Edwards so much more than a great caddy
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Like any good caddie, Bruce Edwards didn't put the bag down until the job was done. Even when he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease Jan. 15, 2003, he knew there was still work to do for his man, for Tom Watson. There was one last magical moment to share at the 2003 U.S. Open, and there was one last major championship to win together at the Jel-Wen Tradition on the Champions Tour.
On Wednesday night, there was one last hole to walk together, even though they were separated by hundreds of miles, as Watson honored his caddie at the annual Golf Writers Association of America dinner in Augusta, Ga., and Edwards clung to life in his Florida home. Then, just hours after Watson spoke of celebrating his friend's life rather than mourning his imminent death, Edwards rested his load, a job well done, and surrendered to the inevitable outcome of ALS. If there was an eeriness to the timing of Edwards' death it was only further evidence of the enduring nature of his relationship with Watson, it was further proof of the undying rewards of love and loyalty.
For most of 30 years Edwards trudged along beside Watson, perhaps not carrying him to victory but certainly sharing the load. It was a relationship forged in the early '70s, a time when it was not unusual to have the same employer for your entire professional career, no matter what your job, and it ended in another time, another place when such loyalty on either side of the boss/worker relationship is increasingly rare. Tom Watson and Bruce Edwards taught us valuable lessons not only about how to play the game of golf but also gave us a few swing keys about the game of life. While enjoyment was part of the equation, the crucial components were hard work and respect for both the task at hand and for those with whom you are sharing the endeavor. At times these days such an appreciation seems like a lost art.
Sports is special in that it gives us an immediate window into the soul of the competitors, speeding up the time frame of life and allowing us to pass judgment quickly and often on how a person handles success as well as adversity, victory as well as defeat. These games we watch provide a compressed perspective on the essence of a human. In the special relationship we witnessed between Watson and Edwards we were privileged to be a voyeuristic part of not only brilliant displays of skill by the player but also magnificent moments of support by the partner. It was a special relationship that taught us why relationships are special.
The Ben Hogan Award is given annually by the Golf Writers Association of America on the eve of the Masters to honor the player or other person in golf who has overcome adversity to remain active in the game. Hogan, of course, nearly died in a car crash in 1949 but came back to win six major championships after the accident. The sad truth we all knew Wednesday night - as Dr. Jay Edwards accepted the award for his son - was that ALS is an illness from which there is no comeback. It is a death sentence from which there is no reprieve, no pardon, no parole. But none of us thought the end was so close at hand. Just two weeks earlier Edwards was planning on attending the dinner.
"I want to thank Bruce for being there in such good spirits, even though he is dying, and keeping that wonderful, wonderful attitude up," Watson said at the dinner. "That's why we love him. That's why this is such a special award tonight for Bruce."
Edwards last worked for Watson at the UBS Cup last November in Georgia. It ended an emotional year in which Watson rewarded his friend with a 65 in the first round of the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, triggering more than a few tears as he defied time.
"I had a bittersweet year last year, that's very simple," said Watson, who received an award of his own from the golf writers as Champions Tour Player of the Year. "I had a good year on the golf course with Bruce on my bag. We had some good times and some good breaks. My putting started to come around in the middle of the summer, and I think I know why."
I think we all know why. There was magic at play here. It is the kind of magic we witness when we see a couple who have been married for 60 years, are in good health, and then when one dies the other follows shortly after. It is after if the rhythms of the universe would not let them walk out of step.
Some years back, when Ben Hogan died, his wife Valerie emerged from her reclusive life to share some special moments with the golf world. Mrs. Hogan represented Ben when the Hogan Room was opened at Golf House in the USGA museum. She went to the Memorial Tournament to speak for Ben when he was honored there. She participated in a book about Ben and then almost immediately upon its completion she died. It was as if her work for Ben was done and she knew it.
Such is the feeling about Edwards' death. It is as if he held off the inevitable until after he and his boss could share this one last moment together. Tom would get the Champions Tour Player of the Year Award from the golf writers and Bruce would be honored with the Ben Hogan Award. When the dinner was over, when all the awards were accepted, when all the words were spoken, the job was done. It was time for Bruce to put down the bag.
The sunrise spread streaks of brilliant red across the eastern sky of Augusta, Ga., on Thursday morning but before the first ball was struck of this year's Masters the course was wrapped in a gray blanket of gloom and tears fell from the sky. It was shortly after that we found out that Bruce Edwards had died. Almost as if trying to heed Watson's words and celebrate Bruce's life rather than mourning his death, the sun fought a game battle to lift the gloom.
There will come a time this weekend when brilliant shots are struck at the Masters, a time when our spirits will soar on rumbling waves of cheers that cascade across the hills and bounce between the towering pines of Augusta National Golf Club. There will come a time in a few days when we will once again be in awe of this special golf course and this special tournament. And there will come a time this weekend when the azaleas at Amen Corner will seem to bloom a little brighter, when the magnolias will seem to smell a little sweeter. When that time comes we should all take a step back, breath in the beauty around us and say thank you to Bruce Edwards. He was a caddie, and a good one. He was a friend, and a great one.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine