Bruce Edwards, the popular caddie for Tom Watson for all but three of the past 30 years, died April 8 at his Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., home after a 15-month battle against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurological disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 49.
Edwards, a native of Wethersfield, Conn., was diagnosed with the disease that has no known cure on Jan. 15, 2003, only 15 days after he became engaged to marry. He became known for showing courage and raising awareness for the need for ALS research.
Edwards’ wife, Marsha, said her husband died peacefully in his sleep. “It was lovely,” she said. “He told me he loved me, then went to sleep and didn’t wake up.”
He died the morning after he was honored by the Golf Writers Association of America with the Ben Hogan courage award in Augusta, Ga. Watson teed off a little more than two hours after Edwards’ death and said later, “He was out there with me. His spirit certainly was there.”
Edwards had planned to receive his award in person until his condition worsened the previous week. His father, Dr. Jay Edwards, accepted on his son’s behalf and made what Watson termed a “very warm ode to a son.”
“It’s been a tough few weeks,” Jay Edwards said. “And the hardest part is you never expect to outlive a child. . . .
“People ask us how we deal with it, and you deal with it because you have to. You have no choice. You can’t run. You can’t hide. You try to keep a sense of humor, an Edwards trait, I guess. Our son is a very brave man facing a terminal event with dignity and courage. If there are any positives to the whole situation, it’s the fact he has been able to be a witness to the respect, admiration and affection in which he is held by his fellow caddies, players, officials, golf fans and the media, who wrote such uplifting material.”
Watson requested “no long faces” from the 380 who attended the awards dinner. Watson received the Champions Tour Player of the Year Award for 2003 and the Charlie Bartlett Award for unselfish contributions to the betterment of society in large part for his support of Edwards and the ALS cause. Watson donated a $1 million annuity he won to organizations fighting ALS.
Donations to fund research for an ALS cure can be made through an Edwards-inspired Web site, http://www.driving4life.org.
“I want to thank everyone for getting the word out, and I want to thank Bruce for being there in such good spirits and keeping up that wonderful attitude even though he’s dying,” Watson said. “That’s why we love him, why (the GWAA) gave him the Hogan Award and why it’s such a special award to Bruce. Let’s celebrate the wonderful heart and not a mean bone in the body of Bruce Edwards.”
Edwards was on the bag for only one of Watson’s eight major championship victories, but it was a special one: the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. That victory was punctuated by Watson’s chip-in for birdie at the par-3 17th. Before the shot, Edwards said, “Get it close,” and Watson said, “I’m going to hole it.”
“The hug at the 18th hole at Pebble Beach was probably the most wonderful memory that we both shared together,” Watson said. “That was the major I wanted to win most and he knew that.”
The two also made headlines at last year’s Open, where the 53-year-old Watson shot a first-round 65 for a share of the lead. The event helped bring national attention to Edwards’ battle and led to a recently published book on his life.
Watson said Edwards had feared something was wrong since slurring a drink order in a bar and hearing the bartender reply, “I’m not serving you – you’re drunk.” Since being diagnosed, he normally deflected his illness with humor.
“Bruce laughed his way to the end,” Watson said.
Ben Crenshaw made Edwards assistant captain in charge of U.S. caddies at the 1999 Ryder Cup because of his “positive attitude.” Team members recall the aide driving a cart around like a maniac and making everyone laugh.
“He will be missed,” Watson said, his eyes tearing. “He will be missed.”