Friendly Fire The thrill of a tight match between pals Tom Watson and Jim Thorpe to end the senior season was topped only by what happened next

November 03, 2003

If you're lucky in life, you have a friend like Jim Thorpe,
Thorpie to his many buddies on the Champions tour, unless they're
using their private nickname for him, MF. (The M is for Mo'.) If
you're lucky, you have a friend who knows how to use profanity
without sounding vulgar. (It was Thorpe who taught Vijay Singh
how to swear when the Fijian first joined the PGA Tour.) You have
a friend with a money clip stuffed with Benjamins, happy to reel
off three or four if you've had some hard luck. You have a friend
inviting you to parties that you have no business attending. You
have a friend who knows horses, cigars and the best steak house in
town. Thorpe has always been popular in the players' locker room
and in the caddies' trailer, too.

Which helps explain why Tom Watson looked so pleased on Sunday.
Watson was paired with his friend Thorpe in the last group in the
final round of the senior season's closing event, the Charles
Schwab Cup Championship. They were playing a simple, old school
course at the Sonoma Golf Club, surrounded by the bleached hills
of California wine country, under what could have passed for the
Tuscan sun. The San Francisco 49ers were on TV, the fall grape
harvest was at its peak and there were only a few hundred folks
following them.

Still, the two men, both 54, were playing for big cheese, a
first-place prize of $440,000. You might have expected some
tension. If there was any, they hid it well. They came off almost
every tee together, side by side and chatting away. It was as if
they both knew the outcome; that they would both win, no matter
what they shot.

Of course there would be, as the laws of sport and man dictate, a
winner and a loser, or a runner-up, anyway. When they came to the
16th hole, a short par-5, Thorpe's lead over Watson was only a
shot. The brawny Thorpe, with his shy backswing, his blur of a
downswing and his Palmeresque whirlybird finish, hit a pop-up
drive, and Watson smashed his tee shot. Watson was in range to
reach in two, and Thorpe was not.

At that moment Thorpe's Saturday-night practice-tee soliloquy
seemed ominous. Thorpe was the leader then, by three shots
through three rounds. The New York Yankees and the Florida
Marlins were just starting Game 6 of the World Series, and Thorpe
was explaining one of his pet theories of gambling: Never bet
against a money team. "The Yankees, you see, they're a money
team, they're the class of baseball. You don't ever bet against
that," Thorpe said, his heavy voice revealing the lasting strains
of his rural North Carolina boyhood. On the Champions tour last
week Watson, the winner of 39 PGA Tour events and eight majors
and already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, represented the
Yankees. Thorpe, with three Tour victories, and no majors, was an
honorary Fish.

Watson has played with a vigor this season that has made the
sporting world take notice. Late last year his longtime caddie,
Bruce Edwards, was diagnosed with ALS, the neurological disease
that leaves nothing but slurred speech and broken hearts in its
deadly wake. Watson has dedicated his year to his caddie and to
the search for an ALS cure. He's won two Champions tour majors
this year and has become an unofficial spokesman for a disease
that ended the life of a real Yankee, Lou Gehrig.

Edwards, 48, caddied for Watson last week, although Watson's big
Adams tour bag was transported on a golf cart. Edwards, tanned
and relaxed but notably thin, first went to work for Watson 30
years ago. In his heyday, in the big-hair era, Watson could be
aloof and reclusive, but Edwards was always welcoming: to new
caddies, to new Tour officials, to new players, Jim Thorpe among
them. After Thorpe established himself, he showed his gratitude
to Edwards with a tip on a sure-thing pony. Last week Edwards,
struggling with the words, recalled a long-odds winner and a
four-figure payday.

Edwards was one of the first of the modern caddies to turn bag
carrying into a profession. He was an early disciple of the
practice of marking his yardage book with the next day's likely
pin placement. He was still doing that at Sonoma last week, but
how many more tomorrows there are for him is unknown and out of
his hands. His spirit is undying. When he wanted to exclaim last
week, he thrust his right knee in the air. The words were not
there.

As he stood in the fairway at 16 on Sunday, a strange thing
happened. The Schwab Cup followed the weird form of the World
Series, in which the Marlins played the way the Yankees were
supposed to. Thorpe smashed a second-shot fairway wood that
finished just off the green, while Watson's second was short and
slightly hooked and ended up in the greenside rough. Watson got
up and down for birdie to go 17 under par, but Thorpe holed his
67-foot putt for an eagle and a two-shot lead. His birdie to
Watson's par on 17 sealed the deal. Rounds of 63, 67, 70 and 68,
on a par-72 course a chip shot over 7,000 yards (but playing much
shorter), should be good enough to win, and it was, by three over
Watson.

But looking at the two of them as they marched up 18, you
couldn't tell who had the chokeproof lead. That's because they
both knew what was coming.

If you're lucky in life, you have a friend like Tom Watson, who
knew what his second-place finish would mean. In addition to
$254,000 in bridesmaid prize money, it meant he would win the
seasonlong points competition that will pay him $1 million from
the Charles Schwab company, doled out over 10 years. He could do
as he pleased with the money. Watson knew what he would be doing
with it, and so did Thorpe.

Standing on the 18th green at the awards ceremony, Watson, with
his wife, Hilary, on his left arm, and Edwards on her left arm,
announced he would be donating the entire $1 million to various
charities. Primarily, Watson said, the money would go to ALS
research, to ALS victims' services and to a fund for his caddie
and friend. "We're going to find a cure for this damned disease,"
he said.

On one of their fairway walks last week Thorpe asked Watson about
Edwards. "We were talking all day, but now his voice had a little
different tone," Thorpe said. "It wasn't the same jolly tone."
Thorpe's a smart man. He immediately changed the subject.

Watson has been saying one particular thing about his caddie all
year, that there isn't a mean bone in Edwards's body. Those who
know him, Jim Thorpe among them, know how true that is. Sometime
in the past 30 years, Watson made an important discovery: If
you're really lucky in life, you have a friend like Bruce
Edwards.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA GRAND GESTURE Watson (right) donated $1 million to Edwards's fight against ALS. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA LONG STRUGGLE Thorpe's $440,000 payday last week equaled the amount he won in his first 177 starts over eight years on the regular Tour. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY TODD BIGELOW/AURORA WEED WHACKER Tom Jenkins was in the hunt until getting sidetracked on Sunday and tying for fourth.

After Thorpe established himself, he showed his gratitude to
Edwards with a tip on a sure-thing pony.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)