ATLANTA--It was a pleasantly low-key day at East Lake. Because practice rounds were limited due to the distressed greens, player and fan attendance was down, giving the old Bobby Jones stomping grounds and its attendant Tudor architecture the serenity of a grand urban park on a Sunday morning.
Amid the quietude, a modest ceremony in which Hal Sutton was awarded the 2007 Payne Stewart Award began on the first tee. But everything changed once the 49-year-old Sutton stepped to the podium and opened his soul.
Sutton began by saying that because lockers on the PGA Tour are assigned according to the alphabet, he and Stewart had adjacent lockers at nearly every tournament they played in for almost two decades. When Sutton related that one of the things he learned about Stewart was "how much he cared about Tracy and his children," his deep voice broke.
Recovering, he said, "I'm sorry. It's hard. I've been away from competitive golf for three years . . . you kind of get lost."
Sutton then went on a torrent of reflection that showed--through charitable efforts including the establishment of a children's hospital in his hometown of Shreveport, LA, as well as teaming with fellow Louisianans Kelly Gibson and David Toms to raise more than $2 million in aid to Hurricane Katrina victims--how much he'd found.
"I finally learned how to get my self-esteem out of something other than just golf," he said. "Something more important than chasing my own dreams."
He looked behind him to the East Lake practice tee and remembered how in 2000 he had found a swing key that helped him produce the best ball-striking in his life in winning the Tour Championship. "But I was working on the balance in my swing, instead of the balance in my life," said Sutton, who won 14 times on the PGA Tour and captained the 2005 U.S. Ryder Cup team. "When I was competing, I don't know if I ever had balance in my life. I think I would have been a better player and certainly happier if I had. That's why I tell young players. Don't be so self-serving. Think about others."
After concluding his remarks, Sutton hugged Tracy Stewart for a long time and acknowledged warm applause. Before leaving, he stopped to converse with a few members of the media.
"I left golf on my terms at exactly the right time," said Sutton, who doesn't have definite plans to play the Champions Tour. "I didn't leave bitter. I left looking for something else. I've already been paid by the game. It's time for me to pay back. Now I wonder if my contribution will be to talk about what I've learned and pass it on."