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Stewart's legacy in golf, life provide example all should follow

As I sat at Buddhist Biker Bar and Grill Monday for the $5 steak and potatoes special, I glanced up at a television above the bar. There across the screen flashed a clip of professional golfer Payne Stewart with datelines of his birth and death.

Several thoughts arose in my mind upon seeing the news clip. Among my first thought was that Stewart the golfer was also Stewart the father. I knew he had children, and learned yesterday via ESPN he is survived by a 10-year-old son, Aaron, and a 14-year-old daughter, Chelsea.

I learned a lot more watching ESPN's coverage of the tragedy. I have been a Payne Stewart fan from a point early in this decade when my love for sports began to expand. Hey, he wore cool clothes with NFL team logos sewed on the fabric. It was an easy choice for a football fan.

I remained a Stewart fan as I grew up, while pulling for other golfers along the way. Even this year, the saga surrounding Phil Mickelson and his due-any-moment baby at this year's U.S. Open made me want Mickelson to win.

But as the tourney moved towards its close and Stewart, who had lost two Opens in agonizingly close fashion, sunk a 15-footer at the 18th, I was happy that he won. It reminded me of why I liked him.

He wore cool clothes and he put his emotions and thoughts right out in the open. He provided a model that not only all athletes can learn from, but that we all can draw from as well.

In greeting Mickelson at this year's Open, Stewart told his opponent something that had nothing to do with golf. "Good luck with the baby," he said. "There's nothing like being a father."

But perhaps even more heart wrenching was what Stewart said in an interview following the Open victory. He said: "I don't know how many more chances I'll have at this opportunity. I'd like to believe, I'm still going to be capable next year and the year after and the year after. But realistically I don't know."

Stewart exemplified that in his play, exuding an undying love for the game of golf in his classy attitude, halving his final Ryder Cup match with an American-biased crowd that ridiculed Colin Montgomerie throughout and with his life, doing and saying what he felt. We all should learn from him.

Those of you who read this column weekly probably have realized that I generally focus on topics relevant to the University community.

The topic at hand deserves a whole column into itself. Stewart was able to draw attention and excitement to a sport that does not always receive big headlines. But with my remaining space I would like to draw some attention to a group of athletes often overlooked by the press, the Cav men's swimming and diving team.

After upsetting No. 7 Tennessee this past weekend, the squad should move into the Top 10 for the first time in the program's history.

In writing a story about the incoming swim recruits this summer, I had a chance to talk to Virginia Coach Mark Bernardino about the team. At the time, I asked him if the new recruits would give the squad a chance of cracking the Top 10. He humbly said that the first years could help the men into the Top 10 in their four years here.

Don't be so modest. How about in their first year here, coach? With the win against Tennessee that's where the men are headed.

The Cavaliers didn't just top their opponent, they dominated the Vols, taking eight of 13 events. Third-year Jamie Grimes led the way with victories in both the 500 and 1,000-meter freestyle events.

But it is also important to keep things in perspective. This year's Cav team is good and will win a lot of meets en route to the NCAA meet in March. But it won't be a cruise. ACC foes North Carolina and N.C. State also have strong teams this season.

The Top 10 is a milestone mark for this program. With a heightened focus and intensity, even higher points can be reached. Who knows, in the rookies' four years, the Cavs could crack the Top 5. After all, the men's team is already ahead of schedule.

Just as Stewart took great pride in his golf, swim team members just need to utilize their enthusiasm to propel themselves up the rankings.

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