Augusta, Ga. | Golf spent the past week championing someone known for having a bag on his shoulder and a smile on his face. Usually the game props up on its pedestal the multimillionaire, the famous face, the low scorer. But the 68th Masters opened with a salute not to a Q-rated protagonist but to a trusty sidekick.
This was a nice change but for a sad reason, because it is never easy saying goodbye to someone you want to keep hugging.
Bruce Edwards, Tom Watson’s faithful friend and servant of about three decades, lost his 15-month battle against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurological disorder with no known cure. The Arnold Palmer of caddies succumbed too young at 49 on April 8, leaving a cheerful legacy and enough moist eyes to fill Rae’s Creek.
The night before, Edwards was hero of the Golf Writers Association of America banquet. His father, Dr. Jay Edwards, accepted the Ben Hogan Award for courage on Bruce’s behalf and delivered a warm ode. Watson spoke and urged, “No long faces.” Rather, Watson chose to heed advice he has given mourners: “May memories of loved ones fill the void they left.”
Watson began the Masters with Edwards’ yardage book in his back pocket and something of a 15th club. “I felt he was with me . . . he’s sure here in spirit,” Watson said. He would shoot 76 and conduct a lengthy interview during which his eyes teared, his nose dripped and
his words ranged from happy to somber.
“Damn this disease!” the Hall of Famer said, quieting the room. “Damn it!”
Watson spent the last year-plus helping Edwards, paying his medical bills, establishing a trust fund and spreading awareness for the need for ALS research. Edwards cried when he called Watson with the diagnosis Jan. 15, 2003. But he also injected levity.
“I just made a quad,” the caddie informed the boss, equating the disease to a quadruple bogey.
He also said, “It could be worse. At least I don’t have something called Liberace’s Disease. At least Lou Gehrig was a great athlete.”
We can learn by the way Edwards went out – cracking wise, not being afraid to die and not wanting anyone to feel sorry. He couldn’t talk in the final months, but he would write playful e-mails to friends. Laughter filled his home when Edwards welcomed players and caddies during the recent Players Championship.
“Bruce laughed his way to the end,” Watson said.
“How can this happen to someone whose major sound in life is laughter?” Tour veteran Billy Andrade said.
Edwards was so happy when he and Marsha Moore reunited after years apart, though he kidded her, “I’ve already been burned once,” referring to the house his ex-wife burned down. He was ecstatic when he and Marsha got engaged Dec. 31, 2002. Fifteen days later, though, upon learning his fate, he told her she didn’t have to go through with the nuptials. But days later the two lovebirds got married in Hawaii. And if you don’t think Edwards was beloved in the business, try getting Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino to attend your wedding. Try being the talk of Masters week when you’re not even in town.
Talk about going out in style.
Laughter and tears bounced off each other during this man’s last couple years. Edwards cried when he left here a year ago, knowing it was his last Masters. He smiled to the heavens when Watson shot 65 in the first round of the 2003 U.S. Open. The first time I saw Edwards post-diagnosis, he smiled wide, hugged me and beamed about keeping ahead of the golfers.
If you spent any time with him, you knew he was an idealist. I remember standing under the Hilton Head Island, S.C., lighthouse listening to him rail about cheating incidents. I remember dining with him at the British Open when he railed about a player he thought had too many excuses and character flaws. I remember sitting in the cart barn at The Players Championship hearing him complain Tour caddies didn’t perform tasks like raking bunkers as diligently as they once had.
“He could make me laugh at the worst time and he could kick me in the butt,” Watson said. “When a young (caddie) came out on Tour, Bruce wasn’t hesitant to show him the ropes or kick him in the butt, too. He’d tell them to clean up their act.”
He was such a perfectionist that he e-mailed Watson recently and told him to use his yardage book at the Masters because the new books didn’t have yardages for layup shots. A proud caddie to the end.
The limo driver and the mansion owner normally don’t have dinner together, but Watson and Edwards weren’t that way. They adored each other. They were friends first, dating to 1973 when the two shaggy-haired golf junkies met outside a St. Louis clubhouse. Edwards asked to caddie, Watson said yes and they’d been together since except for 1989-92 when the caddie – at Watson’s urging – took a sabbatical to get rich on Greg Norman’s bag.
Together Watson and Edwards talked sports often and occasionally went to games. During Connecticut’s basketball victory over Duke in the 1999 NCAA final, UConn fan Edwards ruffled some allegiances with his constant screaming. Having heard enough, a Duke fan turned, looked at Watson, pointed at Edwards and said, “He’s the reason you missed all those 4-footers.”
Every year the two bet on the NCAA tournament. This year Edwards won money he never collected. “I owe him a hundred dollars,” Watson said. “I’m going to take that and frame it.”
Edwards was able to stack hundreds high during his caddie decades, but Watson wanted more out of him. The golfer urged his friend to pursue a college degree, offering a new car as incentive. But Edwards just loved the Tour life.
“There was a gypsy in him,” Watson said. “He thought being a Tour caddie was the greatest job.
It was in his blood. And he made friends everywhere. . . . His favorite line when he left a tournament was, ‘See you next year.’ He left a lot of broken hearts.”