Inthe ancient game of golf, Payne Stewart will be recorded as a great player and ultimate sportsman who was torn from the planet when he was merely a footstep away from the pantheon of legends.
He was on his way there, all right, to join Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, who have had that particular hall of supreme fame to themselves for the last quarter of a century.
Stewart's stride had lengthened even at the age of 42. Faith, added to the humour and dedication, was taking him to newer, higher ground. There would have been additional majors to add to the US Open championship he won at Pinehurst in June.
Eighteen tournament wins do not represent his worth as a competitor and ambassador for a game where courtesy and honesty mean more than draw and fade. Others have won more money, more tournaments but Stewart was still growing.
Stewart's belated but immaculate rise was due to his mastery of all aspects of the game. He was not a prodigious driver of the ball in the might of Tiger Woods and John Daly but his long, willowy swing was in a style of its own and his fairway accuracy was a towering strength. His approach shots were always reliable rather than spectacular. He was a consistently good putter.
Add the three together and you have the man who was number eight in the world and sitting comfortably with Woods, David Duval and the rest at the top of the world rankings.
What also made him a champion and saw him growing stronger was that after winning the USPGA championship in 1989 and the US Open in 1991 he realised that there was more to the game than making shots. There was something in addition to that kind of magic that had set Nicklaus, Palmer and Player above the rest.
He had a back problem, heart concerns and a condition know as Attention Deficit Disorder. He also had a temper to control. He conquered them all. He went to a sports psychologist who made him focus entirely on every single shot in isolation. He called up a nutritionist and exercise coach and he practised relentlessly.
All this and his faith in the Bible, he said, had made him into the rounded golfer who died with at least one unfulfilled ambition: he wanted to win theOpen because he loved the historic origins of the game.
Ironically it was something Nicklaus once said that strengthened the foundations of Stewart's career and inspired him to play harder and better. In the wake of America's first Ryder Cup defeat on home soil, at Muirfield Village in 1987, Nicklaus called a meeting after dinner that night.
He looked at them and his eyes landed on Stewart, who later recalled: "Jack said: 'You guys don't know how to win. Look at you Payne Stewart. You make all this money on tour but how many tournaments have you won? Why don't you win more?' There was no sugar coating, I will tell you, that speech was good for me."
At The Champions Club in Texas, where he was due to play this weekend, the flags were at half mast, the mood sombre. "He is an irreplaceable guy," Duffy Waldorf said.