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Authors: John Feinstein

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BOOK: Caddy for Life
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Somewhere in her mind was the thought that couldn’t be avoided—not on that afternoon in March nor on that spectacular Saturday in September: If we don’t get the family together soon, the next time might be at Bruce’s funeral.

Three weeks before Bruce’s wedding, at the age of forty-eight, an unsmiling doctor at the Mayo Clinic had said to him, “Do you know what ALS is? It’s also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In all likelihood, you have one to three years to live.”

Just like that. No ifs or ands or buts. He had issued what was, essentially, a death sentence, almost as if he were a judge telling a criminal his decision based on the facts before him.

That had been on a cold, snowy January day in Minnesota. A lot had happened since then, much of it good, some of it extraordinary. Bruce had been to many different doctors and had been told many different things about how he could get better. But the disease was still progressing. Bruce knew it, Marsha knew it, the family knew it. When Bruce and Marsha arrived at Gwyn and Lenny’s house that Friday night in September, there was a plate of mussels, courtesy of Brian and Laurie, sitting on the table on the back patio that Lenny had managed to finish building in time for the weekend.

“Try a couple,” Brian advised his older brother. “They’re delicious.”

“Great,” Bruce said with the wicked smile that was his trademark. “Can they cure ALS?”

Everyone laughed. It was a funny line, typical Bruce.

And then everyone sat back and the cool evening was completely silent for a moment.

In all there were seventeen of them gathered at 416 Brenda Lane, the house that Gwyn and Lenny had moved into ten months earlier. In addition to Jay and Natalie Edwards, the patriarch and matriarch, and their four children and their spouses, there were seven children, ranging in age from fifteen-year-old Natalie, John and Chris’s oldest, down to little Jay, Lenny and Gwyn’s youngest. Gwyn and Lenny had rented a moon-bounce for the weekend, and it proved to be a masterstroke, keeping the kids busy with little squabbling. That left the adults time to sit on the patio, enjoy the spectacular weather, wonder if the Red Sox might finally be for real, and of course reminisce and remember.

“Thank God Bruce was always the kind of kid who stuck to his guns,” Jay Edwards said on Friday evening, shortly before Bruce arrived. “Those first few years, we kept waiting for him to say ‘enough,’ and come home and go to college. Who knows, if he hadn’t ended up with Tom Watson maybe he would have come home, but I’m not sure. He loved the life out there. He made lots of friends, good friends, and he really found a niche doing what he was doing. He was right, we were wrong. I’m really proud of what he has become.”

Bruce Edwards would have loved hearing his father say those words. For years, he was convinced that he would never hear them, because his father was incapable of believing them. One of the jokes among the Edwards children, even after Bruce turned forty, even after he had made himself an excellent living as a caddy on the PGA Tour for years and years, was that Mom and Dad were still waiting for him to grow up, go to college, and find a real job. It was almost like the old joke about the mother of the first Jewish president, who leans over to the person sitting next to her during the inaugural address and says, “You know, my other son’s a doctor.”

Their son had become the king of the caddies. He was the best in the world at a profession that had earned respectability in large part because of the work done by him and his contemporaries. They had changed the image of the tour caddy from irresponsible hanger-on to respected partner. And yet Jay and Natalie were still waiting for him to come home and become a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or a dentist.

In fact Bruce often told people that his parents’ proudest moment watching him caddy had not come at the 1982 U.S. Open, when Watson beat Jack Nicklaus with what might have been golf’s most famous shot, holing an impossible chip at the 17th hole—after which Watson pointed his finger at Bruce and said, “I told you I was gonna make it!” Their proudest moment came two years later, at the 1984 U.S. Open. Walking outside the ropes, the Edwardses were there when someone pointed at Tom Watson and said, “It’s him.”

“Not it’s
” Bruce Edwards corrected. “It’s
.” Then he paused for a second, glanced at his parents, and said, “And I’ll bet you never thought you’d hear
from a caddy.”

There had never been anything very typical about Bruce as a caddy. His relationship with Watson had been built on many things, not the least of which was his willingness to disagree with his boss, even challenge him on occasion. Watson had enough self-confidence that he didn’t mind being told he was wrong. The two of them argued often but almost never really fought. Bruce always gave most of the credit for that relationship to Watson. “He let me be wrong,” he said. “I never said anything thinking that if I was wrong, I’d get fired or yelled at. Sometimes he listened to me, sometimes he didn’t. But once he made his decision, he always took responsibility for the outcome.”

“I’m not much of a whiner and Bruce isn’t a whiner,” is how Watson describes the way they worked together. “We just both go out there and do our jobs.”

From 1973 until the middle of 1989, they had done their jobs together, appearing to most in golf to be a matched set. Sometimes when they walked the fairways side by side, it appeared they were connected by an invisible string. Their walking paces were identical—fast—and neither one ever seemed to get his head down or pout on days when things didn’t go well. Watson almost never lost his bouncy step, even in the wake of some difficult defeats, and his caddy matched him every step of the way. They had separated for three years when Watson cut back on his playing schedule and encouraged Bruce to accept an offer from Greg Norman, then the number one player in the world.

But in ’92 Bruce had returned, and they’d worked together ever since—more than twenty-five years as partners. “It really wasn’t the same without him,” Watson said years later, looking back at their three-year separation. “I missed his personality and I missed having someone there who knew me so well I didn’t even have to think before I did anything.”

Bruce came back in the fall of ’92 and, in many ways, it was as if he had never been away. They fell back into their same old arguments: Watson’s Royals vs. Edwards’s Phillies; Watson’s conservative politics vs. Edwards’s far more moderate views; the annual bet on the NCAA basketball tournament. They really were the old couple that has been together for so long that they finish each other’s sentences and know one another’s thoughts.

When Watson turned fifty in 1999 and moved over to the Senior Tour, Bruce had plenty of chances to work for other top players on the more lucrative and far more enjoyable PGA Tour.

In truth Bruce, like Watson, would have loved to stay on the PGA Tour forever. The Senior Tour is a shadow of the “real” tour. Most of its tournaments are 54 holes with no cut, as opposed to the PGA Tour’s 72 holes with a 36-hole cut. The crowds most weeks are little more than a handful and there is a heavy emphasis on pro-ams, because the tour is so dependent on corporate America to keep the dollars flowing. What’s more, most of the golf courses are set up short and easy to create the illusion that the over-fifty set can still score the way they did when they were younger. Watson has never been a short and easy sort of golfer. He likes golf courses difficult and conditions tough. He is famous for playing his best golf in the worst possible conditions—one of the reasons he won the often weather-challenged British Open five times.

Watson was still good enough to win on the regular tour a few months before he turned forty-nine. He still craves going out and competing with the kids, but his post-fifty body won’t let him practice and grind the way he did when he was younger. That makes it unrealistic for him to tee it up with the youngsters on a regular basis, and playing with the seniors week in and week out doesn’t motivate him the way he was motivated when he was younger. “There’s nothing wrong with the Senior Tour,” Watson insists. “I like it fine. But I’m not able to practice and work like I did when I was younger, so it’s different than it was back then. I have to approach it differently simply because it is different.”

Bruce could have left Watson when he turned fifty for almost any player out there. He is that highly thought of by the men on tour. He would have made more money, and, again, Watson would have understood, because Watson is both a businessman and an older brother figure to Bruce. “When he told me about having the chance to go work for Greg, I told him, ‘Go for it,’” Watson said. “It was like a father pushing a son out of the nest. There was too much money on the table potentially to pass it up.”

Bruce remembers Watson being even more direct back then: “‘You need to do this,’ he said. ‘I can’t win for you anymore.’”

That was at a low point of Watson’s career, when the swing and putting stroke that had made him the world’s best player had deserted him. If Bruce had left again in 1999 or 2000, not wanting to go the Senior Tour route, Watson would have understood again.

But there was absolutely no way Bruce was leaving Watson, whether Watson played the Senior Tour, a mini-tour in Florida, or decided to try to win all the state championships of the Midwest. He had left home once. He had no intention of leaving him again.

“As long as Tom wants me, I’ll never leave him,” he said once. “He’s a lot more than just my boss. He’s my friend, he’s my best adviser.” He smiled. “Of course I don’t always listen to him, sort of like I didn’t always listen to my dad. But I’m not leaving Tom Watson. He’ll have to fire me to get rid of me again.”

Of course Watson would never fire Bruce. Each had been the constant—except for that three-year window—in the other’s adult life. Each had been married and divorced and remarried in the thirty years that they had known one another. Bruce had watched Watson’s children grow up, and Watson, after joining Edwards’s parents in pushing Bruce to go to college, had come to realize it wasn’t going to happen. “He’s a gypsy at heart,” Watson liked to say. “There wasn’t anything I was going to say, or his mom and dad were going to say, that would change that.”

They had faced all sorts of crises, some big and some not so big, together. Bruce had watched Watson struggle, first with his swing, later with his putting, and remained resolute that it would all get better, even at times when Watson wasn’t so sure. Watson had understood Bruce’s departure and his return. He had worried openly about Bruce’s choice when he married for the first time—so had his family—and then had been there to help Bruce pick up the pieces when the marriage ended horribly.

Now, though, Watson and Bruce were going through a crisis unlike any other, one neither man could possibly have imagined. Watson had worried for years about Bruce’s constant smoker’s cough, a hacking that probably dated back to shortly after he started smoking as a teenager. Periodically he had urged Bruce to see a doctor, to get a full checkup, to have his throat and lungs examined. Bruce always laughed him off, in part because he was young and felt invulnerable, in part because—like most in his profession—he had no medical insurance and wasn’t willing to pay the cost of a full checkup himself.

But during 2002, a series of problems finally got Bruce’s attention. In the spring he began noticing that his speech was sometimes slurred. People had noticed, but no one said anything. They figured he was tired or maybe he’d had a little too much to drink. Greg Rita, a longtime caddying pal whose mother had suffered a stroke, wondered if Bruce had suffered a minor stroke without knowing it. In October Bruce had walked into a bar in Las Vegas and ordered a glass of wine.

“I’m sorry sir, I can’t serve you,” the bartender said. “You’ve had too much to drink.”

Bruce hadn’t had a single drink that day.

He began having trouble with his left hand, noticing a cleft between his thumb and index finger. Then, one night in early January, he woke up in the middle of the night having an uncontrollable coughing fit. When Watson heard about the coughing fit, he called his own doctor at the Mayo Clinic and explained Bruce’s symptoms. The doctor, Ian Hay, later told Bruce that his words to Watson were direct: “He needs to be up here yesterday.”

Bruce made the trip to the Mayo on a snowy Tuesday in January. Marsha Cummins Moore went with him. Two weeks earlier, almost thirty years after they had first met, Bruce had proposed to her. Having Marsha there was comforting for Bruce. He wasn’t scared, but he was concerned. Like Watson, he worried the doctors were going to find something wrong with his lungs. He knew better than anyone how much he smoked.

He never dreamed even for an instant that the diagnosis would be ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. When Eric Sorenson, the neurological specialist Doctor Hay had brought in to test him, delivered the news, he asked Bruce if he knew what ALS was. Bruce knew. “I would advise,” Sorenson said, matter-of-factly, “that you go home and get your affairs in order.”

Eight months had passed since that nightmarish day. Bruce had dealt with having to tell his family and then his close friends. He had dealt with all the publicity surrounding his illness and had been interviewed more in a few months than in the past thirty years. He had done the interviews and accepted all that came with what he was dealing with, in part because it is not in his nature to say no to people, but also because he hoped he could raise awareness about the disease and, in doing so, help raise money for research—if not in time to save him, then perhaps to save others. He had done all this with a kind of grace and courage that had made him into a heroic figure to many, not a role Bruce wanted or felt he deserved. But he had accepted it as part of what he was going through.

The cheers for him, especially at the U.S. Open in June, had been both heartwarming and heartbreaking. “I loved what they were doing for me,” he said. “I hated the reason they felt compelled to do it.”

Watson had heard cheers throughout his career. They were almost second nature to him as an icon of the game. But never cheers like this, never cheers that brought him to tears. “As much as I was thrilled for Bruce that so many people cared,” he said, “the cheering broke my heart. A lot of people have described the last few months as bittersweet for Bruce and me. I can honestly say it’s a lot more bitter than sweet. A lot more.”

BOOK: Caddy for Life
12.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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