It's not often that somebody brags about breaking 100 on the
Champions tour, but tour caddie Bruce Edwards did so recently.
"I'm now consuming 102 pills a day," he told another caddie at
the Toshiba Senior Classic in Newport Beach, Calif. "I'm the pill
popper of the tour!" Asked if it was difficult to swallow 30-some
pills with every meal, Edwards smiled. "The big ones are hard,"
he said. "It's like trying to hit a two-iron out of the rough."
Tom Watson, listening from behind the wheel of a golf cart,
chuckled. It was typical of his caddie to compare a matter of
life and death to the everyday process of club selection--and
Watson picked up the pointed reference to a certain shot he
probably shouldn't have attempted long ago in Scotland.
But that's how it is for Edwards and Watson, who have been
together as caddie and player for an unheard-of 28 years. They
have laughed, argued, teased, encouraged and provoked each other
for so long that they have become almost iconic: two men standing
by a golf bag, studying a distant target. Only now it is the
caddie who is in the do-or-die position and the golfer who must
watch with his heart in his throat.
Sitting in his cart on a cool, sunny afternoon, Watson described
the evening of Jan. 15, when he got the phone call from the Mayo
Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "We've got bad news," said Bruce's
fiancee, Marsha Moore. "Real bad." The doctors said Edwards had
an aggressive form of ALS--amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly
known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He had one to three years to live.
Watson stopped talking and looked straight ahead for a moment,
the tear rolling down his right cheek saying everything that
needed to be said.
April 7, 2003
So what do you do if you're Tom Watson and your friend is dying?
You get up before dawn in Stilwell, Kans., fire up the computer
and do a Google search for ALS. You read, for the hundredth time,
that there is no known cure. You sigh over the fact that there is
only one FDA-approved treatment, a drug called Rilutek, which
promises no more than a slight retardation of the disease, whose
symptoms include twitching, muscle weakness, gradual loss of
speech and difficulty swallowing and breathing. You start
clicking on the links to alternate therapies--outside-the-box
treatments like cobra venom, acupuncture, intravenous
glutathione, electrical muscle stimulation, amalgam removal,
magnetism and chelation therapy.
"Inside the box doesn't offer a lot of hope," Watson says. "ALS
is considered a rare disease. So the research money goes to heart
disease and cancer, and not much happens with ALS." In recent
weeks Watson has contacted researchers and therapists across the
country on Edwards's behalf. "I call him Dr. Watson," says
Marsha, who married Edwards on Feb. 1 in Hawaii. "He blows my
socks off with the things he can accomplish, the doors he opens
for Bruce." Watson, in turn, says he doesn't know half as much
about ALS as Marsha, a former flight attendant who is studying to
be a nurse. Says Bruce, "I've got a great one-two punch."
So far, though, the most effective therapy has been
occupational--which explains why Edwards, despite a 20-pound
weight loss, an atrophied left hand and some slurring of his
speech, expects to carry Watson's bag next week at the Masters.
"I feel the best when I'm out there between the ropes," he says.
"It takes my mind off the problems."
Golf was in its white-belt-and-polyester-bell-bottoms epoch when
Watson and Edwards first hooked up, in 1973. Edwards, a
17-year-old just out of Marianapolis Preparatory School in
Thompson, Conn., was caddying his way across America. ("I was the
only one in my graduating class of 39 who didn't go right on to
college," he says. "I wanted to spin my wheels first.") As
Edwards tells it, he was unemployed and sitting outside the
locker room at the St. Louis Children's Hospital Golf Classic
looking for a bag when someone said, "There's Tom Watson. Why
don't you ask him?" All Edwards knew about Watson was that he had
led the Hawaiian Open after 54 holes, but he approached the
golfer and said, "I'm going to be out here for a year. Can I
caddie for you?" Watson, no fool, agreed to a week, saying,
"We'll see how it goes."
Edwards's most vivid memory of that week is of Watson on the
range: "He kept sending me back for buckets of balls and ice
water. He'd hit bucket after bucket, the sweat pouring off him.
He'd keep going to the bag for $2, because back then you had to
pay for range balls." Watson's first impression of Edwards was
one of speed: "Bruce hustled. He did things at my speed, a fast
speed. He had good timing." And timing proved to be everything,
because Watson finished sixth that week. He paid Edwards after
the final round and, more important, agreed to keep him another
week. "Which turned out to be 28 years," Edwards says.
In the beginning Edwards was strictly a bag toter and errand boy,
but over the years he learned how to motivate Watson. In the
first round of the 1977 Andy Williams-San Diego Open, for
instance, Watson was playing very badly. At the 14th hole he hit
his ball on the green, took his putter from Edwards and muttered,
"Let me three-putt this and get the heck out." Edwards responded
with a frosty glare and a one-word expletive that startled Watson
and shook him out of his lassitude. "He wound up winning that
tournament," Edwards recalls with satisfaction.
Then there was the time in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am when Watson,
out of contention and playing his second shot on the par-5 7th
hole at Spyglass, asked how far it was to the water. Edwards
said, "It's 235 to the front of the green."
"That's not what I asked you. How far do we have to the water?"
Edwards had the three-wood out. When Watson went to the bag for
his six-iron, his caddie blocked him. Watson tried again, and
Edwards again got in his way. Exasperated, Watson pushed Edwards
aside and pulled the six-iron. Edwards responded by throwing the
three-wood to the ground and saying, "You chickens---
motherf-----!" Edwards grabbed the bag and walked ahead, leaving
Watson with the two clubs.
Nick Faldo and Watson's amateur partner, Sandy Tatum, had watched
the scene with interest. When Edwards reached them, Faldo said,
"You put your head on the chopping block there." Edwards, still
steaming, said, "Sometimes you got to do what you got to do." It
was only when Watson cast aside the six-iron and picked up the
three-wood that Edwards began to sweat. Fortunately, Watson hit a
good shot to the front edge. The next day Tatum told the caddie,
"I want you to know we had a field day at dinner with that story."
Edwards gets pretty good mileage out of it himself, along with a
hundred other tales of Tour life. "I found myself loving the
job," he says, "once I began to see the chess game you need to
play." Watson, for his part, began to rely on his caddie for his
unvarnished advice and for his ability to clear the air when a
tournament situation became too portentous. "Bruce has always
been able to break the tension with his sense of humor," Watson
says. "He can make a bad situation seem good." So good, in fact,
that except for a three-year span from 1989 to '92 when Edwards
looped for Greg Norman, the two have been inseparable. By
comparison, other notable caddie-player combos, like Mike (Fluff)
Cowan-Tiger Woods (2 1/2 years), have barely lasted past the
introductions stage. "Players change caddies when they're playing
badly," Watson says. "We're pretty high-strung."
It is also a fact of Tour life that caddies drop off the circuit
to start families or pursue other interests. "This life, you've
got to love it," says Watson. "It's an easy life, but it does
take its toll if you want those things." Edwards learned that the
hard way three years ago, when his estranged first wife set their
Florida home on fire. (In March 2001 Susan Edwards was found
guilty of arson and sentenced to 15 years of community
supervision.) No one was injured in the blaze, but Edwards lost
most of his golf memorabilia. He also got a preview of what it's
like to be an object of sympathy.
The oddest fact about their long collaboration, and one that
could win a few bar bets, is that Edwards was on Watson's bag for
only one of his eight major championship victories, the 1982 U.S.
Open at Pebble Beach. Watson won the Masters in '77 and '81 with
a caddie assigned by Augusta National. (Tour caddies weren't
allowed on the hallowed grounds until '83.) He won his five
British Open titles with a colorful but erratic Scotsman, Alfie
Fyles. Edwards watched on television from the States, not because
he wasn't welcome but because the trans-Atlantic trip was too
expensive and the Open purse too meager. "I was going to go over
when Tom beat Jack Newton in '75," Edwards says, "but I decided
not to, and he won. So the next year I went and Tom tripled the
1st hole and did nothing. The next year I stayed home again"--he
winces--"and Tom beat [Jack] Nicklaus at Turnberry." Edwards's
only regret, he says, is that he wasn't at St. Andrews in 1984
when Watson flew the green on the Road Hole (number 17) in the
final round and lost by two strokes to Seve Ballesteros. "I like
to think I could have talked him into a different shot," says
Edwards, who watched in dismay on television as Watson attacked
the tiny green with a doomed two-iron.
Edwards is quick to add that caddying for Watson in the '82 U.S.
Open made up for any majors he might have missed. Their exchange
in the final round, before Watson attempted his short-side chip
from deep rough at the 17th green, is part of golf history.
Edwards: "Come on now, get it close."
Watson: "I'm not gonna get it close. I'm gonna make it."
But when Edwards tells the story, he starts back at the tee,
where Watson, after watching his ball disappear into the grass,
said, "That's dead," and flipped his club at Edwards while
walking off the tee. Says the caddie, "I was pissed off that he
didn't hand me the club, that he gave me that Watson flip."
Watson smiles and says, "I told you, we're high-strung."
As they neared the green, however, Edwards spotted a glimpse of
white, indicating that the lie was better than Watson had
expected. "We can work with that," Edwards said. Still, when
Watson predicted he would hole out, Edwards thought, Yeah, right.
After the ball hit the flagstick and dropped, to the disbelieving
roar of the gallery, Watson took a jubilant lap around the green
and then pointed at Edwards. "He was saying, 'I told you so,'"
Edwards says. "It was like the teacher came in and caught me
smoking in the bathroom."
Their partnership, although unusually warm, was a professional
one. When Watson was in his prime, they didn't socialize much off
the course. They didn't travel together. ("I drove, he flew,"
says Edwards.) They stayed at different hotels. Edwards says he
never had a problem with that. "I was his caddie, not a member of
his family. I knew my role, and I thoroughly enjoyed it." He
gives most of the credit for the longevity of their
partnership--Watson is now 53, Edwards 47--to the fact that Watson
never played the blame game. "If I became a good caddie, it's
because Tom let me be wrong. I knew he would never berate me or
rip me." Edwards set similarly high standards for himself,
encouraging and coaching younger caddies and providing insightful
but never self-aggrandizing background to reporters. In 1980 he
even earned a Texas real estate license, just to prove that he
wasn't a one-trick pony. "I always thought it was my
responsibility," he says, "to counter the image of caddies as
no-good wino bums."
He now checks the calendar the way he used to check his watch.
"It changes your whole outlook," Marsha said recently, sitting
beside her husband in the living room of their home in Ponte
Vedra Beach, Fla. "The dishes can wait."
Bruce nodded and lit up a cigarette. "Throwing a ball to the dog
is more important."
Leaning against a wall behind them was a painting of a mostly
eaten apple--an unwitting metaphor for Bruce's medical condition.
Marsha recounted their four days at the Mayo Clinic in January,
and how she had finally been led into an examining room where
Bruce lay on a bed. "He was as white as the paint on the wall,"
she recalled. That's because he had just gotten the results of
his needle-prick test. He knew he had ALS.
From Rochester they had flown home to Jacksonville. Bruce then
drove down to Vero Beach to tell his mom and dad. "Everything had
to wait," he said, "until I broke the news and broke their
Edwards's own heart, although troubled, was spared further
injury. Marsha, 46, with every reason to reconsider their plans
to wed in the summer, repledged her love. A divorced mother of
four, she had met Edwards in 1974, when she was a teenage
Nelsonette at the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, her hometown.
They began dating last summer, and Bruce proposed on New Year's
Eve, before he had an inkling of what lay ahead. "Backing out was
a fleeting thought," Marsha says, "but I love him so much." It
was Watson's wife, Hilary, who suggested that the wedding be
moved up, with Marsha flying to Hawaii the week of the MasterCard
Championship for a sunset wedding on the beach in Kona. All 36
players in the field were present for the vows, including
Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. "It was beautiful,"
Marsha said. "I hope Tom plays there next year so we can have our
one-year anniversary there."
But if they are to have anniversaries measured in years, and not
months, the honeymooners will have to find a treatment for ALS.
Bruce recently began a protein therapy. Also, at Watson's urging
and on the recommendation of Jeff Julian, a 41-year-old tour pro
with ALS, Edwards has begun a protocol developed by California
biochemist Tim Cochran, who theorizes that an enzyme imbalance
causes the debilitating symptoms of ALS. The only treatments that
Bruce, Marsha and Watson rule out are 1) those that might hurt
Bruce and 2) blind clinical studies in which, as Marsha puts it,
"maybe you get [treatment] and maybe you don't." To help pay for
Edwards's medical care, Watson has set up the Bruce Edwards
Trust, which welcomes donations. The caddie, for a change, stops
and smells the roses while others shoulder the load.
"You can look at it as denial," says Bruce, staring out the patio
doors at his swimming pool. "And I guess it is. But my whole life
I've been real positive. It's easier for me to carry on, hoping
there'll be a cure." Then, remembering that he knows someone who
can hit a two-iron out of the rough, he adds, "I'm very, very
lucky to have Tom Watson in my life right now."
"I CALL HIM DR. WATSON," SAYS MARSHA. "HE BLOWS MY SOCKS OFF WITH
THE THINGS HE CAN ACCOMPLISH, THE DOORS HE OPENS FOR BRUCE."
MARSHA HAD EVERY REASON TO RECONSIDER THE MARRIAGE. "BACKING OUT
WAS A FLEETING THOUGHT," SHE SAYS, "BUT I LOVE HIM SO MUCH."
"YOU CAN LOOK AT IT AS DENIAL," SAYS BRUCE. "BUT MY WHOLE LIFE I'VE
BEEN POSITIVE. IT'S EASIER TO CARRY ON, HOPING THERE'LL BE A CURE."