Authors: John Feinstein
Copyright © 2004 by John Feinstein and Bruce Edwards
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Little, Brown and Company
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First eBook Edition: October 2007
ALSO BY JOHN FEINSTEIN
The Last Amateurs
A March to Madness
A Civil War
A Good Walk Spoiled
A Season Inside
A Season on the Brink
Running Mates (A Mystery)
Winter Games (A Mystery)
This is for all those who have suffered because of ALS: victims, family, friends. And for all those working through fund-raising or research to find the cure. May their prayers be answered and their hopes and dreams become reality very, very soon.
IN MAY OF 1981
, when I was still the kid on the sports staff of the
I was given a dream assignment. “Go on up to the Memorial Tournament next week,” sports editor George Solomon told me. “Bring back some stories we can use Kemper week.”
The Kemper Open had moved a year earlier from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Congressional Country Club, which is a few miles from downtown Washington. That made it, as far as the
was concerned, the fifth major. Since I had been pleading with George for the chance to cover golf for most of two years, he decided this was a good time to get me off his back. No one else on staff really wanted to spend a week outside Columbus, Ohio, on a vague quest to “bring back some stories,” except for me. I was single, I loved golf, I was more than happy to spend a few days at Jack Nicklaus’s tournament, although I wouldn’t dare tell anyone there that the Memorial (which they thought was really the fifth major) was just a warm-up for the Kemper.
I had grown up working in the pro shop at a small golf club on the eastern end of Long Island and had developed a great passion for the game even though I had serious deficiencies actually playing it. I could tell you off the top of my head who had won almost every major played in my lifetime, and I knew the bios of most of the top players on the tour. Of course I had never met any of them and none of them knew me. In that sense, the assignment was somewhat daunting. I arrived at Muirfield Village Country Club late on Tuesday afternoon, excited but nervous.
I collected my credential in the pressroom and walked outside the clubhouse, wondering if anyone was still around I could talk to. I had no idea what kind of stories I wanted to bring home. As I rounded the corner leading from the clubhouse to the putting green, I spotted a lone figure sitting on a low stone wall that divides the putting green in half. He was smoking a cigarette, clearly relaxing after a long day before he went home.
I recognized him instantly, just as any golf fan back then would. He was Tom Watson’s caddy, and Watson was the number one player in the world. Six weeks earlier, he had won his second Masters to go with the three British Opens he had won. That gave him five majors at age thirty-one, two of those wins coming in classic duels with Nicklaus. If you followed golf, you knew who Bruce was—he was the guy who walked the fairways stride for stride with Watson, the two of them seemingly in lockstep, usually smiling and laughing, clearly enjoying each other’s company. Watson had short reddish-brown hair and a quick smile. Bruce had long brown hair and an equally quick smile. They always looked to me like they belonged together.
There was a sign next to the green which said
PLAYERS, CADDIES, AND OFFICIALS ONLY
. There was also no one around. If anyone said something, I’d just pretend I hadn’t seen the sign. I walked over to Bruce, introduced myself, and asked if he had—as we reporters like to say—a couple of minutes to talk.
“Sure,” he said. “Sit down.”
I quickly confessed that this was the first time I’d been sent to cover a golf tournament and that I might ask some seriously stupid questions. “Don’t worry about it,” Bruce said. “You must know something about golf. You recognized a caddy.”
Not just any caddy, I pointed out. Bruce laughed. “I don’t work for just any player, do I?” he said.
We went from there. I asked the usual questions about his background, and Bruce told me about growing up in Connecticut, the son of a dentist, and of his passionate desire as a teenager to caddy. He re-created—as he had done many times before—the day in St. Louis when he first met Watson. He talked about what made Watson special. “Watch him when things go wrong,” he said. “He gets better. Never whines or makes excuses. Just keeps playing. That’s what I love about working for him.”
We talked about other players—good guys, bad guys, funny guys. Bruce gave me the names of other caddies I should talk to who had interesting stories to tell. At some point I noticed a chill in the air. We had been talking for close to two hours. Not once had Bruce looked at his watch or asked how much longer the “couple of minutes” was going to drag on. Finally I thanked him and we both stood up.
“Hey, anytime,” Bruce said. “Good luck.”
As a reporter, you rarely get as lucky as I did that day. Bruce essentially gave me a road map for the entire week, telling me stories that would lead me to other stories. He became, you could say, my first tour guide. I had stumbled smack into what we call a go-to guy in my first five minutes covering golf. It wasn’t until 1993 that I began to cover golf on a regular basis, but in the years that intervened, whenever I did cover golf, I always looked for Bruce. He wasn’t just a bright caddy, he was one of the brighter people I knew in any walk of life. After I began to cover the tour more regularly, Bruce became someone I depended on for a story, a quote, an anecdote, or just a few minutes of laughter.
It may not have been until 1998 that I first really felt I understood what made him special as a caddy. I had always noticed his demeanor, his upbeat approach, and his enthusiasm. But one Monday afternoon, I found out there was more to it than that. I was walking with Watson, Fred Couples, and Chris DiMarco during a practice round prior to the U.S. Open, held that year at the Olympic Club, outside San Francisco. I had bought a yardage book for the week, the orange book all the caddies now buy that shows them exact yardages from various spots on each hole and where hidden trouble may be. Walking onto one of the greens, I noticed Bruce looking at two yardage books, one bright and brand-new, the other beaten up.
“This one’s from the last time we were here,” he said, showing me a 1987 Olympic yardage book. “I keep all my yardage books so I can compare when we go back to places to see if anything’s changed. Sometimes I’ll notice that I’ve written down a correction in the old book and I’ll check to see if the new one has it right or wrong. Of course if I have any doubt, I just walk it off myself.”
He showed me where he had scribbled notes about ridges on greens or breaks he hadn’t actually seen the first time Watson had putted from a particular spot. He would suggest that Watson putt from those places during the practice rounds to see if the unseen break might still be there. No detail too small. “You never know where it might make a difference,” he said. “I actually liked it better when I first came out, when there were no yardage books. That way the caddies who took the time to walk the golf course and check everything out had an advantage. The yardage books are an equalizer, because they’re usually right. So you look for small things that they don’t have in them. Maybe in a week, you might save your guy one shot someplace. But that shot could be the difference between winning and losing.”
A little more than a year after the 1998 Open, Watson turned fifty and moved over to the Senior Tour. Bruce went with him. He had left Watson once—after being encouraged by Watson to do so—to work for Greg Norman for three years. He had made a lot of money working for Norman, but it simply wasn’t the same as being with Watson, who was both his boss and his friend. He had returned to Watson in 1992 and, even though he had plenty of other chances to leave, he had made it clear he would finish his caddying career—whenever that day came—carrying the same bag he had carried since his first month on tour.
He missed the regular tour. At the Masters in April of 2000, he walked up the hill on the first practice day from the bag room, stood under the famous tree outside the clubhouse, and spread his hands wide, his palms turned upward, his face turned toward the sky. “Real tour air,” he said, grinning broadly. “I feel like I can breathe again!”
I was standing there at that moment, and we joked about the differences between the Senior Tour and the PGA Tour. “I miss it,” he said. “I miss a lot of my guys.” He smiled. “But this is where Tom and I are right now. I guess I’ll just ride off into the sunset with him.”
That sounded about right to me. Tom and Bruce were to golf what George and Gracie were to comedy, Woodward and Bernstein were to journalism, Fonteyn and Nureyev were to dancing. They were partners for life, linked in our minds forevermore.
It was a routine conversation with a close friend on a winter afternoon. It was snowing, as it had almost every other day in the winter of 2003, and I was asking my friend Dave Kindred if he wanted to drive with me to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, the next day to watch Holy Cross and Bucknell play basketball. This is a running joke between us. Like a lot of my friends, Kindred, who writes for
finds my fascination with basketball in the Patriot League both amusing and confusing, especially when it involves driving through snowstorms on back roads in February. Naturally, I always offer him the chance to make the drive with me—“You might learn something” is my usual line—and he always thanks me profusely for the opportunity and then says something about having to reorganize his sock drawer that day. “Otherwise,” he will say, “I’d be right there with you. You know that.”
This time, though, his answer was different. He still turned me down, but the subject of his sock drawer never came up.
“I have to go to Florida tomorrow,” he said.
to go?” I said. “Sounds like tough duty this time of year. What are you going down there for?”
“To see Bruce Edwards.”
The mention of Bruce’s name put a smile on my face. “You doing a column on him?” I asked. “That’s one of your rare good ideas. Be sure to tell him I said hello and ask him to tell you how he launched my career as a golf writer.”
I was a little bit surprised when Kindred didn’t respond with a wisecrack. There was nothing funny in his voice when he answered by saying, “You don’t know, do you?”
That brought me up short.
“Don’t know what?”
Kindred paused for a moment. He knew that Bruce and I were friends.
“He’s got ALS,” he said finally.
For once in my life I was completely speechless. Maybe I had heard wrong. Three letters. Maybe one was incorrect and it was something else, some disease I’d never heard of. When I found my voice, I said quietly, almost praying that Dave was going to assuage my fears with his answer, “You mean ALS—as in Lou Gehrig’s disease?”
I know now, having talked to dozens of people in the past few months who know and love Bruce, that my reaction at that moment was virtually identical to theirs when they heard the news: I felt sick to my stomach. My heart was pounding and I could feel myself starting to shake. “When?” I asked. “When was it diagnosed?”
“Last month,” Kindred said. “People didn’t really know until last week.
wants me to go down and talk to him. I talked to his father last night. It doesn’t sound very good at all.”
There is absolutely nothing good about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—which has been known to people as Lou Gehrig’s disease since it killed the great Yankee first baseman back in 1941. Now, as then, there is no cure for ALS, which is described as a neuro-degenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways to the brain and spinal cord. ALS victims die from asphyxiation when the paralysis spreads to the diaphragm. In simple terms, the disease gradually destroys the muscles throughout your body. Your brain is unaffected, which means you watch helplessly as your body collapses one step at a time.