Caddie Edwards, 49, loses fight with ALS

Watson of close friend: `He's with us in spirit'

The Masters

April 09, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tom Watson remembered the day he heard from Bruce Edwards after his longtime caddie had learned that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Edwards, whose disease had been diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic, tried to comfort Watson by using a golf term for a bad score.

"When he got on the phone, he said, `Well, I just made a quad,' " Watson recalled yesterday, using the term for quadruple bogey. "That's how he brushed it off. I said, `Yeah, but we're going to get back to even par.' "

Edwards, who worked for Watson for most of the past 30 years, lost his 15-month battle with Lou Gehrig's disease yesterday, dying at his home in Florida at age 49. Watson got the news as he prepared for the opening round of the 68th Masters.

"I was in the champions' locker room and a guy at the door said Hilary [Watson's wife] was at the door, and I knew exactly what it meant," an emotional Watson said later at a news conference after shooting a 4-over-par 76. "He's not with us in body anymore, but I can tell you that he's with us in spirit."

Watson, who used local caddie Grey Moore yesterday, didn't feel alone inside the ropes.

"He [Edwards] was out there on the first tee with Boogie Tom," Watson said, referring to a caddie friend of Edwards' who died in a car accident in the late 1970s. `I told him the last time I saw him that "You're going to be with Boogie really soon."

Having Edwards in his thoughts didn't prove as inspirational as having him on his bag. Despite his physical deterioration from a disease that causes a breakdown in all voluntary motor functions, Edwards caddied most of last year for Watson.

The highlight came at the U.S. Open when Watson took a share of the opening-round lead at Olympia Fields outside Chicago with a 5-under-par 65. It helped publicized Edwards' condition.

"If I go in a year or less, I've had a wonderful life," Edwards said at the Open. "I've been lucky. I had one of the greatest golfers in the world. I've had a wonderful ride, a lot of wins, a lot of great moments."

Among those moments was the celebration of Watson's U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach in 1982, after Watson chipped in for birdie from the rough around the green on the par-3 17th hole and wound up beating Jack Nicklaus by two strokes.

"I think the hug at the 18th hole at Pebble Beach was probably the most wonderful memory that we both shared together," Watson said yesterday.

"But that was the only major that he won on my bag. You know, that was the major that I wanted to win the most and he knew it."

Among Watson's biggest regrets was not making the cut here last year.

"When I left Bruce last year, he was crying in the parking lot," recalled Watson. "He thought it was going to be his last Masters. Of course, it was."

Watson kept his emotions in check throughout yesterday's round, but they came pouring out afterward.

"Damn this disease. Damn it," Watson said, his eyes flooded with tears. "They are going to find a cure. We just don't have one right now."

According to Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein, the director of the Robert Packer Center for ALS Research at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Watson has raised about $500,000 for the center's funding of a new gene therapy program that is expected to begin next year.

Watson also donated the $1 million annuity he received last year on the Champions Tour to ALS research. Watson has reportedly raised an estimated $3 million for ALS research during the past year through his own donation and other charity events he has held.

Rothstein said that the publicity generated by Watson's play and Edwards' fight has accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time.

"Anytime a relatively rare disease can get that kind of attention -- specifically for the relation they had and that emotive force -- it helps move the research forward," Rothstein said yesterday from Baltimore.

Edwards' death came hours after his parents came here to accept the Ben Hogan Award on behalf of their son from the U.S. Golf Writers Association, given each year to the person who demonstrates courage in dealing with an illness or injury.

Last year's winner was former tour player Jeff Julian, who also suffers from ALS.

Watson took a reminder of Edwards on the course with him for the opening round -- a yardage book his caddie used in marking the distances on Watson's shots at previous Masters.

"I did something I rarely have done in the last 25 years, and that was to carry a yardage book in my hip pocket," said Watson.

"Maybe that's the reason I shot 76, out of whack up here somewhere. Maybe I can play half decent tomorrow and make the cut and get back in this tournament somehow. It would be fun."

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