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

Subscribe to:

Golf Digest