Tom Watson was about to leave home and fly overseas for his annual
fortnight of links golf--the British Open followed by the British
Senior Open. He was leaving his caddie, Bruce Edwards, behind. ¬∂
"Yeah, you'll probably win over there without me," Edwards told
Watson. ¬∂ "I'll try to do that for you, pal," Watson responded. ¬∂
Edwards was missing a trip he loves at Watson's urging. Edwards
has ALS, the fatal disease that took Lou Gehrig's life. Being
outside for hours at a time in the wind or the rain, which was
almost certain to happen over two weeks of British seaside golf,
could only be bad for Edwards's condition.
In the warmth of summer in the U.S., Edwards can still work. He
first caddied for Watson in 1973, and he was still caddying for
Watson in mid-June, at the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. It was
there that Watson, at age 53, announced, first with his clubs and
then with his words, that this would be the Summer of Bruce. He
opened with a time-stopping 65 for a share of the Open lead, then
stood on a pulpit and told the world that ALS needed more
research money. He finished 28th and headed straight to the U.S.
Senior Open at Inverness, where he was the runner-up, again with
Edwards on the bag. And in early July they did it once more with
feeling, at the Ford Senior Players Championship, in which Watson
again finished second. All summer long it has been a lovefest for
Watson, his caddie and the galleries.
Watson was playing with heightened emotion and a swing that,
along with Edwards, has been one of the great constants in his
adult life. At times he putted like the Watson of old, the one
who never missed a five-foot comebacker while winning five
British Opens, two Masters and a U.S. Open. (The PGA Championship
is the only hole in his resume.) For weeks on end Watson did all
the things he wanted to do, except win with Bruce. Now he was
leaving to play two major championships without him.
It was Edwards who arranged for his own replacement. In 1973
Edwards was 18 and looking for work as a Tour caddie. He was
standing in the players' parking lot at a course in St. Louis
with another kid caddie, Neil Oxman, when a young touring pro
August 3, 2003
"That's Tom Watson," Oxman said to Edwards. "Why don't you ask
Edwards did, and he got the job. Thirty years later he returned
the favor, arranging for Oxman, a Philadelphian and a prominent
Democratic political strategist, to work for Watson for the half
month abroad. For Oxman, 50, it was an opportunity that came out
of a dream. Over the years he has caddied in more than 300 PGA
Tour and Champions tour events but never for a winner and never
for Watson, one of his heroes.
Their first stop was the Open at Royal St. George's, a course
Watson does not like because of its wicked bounces and sideways
wind. He opened with a 71, with Oxman holding the umbrella, and
closed with a 69 to finish 18th. It was a good showing, but
Watson arrived at Turnberry, on the west coast of Scotland, for
the Senior Open feeling beat-up and out of rhythm.
He came to the right place to straighten himself out. Above the
course, high on a bluff, is the Turnberry Hotel, sprawling and
sumptuous, the place where Watson stayed during the '77 British
Open, when he and Jack Nicklaus played the final 36 holes
together to decide who would take home the claret jug. They shot
identical scores the first three rounds. Nicklaus, 10 years older
than Watson, closed with a 66 while Watson shot a 65 to win by
one. Both made birdies on the last, Nicklaus from 35 feet, Watson
from two. That's as good as golf gets.
And there they were last week, eating and playing together, 26
years later. On Wednesday night there was a cocktail party to
honor Nicklaus and Watson and commemorate the renaming of the
18th hole from Ailsa Hame to Duel in the Sun, as their epic
showdown has come to be known, thanks to an uncharacteristic heat
wave that swept through southwestern Scotland that year. In a
tight little square, four legends of the game stood
together--Watson and Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary
Player--each wearing a blue blazer and holding a drink (Watson's
was fresh-squeezed orange juice, no ice), laughing about things
no ordinary mortal could understand. It was what the over-50 tour
was meant to be.
At the party a snippet of BBC tape from the '77 Open was played
showing Nicklaus lashing his final approach shot out of the right
rough as the commentator, Henry Longhurst, described the Golden
Bear's "animalistic strength." Watson stood with his wife of four
years, Hilary, and watched himself half a lifetime ago, when he
was boyish and hatless and wearing spectacularly checkered
slacks. When the footage came to an end, Watson took a microphone
and told the crowd, "I'm trying to resurrect those pants. I think
they were last seen on Jesper Parnevik."
At the party and on the course all week there were people
carrying the 2002 book Duel in the Sun, written by Michael
Corcoran, 200-plus pages about the '77 Open so detailed that it
includes a thorough description of those polyester pants with the
half-top pockets in front and Reece pockets in back. There were
spectators asking the two protagonists to sign the book last
week, and of course they signed.
Nicklaus and Watson are old-school when it comes to things like
signing autographs, but they're not nostalgists. They played the
first two rounds together last week--Carl Mason of England filled
out the threesome--and as they stood on the 9th tee on Friday,
waiting to play, the two talked about the wholesale changes
they'd make to Turnberry. Out with the old for those two, or so
they say. They leave the history to Corcoran and his ilk, the
worldwide community of golf kooks. (Scotland remains the
headquarters.) As Nicklaus and Watson came up 18 on Thursday, the
kids working the leader board, teenagers who weren't even born
when Nicklaus and Watson won their last regular majors, clapped
along with everybody else.
You know what they say in golf: If it's not one thing, it's
something else. In the first three rounds Watson's shotmaking was
loose, but his putting was extraordinary. "Tom's making
everything," Barbara Nicklaus, Jack's wife, observed with greater
admiration than she would have shown 26 years ago. Edwards,
following the scores on the Internet at home in Ponte Vedra,
Fla., knew his boss's putter must have been hot. Watson opened
with a 66, four under par, and followed with a 67 on a course
that had only wispy rough and was playing short. The cocktail
party was over. Watson was playing for keeps, and for Bruce.
After 36 holes his playing partner--his other playing
partner--was leading the tournament. "Nice chap," Watson said of
Mason, who opened 67-64. "He's playing beautifully." As for
Oxman, he was doing fine, carrying the bag and giving his man
yardages but not trying to be Bruce.
In the third round Mason shot a 65 to stay in the lead, while
Watson shot a 66, mostly because he again putted well. Watson was
now three behind a man in total control of his game. To have a
chance at winning, Watson knew he would have to resurrect the
shotmaking that went with the old polyester pants.
He was playing in the penultimate group, and as he stood on the
tee of the 18th, Duel in the Sun, his hole, he was seven under
for the day and a shot behind Mason, who was in the final
threesome. Watson hit a two-iron off the tee, a three-iron just
over the green and made bogey, his first of the day. He came off
the green and told ABC's Bob Rosburg that he was tired of
finishing second. Mason came to the 18th tee with a two-shot
Nice chap, poor bloke, a 50-year-old with a face weathered from
years of wind and cigarettes and late nights. On Thursday, Mason
had heard this exchange between Watson and Nicklaus and took it
Nicklaus: "Did you ever hit driver off 18 in '77?"
Nicklaus: "Neither did I."
O.K., then, Mason knew how to play the old Ailsa Hame: iron off
the tee, to stay short of the two lethal fairway bunkers on the
left side of the hole. Except that on the 72nd hole he reached
the first deadly bunker with his iron, drew a horrid lie and
ended up making a double-bogey 6. He and Watson were tied at 17
under par. Time for a playoff.
"O.K., Neil," Watson said to his caddie. "Let's go." Back to the
18th tee for the first hole of sudden death.
It's Watson's hole, he can play it as he likes. This time he took
a driver. So did Mason. They both made par and again returned to
the 18th tee. This time Mason drove it into the second fearsome
bunker. He blasted out, flubbed his third shot and finally
pitched his fourth on. Watson drove it in the fairway, hit a
wedge on, lagged up and tapped in to win. Watson had his first
British Senior Open, and Oxman had his first win of any kind, but
they both knew to whom the victory truly belonged.
In his victory speech Watson, the honorary Scot, the great stoic,
choked on his words when he got to Edwards. "I feel he was there
today, making things happen when they happened," Watson said.
In Ponte Vedra, Edwards was feeling wistful, happy that his man
won, sad that he wasn't there to see it. The calls and e-mails
were coming in fast, one after another. Kim Julian, the wife of
Jeff Julian, the former Tour player who also has ALS, called. So
did players, caddies, family. Oxman will be sending him
Edwards's speech has deteriorated since the U.S. Open. His
spirits have not. "Tom wrote in an e-mail that he was invited to
play in the PGA," Edwards said. It was work for him to talk, but
he's always been a hard worker, like his boss. The PGA
Championship is the last major of the year on the regular Tour,
the major Watson has never won. It will be played at Oak Hill
Country Club, in Rochester, N.Y., Aug. 14-17. "Tom wanted to know
if I could work it. Oak Hill is a hilly course, but I'll be
As Mason came to the 18th tee with a two-shot lead, Watson told
ABC's Rosburg that he was tired of finishing second.
"Tom wanted to know if I could work [at the PGA]," Edwards said.
"Oak Hill is a hilly course, but I'll be there."