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Golf’s Appleby Mourns Wife’s Death

August 12, 1998

REDMOND, Wash. (AP) _ Each step is just as difficult as the one before. Stuart Appleby doesn’t know where the road will lead, only that it is long.

``This is stage whatever of infinity,″ he said.

The drive into Sahalee Country Club was his first to a major championship without his 25-year-old wife, Renay, at his side to read off the directions. The practice rounds were the first without seeing her behind the ropes along the fairway.

Three weeks ago, the 27-year-old Australian and his wife were taking their luggage out of a taxi that was double-parked in front of a London train station. They were on their way to Paris for a second honeymoon.

Seconds later, she was crushed to death between two cars in a freak accident.

No one expected to see Appleby in the PGA Championship. Even Appleby had doubts that he could return to a career he and Renay had built together.

``At my best, I feel good,″ he said. ``At my worst, I feel terrible.″

He wanted to meet with reporters now so he wouldn’t have to take questions at every stop. All that does is take more time away from time on the course _ and make him fight back tears.

On Tuesday, he held back as long as he could.

``The tough times ...″ Appleby started, before tears welled in his eyes and his voice began to crack.

``The tough times are when you do a lot of thinking,″ he said, fighting to continue. ``You just wish things were different. I’ve just got to bust through this little bubble in front of me.″

Renay Appleby’s death sent shock waves across PGA tours around the globe. She was a favorite among players and their wives, having caddied for her husband when he was trying to make it on the Nike Tour.

When he won for the first time on the PGA Tour two years ago, she nearly pulled his thumb off as they nervously held hands behind the 18th green in the Honda Classic as the last group came through.

``I feel very lucky that I knew her,″ Appleby said. ``The time we spent together was good quality. She was the first prize in a raffle, and I was lucky enough to win. She changed a lot of people’s lives.″

That much has been made clear in the past couple of weeks.

Nick Price did not celebrate his first PGA Tour victory of the year two weeks ago in Memphis without paying tribute to Renay. Emlyn Aubrey shot 61 on the Nike Tour in his victory two weeks ago and dedicated it to Renay.

Billy Mayfair had tears in his eyes walking up the 18th fairway toward victory in the Buick Classic on Sunday, thinking about Renay.

``Obviously, winning and all that was very special to me,″ Mayfair said. ``But my wife Tammie and I said that the first win I get I’m going to dedicate to Renay.″

Appleby has received more letters than he can count, so many flowers that he was able to put a fresh batch on Renay’s grave up until he left Australia for the PGA Championship.

``Not an hour goes by that I don’t think about her _ not an hour,″ Appleby said. ``Just getting back to golf is very important.″

He figured he had two options, the first of which was not very appealing.

``I could dig myself in a hole and lose all the potential I had,″ he said. ``Or I could say I was lucky to get her.″

There are more steps ahead on the long journey. Appleby has not been to their home in Florida since a week before leaving for the British Open and doesn’t look forward to going through the door without her.

He doesn’t know what to expect this week in the PGA Championship, only that he won’t be as tight as he usually is when he steps to the first tee in a major championship.

``I don’t think it will be very hard at all,″ he said. ``Nerves don’t concern me. They’re so irrelevant right now. I’m ready for whatever happens.″

Twilight cast long shadows across Sahalee late Monday afternoon when Appleby emerged from the clubhouse. A dozen players were on the range, two dozen others on the putting green.

They looked over at Appleby, none of them quite sure what to say or even if it would matter. For a moment, the final major of the year lost some of its significance.

``Only Stuart knows what he’s going through,″ two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els said. ``They were the best of friends and it’s got to be so tough. When things like this happen, golf is secondary.″

Just last week, Els was in South Africa to attend the funeral of Helen Bland, the 50-year-old wife of Senior Tour player John Bland who died awaiting a kidney transplant.

Els could not forget the words of the pastor.

``She’s in a better place, and I really believe that,″ he said. ``It’s everyone down here that’s suffering.″

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