me, I'm glad it was Stuart,"
said Sutton. "I'm sure somebody's smiling down on him right
now." Even Mark Wiebe, who double-bogeyed the 17th to come in
fourth, left The Woodlands with a smile on his face.
Wiebe's life has looked like the script for a B movie lately. He
has been sidelined by a respiratory problem and plagued by back
trouble. Like everyone else who lives in Denver, Wiebe was
devastated by the shootings at Columbine High in Littleton. In
addition, a close friend of Wiebe's is seriously ill and faces a
long hospital stay. All of that, and Appleby's loss, has helped
him put life in perspective.
"I'm going home tonight to see my wife and kids for two days,"
he said as he climbed into his car in the clubhouse parking lot.
"I'm pretty excited."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL Perfect pitch Some extra time tuning up, plus a more positive attitude, paid off for Appleby in Houston.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL Last gasp Sutton (left) saw his try for a tying birdie burn the edge at 18.
COLOR PHOTO: SPORTING PIX/AP Happy days Renay (caddying in '95) gave up a promising golf career to work with Stuart.
"I had to try to be Renay and talk to myself about what I had to
do to win," said Appleby. "The answer was to get my act
"It was the same story each week in the local paper," says Wood.
"After a while I said, 'I've got to stop reliving this.'"