Watson, Edwards made biggest difference
Which of 2003's many golf storylines had the biggest impact on the sport and its fans? There are more than a few possibilities: the great Player of the Year race, an exciting Masters, Jim Furyk winning the U.S. Open, Tiger Woods not winning a major and Annika Sorenstam playing the Colonial, to name a few.
But if you're talking about pure impact, you've got to look first at what Tom Watson and Bruce Edwards accomplished. In my mind, they're the story of the year.
It was a fairy tale season for Watson and longtime caddie Edwards, who early in the year was diagnosed with the incurable Lou Gehrig's disease (also known as ALS). Along with winning two majors on the Champions Tour and finishing first in the Charles Schwab Cup points race, Watson produced the round of the year at the U.S. Open, leaving everyone at Olympia Fields with lumps in their throats.
Anyone who was there will tell you: His magical first-round 65 was the story of the U.S. Open. Forget about Furyk winning it, no disrespect to him. When was the last time a player and a caddie walked down a fairway and people were chanting the caddie's name? It was like a football game. I was out following them and lost it more than once. I mean, I was an emotional wimp.
I'm partial, because Tom and Bruce are great friends of mine, but they're story is what I'll take away from 2003. His Thursday at the U.S. Open was the defining moment of the season. I mean, he was leading the biggest event of the year! At age 53! I don't know how anybody could argue with that.
He also played better in the majors than some of the top players in the world, finishing in the top 30 at both the U.S. Open and British Open. And he did it while raising money and gaining exposure for the disease that was slowly debilitating his longtime friend and caddie.
We in golf are so proud of the money we raise for charity. That's a real big theme for our business, we're all so happy we can help other people while playing the game we love. But what Watson and Edwards did for ALS took that theme to the next level. Besides the amount of money Watson himself donated to the fight for a cure (which included his $1 million prize for winning the Charles Schwab Cup), the attention he helped draw to the illness was priceless.
It would be interesting to find out the amount of money donated to ALS charities in 2003 compared to last year, or the year before. I'll bet Watson's crusade made an unbelievable difference. And that is far more important than Tiger not winning a major championship.
Two-time U.S. Open champion and Champions Tour player Andy North serves as an analyst for ESPN and ABC.