Authors: John Feinstein
“His father says he has the more aggressive kind,” Kindred added. “That usually means one to three years.”
One to three years, I thought. Bruce wasn’t much older than I was, not yet fifty, I knew for sure. “He’s forty-eight,” Kindred said, as if reading my mind.
“Just tell him I’m thinking of him, okay?” I said, feeling guilty that I hadn’t known sooner.
I hung up the phone and sat staring at the snow for a good long while.
When I came out of my trance, I went on the Internet to find out more about ALS. I knew what most people know: It had killed Gehrig, and there’s no cure. I wondered what Kindred meant about the more aggressive kind. I found that out fairly quickly. Bruce apparently had what is called bulbar ALS, as opposed to peripheral ALS. The life expectancy for peripheral ALS is longer—three to five years. Bulbar ALS tends to attack the throat first, the legs later. I remember thinking, “Well, at least he should be able to keep caddying for a while.”
After a few minutes, I knew more than I wanted to know about ALS. I could find nothing encouraging, no sign that anyone was close to finding a cure. There were about 30,000 people suffering with ALS in the United States, a tiny slice of the population compared with some other diseases. I would soon find out that was one of the reasons so little progress has been made in research. Pharmaceutical companies understandably focus their money and time on diseases that afflict the most people. One of the reasons there are so few people with ALS is both simple and chilling: Very few people live long once diagnosed. It is a fast and brutal killer.
Feeling even worse after my research than I had before, I started to compose a letter to Bruce. For quite a while, I stared at a blank screen. What could I possibly say? Hang in there? Sure, easy for me to say. Finally I remembered the first day we had met. I reminded Bruce about that day and told him how much I thought it said about him that he had been willing to sit there for so long and help out a complete stranger. I told him how much our friendship had meant to me through the years.
A few days later, I got an e-mail. “Thanks so much for reminding me about 1981,” Bruce wrote. “I’ve always believed that family and friendships are the two most important things in a man’s life. Reminding me that I did something good (at least once!) made my day.” He went on to say that he was feeling okay—“even though I often sound like the town drunk”—and that he had a brand-new family, since he had just remarried and his new wife, Marsha, had a nine-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter. “It’s different,” he wrote, “but a lot of fun.” Only later would I learn that he had proposed to Marsha on New Year’s Eve—fifteen days before he was diagnosed. He closed by saying he would see me in Augusta. “I just hope,” he wrote, “that these tired legs can handle those hills.”
The last line was frightening. Already he was feeling the disease in his legs.
If you are a golf fan, you probably watch the Masters on television each year. If you watched in 2003, you no doubt saw Dick Enberg’s essay on caddies, focusing on Bruce and his relationship with Watson and his battle with ALS. The piece ended with Bruce coming off the 18th green on Saturday morning after Watson had finished his rain-delayed second round and collapsing in tears on Hilary Watson’s shoulder. Tom had missed the cut, and Bruce came off the green thinking that he had very possibly worked at the Masters for the last time.
What you didn’t see was Bruce hand-in-hand with Marsha, walking up the hill to the clubhouse, the tears gone, just wanting to get someplace quiet. He had been doing interviews all week, the subject of dozens of columns around the country, all of them sympathetic. I had walked a number of holes with the group of Watson, Mike Weir, and Padraig Harrington on Friday, but hadn’t been around when play was called for darkness on Friday because I had to be inside the pressroom writing at that hour. I hadn’t yet had a chance to see Bruce, and I knew he would be leaving soon since Watson had missed the cut.
I walked around to the front of the clubhouse, where the caddies usually hang out, figuring he would go there to see his friends before leaving. I found him standing on the porch outside the locker room with Marsha. Bruce was fighting tears again. It had been just under twenty-two years since we had first met, but I wasn’t sure if this was a moment when I should leave him alone or go over to say hello. Bruce, as always, made it easy.
“John,” he said, waving me over when he saw me. “I want you to meet Marsha.”
He had the old smile on his face, even though his words were slurred and the tears were still on his cheeks. He hugged me, then introduced his wife to me. We joked about his speech for a moment—“You don’t sound a lot different than you sounded after about nine o’clock in the old days,” I said when he tried to apologize for the way he sounded. Then I turned serious for a minute.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “Tired. We should have made the cut. Four-putted the sixth. That killed us.” He paused. “Next year we’ll win.”
That started him crying again. I couldn’t think of anything clever or funny to say. Finally he looked at me and said, “You know, a number of people have suggested to me that I do a book about my life on the tour and with Tom.”
I felt myself cringe inwardly. First, I was appalled that anyone would approach him about such a thing under the current circumstances. Second, I knew what was coming next. “I’d like to do it,” he continued. “But only if you write it.”
Oh God, this was awkward. For about sixty seconds or so, I was in full, 100 percent selfish mode. I had just finished one book, which was about to be published, and I was working on another one. I had promised Mary, my wife, that I would take the summer off to spend some serious time with her and our two children. Plus, doing a book on Bruce would inevitably mean spending time with him as his health deterioriated. I was searching for a way out almost before he finished what he was saying.
“Bruce, I’m unbelievably flattered,” I said—meaning it. “But, well, this is a tough time. I’ve got two books working and I promised my wife I’d take a break. But if you really want to do it, I can help you find someone who would do a really good job.” I was actually thinking at that moment of Kindred.
The look on his face told me he knew a blow-off when he heard it. “I understand,” he said. “It’s not a problem.”
If he had punched me in the stomach, I think I would have felt better than I did at that moment. In that instant, one thought ran through my mind:
You have to do this
. In the next, the entire book suddenly crystallized in my mind. It was a love story in three parts: Bruce and Watson, Bruce and the life on tour, and Bruce and this gutsy young woman standing next to him. “You know what,” I said. “I’ll figure something out. We can do this. Give me a few days to talk to my publisher.”
Not surprisingly, he was confused by my complete turnaround. “Listen,” he said, “don’t do anything that will mess up your family.”
It’s okay, I told him. I then explained the way I had just envisioned the book. His eyes lit up. Marsha then asked how old my children were, and we spent the next few minutes comparing notes on kids. “I’ll call you in a few days,” I said.
“You sure?” he said.
If I had any remaining doubts, they went away a few minutes later, when I called Mary. I expected her to remind me that the word
existed for a reason, that she understood why I would want to do the book but there were other people who could do it. Once I finished telling her the story, she said simply, “You have to do this.”
And so I did. To say that there have been difficult moments these past few months would be an understatement. Bruce and Marsha and their families and friends have been through moments of hope and seen those hopes turn up empty. They have been through extraordinary moments of joy, none more remarkable than the day Watson shot 65 to lead the U.S. Open and the entire golf world stopped to cheer for him and for Bruce.
Through it all, Bruce’s health has obviously worsened. All of us who care about him have had a tough time watching him get thinner and weaker, seeing him forced into a golf cart while caddying and end 2003 knowing he would not be able to caddy at all in 2004. But I can honestly say now that I would not have missed these last few months for anything. In 1981 Bruce patiently gave me lessons in golf and about life on the PGA Tour. This past year, he has given me lessons in courage, in grace under pressure, in generosity of spirit, and in how to live life even when time is short.
In my last conversation with Tom Watson at the end of the year, we talked at length about what Bruce was going through, about what the year had meant to him, and about all he had learned about ALS and the research that is ongoing. Watson talked with great passion about various drug trials being conducted, about the hope that a way to at least slow down the disease may not be that far off.
“If we can just keep Bruce in working order for another year, there may be something,” he said, his voice trailing away.
A year for someone with ALS might be too long. Watson knew that. He had seen up close what the disease had done to his friend in a year.
“What I think has amazed everyone this past year, even me, someone who knows him so well, is his attitude and spirit,” Watson said, the words coming slowly. A moment earlier, talking about research and drug trials and hope for the future, his voice had been strident, full of life. Now his voice was almost a whisper. “He simply won’t give in mentally or emotionally, no matter what happens,” he continued, beginning to choke up. “He’s an extraordinary person. I can’t tell you how much I admire him. He’s been such an inspiration to people in the last year.” Watson was crying now, the tears running down his cheeks. “And to me.”
And to all of us lucky enough to know him.
TO BE IN NEW ENGLAND
on the first Saturday in September when the Red Sox are in a pennant race, when college football is beginning 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.”