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A caddy's story: Bruce Edwards' life in golf

New book by John Feinstein shares the story of a life devoted to sports, the enduring bonds of friendship and one man's courageous battle with ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease. Read an excerpt.

At the 2003 U.S. Open, golfer Tom Watson and caddy Bruce Edwards turned back the clock capturing the attention of the world to lead on day one. They used the time in the spotlight to draw attention to Bruce's condition. He had ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. Earlier this month the disease claimed his life. "Caddy for Life" is the story of Edwards’ life and how this proud man dealt with the death sentence of ALS. John Feinstein is the author. Here's an excerpt:

The Reunion
To be in New England on the first Saturday in September when the Red Sox are in a pennant race, when college football is beinning again and the first hints of fall are in the air, is to be about as close to heaven as one can come while still on earth.

On just such a day in 2003, on a morning when the sky was brilliantly blue and the temperature at sunrise was in the low 60s, a far-flung family gathered at 416 Brenda Lane in Franklin, a Boston suburb about twenty-five miles southwest of Kenmore Square and Fenway Park. Jay and Natalie Edwards had driven from their retirement home in Vero Beach, Florida, stopping in Annapolis on the way to spend a little extra time with their daughter Chris, her husband, John, and their two children. Chris, the oldest of the four Edwards children, is, like her husband, a retired Navy veteran. After Jay and Natalie continued their drive north, Chris and her family flew into Boston on Friday night.

Brian, the second son, and his wife, Laurie, had the longest trip, coming from their home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. They had flown east on Wednesday and had spent time on Cape Cod riding bicycles and roller-blading. Rare was the day in their lives when they didn't bike or run or blade or look for something new and different — to attempt. Gwyn and Lenny were the only ones who didn't have to travel, because they were the hosts, which meant they had the most work to do. That was how they wanted it, though, especially Gwyn, the baby in the family. She had retired from a successful career in public relations to raise their three children, who now ranged in age from five and a half to two and a half. It was Gwyn who had first come up with the idea to get everyone together and Gwyn who had pushed everyone else to make sure it happened.

Technically this was not a reunion but a chance to celebrate the wedding of Jay and Natalie's son Bruce. Bruce, the second child and the first son, had married Marsha Cummins Moore on a beach in Hawaii in February, almost thirty years after they first met and five weeks after they had become engaged.

The engagement had caught the family a little off guard; they hadn't known there was someone serious in Bruce's life. The wedding had been a complete surprise, because it had all happened in less than a week. Hilary Watson, whose husband, Tom, had been Bruce's boss for almost his entire adult life, had suggested it to Marsha on a Monday and the ceremony had taken place six days later on the beach. Friends had commented that it was typical of Bruce to find a way to get married in his bare feet.

Tom Watson was Bruce's best man. In his toast to the bride and groom he had commented that this was a marriage that was beginning under very difficult circumstances. "The groom," he said, "is a lifelong Eagles fan. The bride is a devoted Cowboys fan. That's why it took so long for them to finally get together. Clearly, they are going to have a lot of work to do."

When the rest of the family heard about the wedding, they were taken by surprise, but they also understood. Everyone talked about getting together at some point at Bruce and Marsha's home in Florida to celebrate. But there was no specific date or plan. Late in March, as was almost always the case on weekends, Gwyn and Lenny had the TV tuned to that week's golf tournament. It was the Players Championship. Gwyn was walking through the living room when she heard NBC's Jimmy Roberts mention the name Bruce Edwards.

She stopped and sat down. A moment later her big brother was on the screen. She took a deep breath when she saw him and tried not to cry.

Bruce's voice was thick, his words difficult to understand, almost as if he'd been drinking. That wasn't a surprise, because she'd talked to him on the phone frequently in the weeks since the wedding and knew that was how he sounded now. "But I hadn't seen him," she said. "When I saw how thin he was, when I saw how different he looked in just a few weeks, that's when it really hit me. That was when I first thought to myself, 'We have to get everyone together — soon.'"

Months later, sitting on a couch in the living room with Lenny next to her, she still found it difficult to say exactly why the thought had crossed her mind that day. "I don't honestly remember if I thought it specifically," she said. "But obviously it was somewhere in my mind."

Somewhere in her mind was the thought that couldn't be avoided — not on that afternoon in March nor on that spectacular Saturday in September: If we don't get the family together soon, the next time might be at Bruce's funeral.

Three weeks before Bruce's wedding, at the age of forty-eight, an unsmiling doctor at the Mayo Clinic had said to him, "Do you know what ALS is? It's also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. In all likelihood, you have one to three years to live."

Just like that. No ifs or ands or buts. He had issued what was, essentially, a death sentence, almost as if he were a judge telling a criminal his decision based on the facts before him.

That had been on a cold, snowy January day in Minnesota. A lot had happened since then, much of it good, some of it extraordinary. Bruce had been to many different doctors and had been told many different things about how he could get better. But the disease was still progressing. Bruce knew it, Marsha knew it, the family knew it.

When Bruce and Marsha arrived at Gwyn and Lenny's house that Friday night in September, there was a plate of mussels, courtesy of Brian and Laurie, sitting on the table on the back patio that Lenny had managed to finish building in time for the weekend. "Try a couple," Brian advised his older brother. "They're delicious."

"Great," Bruce said with the wicked smile that was his trademark. "Can they cure ALS?"

Everyone laughed. It was a funny line, typical Bruce. And then everyone sat back and the cool evening was completely silent for a moment.

In all there were seventeen of them gathered at 416 Brenda Lane, the house that Gwyn and Lenny had moved into ten months earlier. In addition to Jay and Natalie Edwards, the patriarch and matriarch, and their four children and their spouses, there were seven children, ranging in age from fifteen-year-old Natalie, John and Chris's oldest, down to little Jay, Lenny and Gwyn's youngest. Gwyn and Lenny had rented a moon-bounce for the weekend, and it proved to be a masterstroke, keeping the kids busy with little squabbling. That left the adults time to sit on the patio, enjoy the spectacular weather, wonder if the Red Sox might finally be for real, and of course reminisce and remember.

"Thank God Bruce was always the kind of kid who stuck to his guns," Jay Edwards said on Friday evening, shortly before Bruce arrived.

"Those first few years, we kept waiting for him to say 'enough,' and come home and go to college. Who knows, if he hadn't ended up with Tom Watson maybe he would have come home, but I'm not sure. He loved the life out there. He made lots of friends, good friends, and he really found a niche doing what he was doing. He was right, we were wrong. I'm really proud of what he has become."

Bruce Edwards would have loved hearing his father say those words. For years, he was convinced that he would never hear them, because his father was incapable of believing them. One of the jokes among the Edwards children, even after Bruce turned forty, even after he had made himself an excellent living as a caddy on the PGA Tour for years and years, was that Mom and Dad were still waiting for him to grow up, go to college, and find a real job. It was almost like the old joke about the mother of the first Jewish president, who leans over to the person sitting next to her during the inaugural address and says, "You know, my other son's a doctor."

Their son had become the king of the caddies. He was the best in the world at a profession that had earned respectability in large part because of the work done by him and his contemporaries. They had changed the image of the tour caddy from irresponsible hanger-on to respected partner. And yet Jay and Natalie were still waiting for him to come home and become a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or a dentist.

In fact Bruce often told people that his parents' proudest moment watching him caddy had not come at the 1982 U.S. Open, when Watson beat Jack Nicklaus with what might have been golf's most famous shot, holing an impossible chip at the 17th hole — after which Watson pointed his finger at Bruce and said, "I told you I was gonna make it!" Their proudest moment came two years later, at the 1984 U.S. Open. Walking outside the ropes, the Edwardses were there when someone pointed at Tom Watson and said, "It's him."

"Not it's him," Bruce Edwards corrected. "It's he." Then he paused for a second, glanced at his parents, and said, "And I'll bet you never thought you'd hear that from a caddy."

There had never been anything very typical about Bruce as a caddy. His relationship with Watson had been built on many things, not the least of which was his willingness to disagree with his boss, even challenge him on occasion. Watson had enough self-confidence that he didn't mind being told he was wrong. The two of them argued often but almost never really fought. Bruce always gave most of the credit for that relationship to Watson. "He let me be wrong," he said. "I never said anything thinking that if I was wrong, I'd get fired or yelled at. Sometimes he listened to me, sometimes he didn't. But once he made his decision, he always took responsibility for the outcome."

"I'm not much of a whiner and Bruce isn't a whiner," is how Watson describes the way they worked together. "We just both go out there and do our jobs."

From 1973 until the middle of 1989, they had done their jobs together, appearing to most in golf to be a matched set. Sometimes when they walked the fairways side by side, it appeared they were connected by an invisible string. Their walking paces were identical - fast - and neither one ever seemed to get his head down or pout on days when things didn't go well. Watson almost never lost his bouncy step, even in the wake of some difficult defeats, and his caddy matched him every step of the way. They had separated for three years when Watson cut back on his playing schedule and encouraged Bruce to accept an offer from Greg Norman, then the number one player in the world.

But in '92 Bruce had returned, and they'd worked together ever since — more than twenty-five years as partners. "It really wasn't the same without him," Watson said years later, looking back at their three-year separation. "I missed his personality and I missed having someone there who knew me so well I didn't even have to think before I did anything."

Bruce came back in the fall of '92 and, in many ways, it was as if he had never been away. They fell back into their same old arguments: Watson's Royals vs. Edwards's Phillies; Watson's conservative politics vs. Edwards's far more moderate views; the annual bet on the NCAA basketball tournament. They really were the old couple that has been together for so long that they finish each other's sentences and know one another's thoughts.

When Watson turned fifty in 1999 and moved over to the Senior Tour, Bruce had plenty of chances to work for other top players on the more lucrative and far more enjoyable PGA Tour.

In truth Bruce, like Watson, would have loved to stay on the PGA Tour forever. The Senior Tour is a shadow of the "real" tour. Most of its tournaments are 54 holes with no cut, as opposed to the PGA Tour's 72 holes with a 36-hole cut. The crowds most weeks are little more than a handful and there is a heavy emphasis on pro-ams, because the tour is so dependent on corporate America to keep the dollars flowing. What's more, most of the golf courses are set up short and easy to create the illusion that the over-fifty set can still score the way they did when they were younger. Watson has never been a short and easy sort of golfer. He likes golf courses difficult and conditions tough. He is famous for playing his best golf in the worst possible conditions — one of the reasons he won the often weather-challenged British Open five times.

Watson was still good enough to win on the regular tour a few months before he turned forty-nine. He still craves going out and competing with the kids, but his post-fifty body won't let him practice and grind the way he did when he was younger. That makes it unrealistic for him to tee it up with the youngsters on a regular basis, and playing with the seniors week in and week out doesn't motivate him the way he was motivated when he was younger. "There's nothing wrong with the Senior Tour," Watson insists. "I like it fine. But I'm not able to practice and work like I did when I was younger, so it's different than it was back then. I have to approach it differently simply because it is different."

Bruce could have left Watson when he turned fifty for almost any player out there. He is that highly thought of by the men on tour. He would have made more money, and, again, Watson would have understood, because Watson is both a businessman and an older brother figure to Bruce. "When he told me about having the chance to go work for Greg, I told him, 'Go for it,'" Watson said. "It was like a father pushing a son out of the nest. There was too much money on the table potentially to pass it up."

Bruce remembers Watson being even more direct back then: "'You need to do this,' he said. 'I can't win for you anymore.'" That was at a low point of Watson's career, when the swing and putting stroke that had made him the world's best player had deserted him. If Bruce had left again in 1999 or 2000, not wanting to go the Senior Tour route, Watson would have understood again.

But there was absolutely no way Bruce was leaving Watson, whether Watson played the Senior Tour, a mini-tour in Florida, or decided to try to win all the state championships of the Midwest. He had left home once. He had no intention of leaving him again. "As long as Tom wants me, I'll never leave him," he said once. "He's a lot more than just my boss. He's my friend, he's my best adviser."

He smiled. "Of course I don't always listen to him, sort of like I didn't always listen to my dad. But I'm not leaving Tom Watson.

He'll have to fire me to get rid of me again." Of course Watson would never fire Bruce. Each had been the constant — except for that three-year window — in the other's adult life. Each had been married and divorced and remarried in the thirty years that they had known one another. Bruce had watched Watson's children grow up, and Watson, after joining Edwards's parents in pushing Bruce to go to college, had come to realize it wasn't going to happen. "He's a gypsy at heart," Watson liked to say. "There wasn't anything I was going to say, or his mom and dad were going to say, that would change that."

They had faced all sorts of crises, some big and some not so big, together. Bruce had watched Watson struggle, first with his swing, later with his putting, and remained resolute that it would all get better, even at times when Watson wasn't so sure. Watson had understood Bruce's departure and his return. He had worried openly about Bruce's choice when he married for the first time — so had his family — and then had been there to help Bruce pick up the pieces when the marriage ended horribly.

Now, though, Watson and Bruce were going through a crisis unlike any other, one neither man could possibly have imagined. Watson had worried for years about Bruce's constant smoker's cough, a hacking that probably dated back to shortly after he started smoking as a teenager. Periodically he had urged Bruce to see a doctor, to get a full checkup, to have his throat and lungs examined. Bruce always laughed him off, in part because he was young and felt invulnerable, in part because — like most in his profession — he had no medical insurance and wasn't willing to pay the cost of a full checkup himself.

But during 2002, a series of problems finally got Bruce's attention. In the spring he began noticing that his speech was sometimes slurred. People had noticed, but no one said anything. They figured he was tired or maybe he'd had a little too much to drink. Greg Rita, a longtime caddying pal whose mother had suffered a stroke, wondered if Bruce had suffered a minor stroke without knowing it. In October Bruce had walked into a bar in Las Vegas and ordered a glass of wine.

"I'm sorry sir, I can't serve you," the bartender said. "You've had too much to drink."

Bruce hadn't had a single drink that day. He began having trouble with his left hand, noticing a cleft between his thumb and index finger. Then, one night in early January, he woke up in the middle of the night having an uncontrollable coughing fit. When Watson heard about the coughing fit, he called his own doctor at the Mayo Clinic and explained Bruce's symptoms. The doctor, Ian Hay, later told Bruce that his words to Watson were direct: "He needs to be up here yesterday."

Bruce made the trip to the Mayo on a snowy Tuesday in January. Marsha Cummins Moore went with him. Two weeks earlier, almost thirty years after they had first met, Bruce had proposed to her. Having Marsha there was comforting for Bruce. He wasn't scared, but he was concerned. Like Watson, he worried the doctors were going to find something wrong with his lungs. He knew better than anyone how much he smoked.

He never dreamed even for an instant that the diagnosis would be ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. When Eric Sorenson, the neurological specialist Doctor Hay had brought in to test him, delivered the news, he asked Bruce if he knew what ALS was. Bruce knew. "I would advise," Sorenson said, matter-of-factly, "that you go home and get your affairs in order."

Eight months had passed since that nightmarish day. Bruce had dealt with having to tell his family and then his close friends. He had dealt with all the publicity surrounding his illness and had been interviewed more in a few months than in the past thirty years. He had done the interviews and accepted all that came with what he was dealing with, in part because it is not in his nature to say no to people, but also because he hoped he could raise awareness about the disease and, in doing so, help raise money for research — if not in time to save him, then perhaps to save others. He had done all this with a kind of grace and courage that had made him into a heroic figure to many, not a role Bruce wanted or felt he deserved. But he had accepted it as part of what he was going through.

The cheers for him, especially at the U.S. Open in June, had been both heartwarming and heartbreaking. "I loved what they were doing for me," he said. "I hated the reason they felt compelled to do it."

Watson had heard cheers throughout his career. They were almost second nature to him as an icon of the game. But never cheers like this, never cheers that brought him to tears. "As much as I was thrilled for Bruce that so many people cared," he said, "the cheering broke my heart. A lot of people have described the last few months as bittersweet for Bruce and me. I can honestly say it's a lot more bitter than sweet. A lot more."

Now, in September, in Gwyn and Lenny's backyard, surrounded by people who had loved him long before he got sick, Bruce was doing everything he could to make the weekend as sweet as possible. He sat and listened to all the old stories, cracking up when his father described going to pick Bruce up after his first day of kindergarten only to be told Bruce had been kept after school for misbehaving. "How many kids get in trouble on their first day of kindergarten?" Jay Edwards asked, laughing now at the memory.

"I was framed," Bruce insisted. "You were framed your entire life," his mother said. "Damn right," he said.

Gwyn had arranged for a photographer to come in on Saturday morning to take family photos. Patiently, they went through their paces: a group photo of all seventeen of them — not easy with the younger kids squirming to go back and play — then breakdown pictures of each couple, each couple with their kids, the grandparents with the grandchildren. Finally Jay and Natalie's four kids all together.

"They all turned out pretty damn well," Jay Edwards said softly as he saw Chris, Bruce, Brian, and Gwyn smiling for the camera. The photographer worked swiftly and was back a few hours later with images that Lenny was able to bring up on the computer for everyone to look at so they could decide which ones they wanted printed. Lenny had even gone so far as to set up soft background music as the sixty images came up on the computer screen. The kids were busy playing, so the adults went inside to look. There they all were, wearing happy smiles, a handsome, successful family spending a gorgeous weekend with one another, enjoying every shared moment.

That was when Bruce lost it. Seeing the photos of all the people he loved so much was simply more than he could bear. He fought the tears for a while, leaned on Marsha to try to stop, and then gave up. He had to go outside and get away. Marsha followed, and he cried on her shoulder for several minutes to compose himself.

"I just couldn't stop thinking of the sadness I knew my dying was going to bring to all of them," he said later. "I'm not afraid to die, I'm really not. But I know my death is going to bring the people I care about the most a lot of pain. When I saw those pictures, everyone together, enjoying one another so much, enjoying life so much, it all caved in on me."

Naturally Bruce felt guilty about getting so emotional. Just as he had somehow felt guilty when he had to tell his parents about his illness.

"I'm so sorry," he had said that night, "to have to tell you this." Of course guilt was the last thing he should have felt. What he should have felt was pride, because that was what his family members felt when they thought about him. They were proud of what he had accomplished, proud of the man he had become, and proud that he had always done it on his own terms. More than anything, they had been proud —and amazed — by his ability to keep his sense of humor and his upbeat approach to every day, even at a time when so much of the future looked so terribly bleak.

"When I first heard, I felt compelled to sit down and write him," Gwyn said. "I knew if I got on the phone with him and tried to tell him how I felt, I'd just lose it and that would make things worse. So I sent him an e-mail, telling him how much I loved him and reminding him that we were all here for him anytime, any way he needed us. I signed the note, 'love and prayers.' When he wrote me back, he signed his note, 'love, prayers...and the Eagles.' It made me laugh and it made me cry, because it was just so Bruce."

If nothing else, Bruce would never stop being Bruce.

Excerpted from "Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story." Copyright © 2004 by John Feinstein and Bruce Edwards. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown & Co. For more information you can visit: