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Wednesday, August 12, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

A Matter Of Life And Death -- Appleby Returns To Golf Without His Beloved Renay

Times Staff Columnist

REDMOND - Nobody, not even his closest friends, can comprehend Stuart Appleby's pain.

There is no way to understand the emptiness he must feel over the death of his wife Renay. No way to calculate the loneliness, the hurt, the quiet rage.

Seven years ago, I almost lost my wife to a brain tumor. I can appreciate the fear, but not the excruciating certainty of death.

Two weeks ago, following the British Open, Stuart and Renay Appleby were leaving London for a second honeymoon in Paris.

They had gotten out of the cab at the Waterloo train station. Stuart was paying the driver, when another cab backed up and pinned Renay between the two cars.

When Stuart and another man reached her, she was unconscious. On the street, they performed CPR, and tried massaging a beat into her heart.

"It was not scary at the time," Appleby said. "I didn't feel very upset or I didn't feel - I was very surprised at how calm I felt. I knew it was a very serious situation, but I felt like I had it under control.

"I don't know. It was just weird. You see these things on TV . . . It sort of felt similar, but at the same time, this was a real person. This was my wife."

Renay was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

"Renay was everything to him," Payne Stewart said.

They were more than husband and wife. They were pals. They were a team; the kind of couple that enjoyed everything together. They shared their love for golf; their love of each other. Renay often caddied for him.

His friends say Stuart often refused invitations for a night out with the boys. He preferred to be with Renay.

The boys understood.

"The time we spent together was real good quality. I don't have any regrets," Appleby said. "I feel like she was the first prize of a raffle, so to speak, in life and picking partners, I was lucky enough to win her."

They lived in the same Isleworth, Fla., neighborhood as Mark O'Meara, Tiger Woods and Ken Griffey Jr. At 27, Appleby already had two PGA Tour victories and more money than he could have imagined growing up in Cohuna, Australia.

Their lives were as lush as the fairways Stuart strolled every week. And all of it was stolen from them in a blink.

"I knew Renay just a little bit, and she was just a genuine person and just the greatest," Woods said.

Appleby has returned to play in the PGA Championship at Sahalee. The golf course will be his refuge. For a few hours, at least, he can concentrate on his game and put his grief on hold.

"It will be a tough, tough thing, but it's great to see him out here playing," Stewart said. "This is where he belongs. He can get inside the ropes and back to focusing on what his job is and that's playing golf."

The interview room was uncomfortably quiet when Appleby walked onto the stage yesterday afternoon. How do you question a man about the recent death of his wife?

But Appleby took that tension out of the room, saying he knew how difficult this was and offering to answer all questions.

"I knew when I came back I had to do this (interview)," he said. "It's probably one of the easiest things I could do. I mean, put it this way, it's nothing."

For more than a half hour, he spoke about Renay with a voice that was both rational and emotional.

"At my best, I feel good. I feel very back to normal," he said "At my worst, I feel terrible. I mean, it's a feeling I would never want to wish on anyone. There's not an hour that goes by when I don't think about her. Not one.

"You have so many questions that you can't find answers. In my job, if I have a question, I can find an answer. I know it will be OK. But this is a situation where very few people have got the experience to say, `Hey, you're going to come into this."'

Appleby took a long pause and fought his tears. He wiped his eyes with his left hand. He continued.

"I'd say the toughest times are when you do a lot of thinking, when you just wish things were different," he said. "I've just got to bust through this bubble that's in front of me. And it's tough getting through nights."

Appleby said he will miss the little moments.

The drives to the golf courses when Renay played navigator. The knowledge she was there, somewhere on the course, walking with him. The half-hour, late-night conversations after a long day on the practice range. Her presence beside him in bed.

"When you really love someone, you miss the simple things," he said. "It's a whole package of experiences that you shared with someone. It's not the big things. It's all the little things. They all add up. They make somebody's life.

"At some time, the memories will make me happier and happier and happier. They make me happy now, but it also makes me sad that there won't be any more."

The respect shown this week for the Applebys by the other pros has been overwhelming. The responses from the players toward Stuart are immediate. Their sadness is genuine.

Billy Mayfair dedicated his victory at the Buick Open to Renay.

"From a player's standpoint, everyone here has been open arms, open heart," Woods said, "and we welcome him back and we just want to say, if he ever needs us at any time, he can find us, pick up the phone and we're always there for him at any time.

"We'll drop whatever we're doing because to lose a loved one like that so quickly and tragically is - it's just a shame."

Golf is different from most sports. The players travel together. There is a more collegial feeling. They are neighbors, competitor-friends.

The wives get to know each other. Payne Stewart's wife, Tracey, had lunch with Renay the week of the British Open.

"I don't know if there's anything that you could say that would do - to help him at all," U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen said. "Stuart has done, I think, amazingly well through the whole thing.

"He's a really strong guy. I know it's not going to be easy for him for a long time, but he seems to be so objective about it, knowing what he has to do to help cope with it. He knows that he needed to get back on Tour."

Appleby came back because he knew Renay would want him playing again. He calls this another phase in the healing process.

"I think the qualities that you learned from a person that you loved is, if that person made a big influence on your life, try and keep the motivation you had," Appleby said. "When I say `try' it's sort of like a balloon that gets let down. But you've just got to get it back up again.

"You've got to talk about the person like they're still there. You never have a fear to mention their name. You laugh about things and the jokes that you might have told. You just feel as though that person is still there.

"You don't feel that person is gone. Physically, yes, she's never going to be there. Mentally, she'll always be there."

He will take Renay's spirit with him around Sahalee this week; the memory of everything that was good.

Those memories will help him through the difficult times ahead. They will follow him from Sahalee to the International next week and the World Series of Golf the week after that.

They will be his sustenance.

You can contact Steve Kelley by voice mail at 206-464-2176.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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