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A Crisis Brought Out His Best A campaign to find a cure for the disease that struck his caddie had an interesting side effect on Tom Watson: It made a new man out of him

Dec. 29, 2003
Dec. 29, 2003

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Dec. 29, 2003

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Year In Review

A Crisis Brought Out His Best A campaign to find a cure for the disease that struck his caddie had an interesting side effect on Tom Watson: It made a new man out of him

For decades Tom Watson was a puzzle. In his hatless, beltless
heyday, and for many years after it, the Hall of Fame golfer
would hit shots into awful places--in hay fields and forests, or
against a St. Andrews wall--and immediately flash an
inscrutable lips-only smile. You probably remember how Bruce
Edwards, his faithful caddie, would trot to keep up with him.
You probably remember Watson's dour grin. It was as if Watson
enjoyed torture by golf. ¶ Watson wasn't a misanthrope; he was
nothing like Ben Hogan or Ty Cobb or Richard Nixon. He was good
with his playing partners, in press tents, to kids with pens.
But for years while he dressed in garish colors, his emotions
ran in shades of gray. To certain players and caddies and
sponsors and fans, Watson seemed cold and unreal--like a wax
golfer, even as he was winning five British Opens, two Masters
titles and one U.S. Open.

This is an article from the Dec. 29, 2003 issue Original Layout

Edwards, who has caddied for Watson for most of the past 30
years, helped put a human face on his boss. Operating in the
shadows, where the best loopers have always worked, he'd have a
smoke with Fuzzy or play cards with Jack's caddie or talk college
basketball with the CBS suits, and some of the goodwill that
flowed toward Edwards would reach his boss. But there was only so
much even a relentlessly upbeat man like Edwards could do. Watson
remained an enigma.

This year, things changed. A new Watson--easier to read, more
satisfying to watch--emerged. A 54-year-old man, 20 years past
his prime, turned out to be the year's most significant golfer,
more important than Tiger or Annika--or the
get-out-the-media-guide winners of the British Open and the PGA,
Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel. Watson, with an assist, as usual,
from Edwards, was the best thing in golf this year.

A year ago Edwards called Watson at home in Stilwell, Kans., and
told him he had been diagnosed with ALS, the muscle-wasting
disease that killed Lou Gehrig. Watson and Edwards have a
relationship rooted in sports, and to discuss life they borrow
metaphors from games. "I just made a quadruple bogey," is what
Edwards said.

The news seemed to unlock something in Watson. "We'll beat this
thing," he told Edwards, even though nobody ever has.

Since then Watson has been fixated on a single goal: saving his
caddie's life. The crisis has brought a vigor to his game not
seen in years. It also humanized one of the sport's great
figures.

Watson's season began in earnest on the Thursday before Father's
Day, when he shot a 65 in the opening round of the U.S. Open. He
spotted the field many years and some yards, but nobody shot
lower that day, not Tiger or his nemesis, Vijay Singh, or the
eventual winner, Jim Furyk. But it wasn't just Watson's moment.
Everybody who was there in the Chicago suburbs could feel the
love between Watson and Edwards. It was in their
once-unimaginable hug on the 18th green, in their tears, in the
forcefulness of Watson's press-conference statements. Edwards's
illness had been public knowledge for months, but now Watson,
with his superb round, was the sport's story of the day, and he
used the spotlight to speak of his "pal," his "brother" and the
disease. Passionately and with a precision that revealed a half
year of deep reading in medical texts, Watson talked about the
need for ALS research money "to save the life of my friend and
others like him."

By the end of the year, and with only brief visits to his former
home, the practice tee, Watson had played in a record nine
majors, four on the regular Tour and five on his home circuit,
the 50-and-over Champions tour. He was playing more than he had
played in years, and he was playing, he kept saying, for Edwards,
because a win for his caddie would mean attention for ALS and
deep joy for an old friend who was now taking a hundred pills a
day.

Watson did win. He won two senior majors, one with Edwards on the
bag, the Tradition, in Oregon, the other at the Senior British
Open at Turnberry, in Scotland, a trip Edwards could not make. At
the final tournament of the year, the Charles Schwab Cup
Championship in Sonoma, Calif., which Edwards worked with the
help of a golf cart, Watson secured an extra $1 million payout
from a seasonlong Champions tour bonus pool. Watson has pledged
the entire amount to Edwards and to various charities, mostly ALS
causes.

Watson, who was recently voted Champions tour Player of the Year,
won't stop talking about the disease now, in public and in
private. Kim Julian, the wife of a pro golfer with ALS, Jeff
Julian, says that talking to Watson about ALS is like talking to
a doctor. Watson can also get experts on the phone that she
cannot. He gets her questions answered.

Watson wasn't always like that, so aware of others. For years he
was consumed with two things, golf and hunting, and when his two
children were young, he played a limited role in raising them. He
and his high school sweetheart, Linda, were married for 25 years,
but they divorced in 1998.

Then, earlier this year, more than three years after he
remarried--to Hilary Watson, ex-wife of golfer Denis Watson--but
around when he learned of Edwards's ALS, Watson stopped drinking.
For years he had been a heavy social drinker, bombastic at dinner
parties. Suddenly, that was over. At the big festive dinners at
Augusta in April, Watson was drinking only soda pop. At
Turnberry, a victory glass of champagne went to his lips and no
further. He doesn't talk publicly about his abstinence, but when
he quit it was cold turkey and by himself. Edwards says Watson
did not stop because of his caddie's illness. But he knows his
friend made a decision that will improve his life.

Throughout 2003 Watson made repeated efforts to begin anew with
his son, Michael, a junior at Southern Methodist, and his
daughter, Meg, a Duke grad working in Kansas City, where Watsons
have lived for generations. It has been difficult because the
children are close to their mother, and the divorce was not
amicable. This is another subject Watson will not discuss, but
others say his attempts with his children have been heartfelt and
profound.

It's his embrace of Edwards, though, that has been the most
public sign of a new Tom Watson. At the season finale, in which
he finished second and nailed down the big bonus, Watson, Hilary
and Edwards were linked arm in arm on the 18th green, standing at
an awards ceremony in the glorious dusk of the California wine
country. Watson and Edwards had so many years together. Where did
the time go? How much was left?

Whatever the answers, Watson has been trying to make up for lost
chances. "People get caught up in their lives and then life
passes you by," says Marsha Edwards, who married Bruce less than
a year ago. "Tom woke up."

Edwards--communicating by e-mail because it's difficult for him
to talk these days--says the best times were in the early '80s,
when Watson was dominating and they were both young and it looked
as if they would win together forever.

Watson does not agree. He says the victories from this year have
been the most satisfying of his life. "Back then it was always
about me," says Watson. "Winning for yourself and winning for
somebody else--you can't compare the two."

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN FERREY/GETTY IMAGES TIME OF THEIR LIVES Watson says his wins this season with Edwards were the most satisfying of his Hall of Fame career.