Authors: John Feinstein
The rest of the weekend was as awkward as a first date. Marsha went home to Dallas and reported back to Kay. “I screwed up,” she said. “This is a setback, but I can still rally.”
Still sticking to the golf metaphors, Bruce’s description of San Antonio was simple: “She needed to lay up and she went for the green.”
Marsha knew she was in some trouble but didn’t think she was finished yet. The e-mails went from a torrent to a trickle. “The killer would have been if he called and told me not to come to Las Vegas,” she said. “I’m not sure what I would have done if he had done that.”
Bruce was scared by the three words, but he wasn’t about to stop seeing Marsha because of them. In retrospect, he knows now he was pretty well hooked already. He just hadn’t admitted it to himself. “Hilary Watson had walked with her at a couple of tournaments and really liked her,” he said. “She said to me, ‘So are you pretty serious with this girl?’ I said, ‘Me, serious with someone? No way. Not again.’”
Hilary knew better. She told Tom that she thought Bruce really liked this woman but didn’t want to admit it—to himself or anyone else. Bruce was working Vegas for John Cook. The week went well—not overwhelmingly well, but Marsha thought she detected some thawing around the edges. At the end of the week, she asked Bruce if he still wanted her to come to Ponte Vedra for his birthday. Yes, he said, he did. That was good, she thought, because that was when she was going to give him The Book.
“It was the book that put me over,” he said, looking back. “I couldn’t believe it when she gave it to me, because so much work had gone into it. I think deep down, I knew then that I wanted to marry her, but I was still scared.”
Marsha understood that. After her mistake in September, she wasn’t going to push the envelope again. She was thrilled with his reaction to the book but was determined not to get ahead of herself again. When she returned to Dallas, she called Kay and said, “I’m back in the ballgame.”
She was very much in the ballgame by then. Bruce took the book to his parents’ house in Vero Beach (Jay Edwards had retired in 1997 after forty-three years of dentistry) and showed it to them.
“He said a friend of his had done it for him,” Natalie Edwards said. “We looked at each other and thought, ‘There is no way someone who is just a friend does something like this. He’s way beyond friendship with this girl—whoever she is.’”
Bruce invited Marsha back to Ponte Vedra for New Year’s Eve. He had decided by then to ask her to marry him but told no one—not even Watson. When Gwyn invited him to come spend Christmas in Boston, he turned her down, saying someone was coming to visit him right after Christmas. “I knew it was a girl, that wasn’t any big deal,” Gwyn said. “But from the tone of his voice I had a feeling it wasn’t just any girl.”
On New Year’s Eve, Bruce and Marsha went to a party at the Ponte Vedra Club, a place where Bruce had gone on New Year’s Eve for several years. When the ball dropped and the balloons fell, Bruce kissed Marsha, wished her a Happy New Year, and said, “Will you marry me?”
Marsha was stunned for a second, but quickly recovered. “Absolutely,” she said.
Mission accomplished. The long par-four over water had been birdied.
They toasted 2003 and the future, which had never looked brighter to either one of them than it did at that moment.
“A Black Thought”
WHEN MARSHA WALKED
onto the porch of Kay Barton’s house on that warm Texas evening in May 2002 and saw Bruce sitting there, White Russian in hand, he might have been, as far as she was concerned, the same dashing nineteen-year-old she had met in her Nelsonette days.
Except when he started to talk.
“There was a thickness to his speech,” she said. “It wasn’t a big deal, and I just figured he’d had a couple of drinks already. But it was still there at other times that week when I knew he hadn’t been drinking. Nothing serious, the kind of thing where you think maybe he’s just really tired. But I did notice it.”
She wasn’t the first. In fact as far back as February, Bruce had bumped against the issue when he walked into a bar one night in Naples, Florida, during the tournament held there and asked for a glass of wine. “The bartender looked at me and said, ‘Sir, I’m really sorry I can’t serve you in your condition,’ he remembered. “I said to him, ‘What condition?’ He said, ‘You’ve had too much to drink.’
“I told the guy he was crazy. I’d had one glass of wine all night. But I wondered what in the world was going on.”
The slurring in his speech came and went. Some days it was gone completely. Other days it was more noticeable. Both Tom and Hilary Watson noticed it too and initially thought little of it. But when it continued and became more frequent, they also began to wonder what was going on.
“I’d been on Bruce for years to get a complete physical,” Watson said. “He’s had a smoker’s cough for almost as long as I’ve known him, that deep hacking that sounds so bad sometimes. I wanted him to get his lungs thoroughly checked. I knew it had been a long time since he’d gotten a physical, and periodically I would tell him he needed to go and get a physical. But I knew he never did.”
In fact Bruce hadn’t had a complete physical since he had first left Wethersfield in 1973 to pursue the caddying life. Like most caddies, he had never bothered to get medical insurance even after he started to make real money. “It was just something I never gave any thought to,” he said. “I figured I’d get it when I needed it.”
Of course insurance never works quite that way. By the fall, more and more of Bruce’s friends were starting to notice the slurring and were concerned about him. But they hesitated to say anything. Greg Rita, his closest friend still in caddying, thought he’d had a minor stroke. “My mother had a stroke about a year earlier, and the symptoms he had were similar, though not as serious,” Rita said. “I wasn’t sure what to do. I guess I just hoped it would disappear.”
So did Bruce, who had a second episode with a bartender in Las Vegas in early October 2002. This time he was with Marsha and hadn’t had anything to drink. “The bartender looked at Marsha and said he would give me a drink but only if she was driving,” Bruce said. “Rather than argue, Marsha just said she was driving.”
By now Watson too was concerned that Bruce might have had a small stroke. “The slurring was getting worse with time,” he said. “At first, I thought he was tired when I heard it or that he’d had a late night. But when it persisted, I began to think there had to be more to it. I wanted him to get up to the Mayo Clinic and see Ian Hay [Watson’s doctor] and get a complete physical. When I told Ian about what I was seeing and hearing, he told me that Bruce needed a complete physical sooner rather than later.”
Watson’s concerns were crystallized on the morning of October 24. He was playing in the Senior Tour Championship in Oklahoma City, and the weather was cold and blustery when he and Bruce walked onto the first green. Watson marked his ball and, as he always did, tossed it to Bruce so he could clean it before he putted. Bruce reached out with his left hand to catch the ball and couldn’t close his hand around it. The ball dropped to the green and Bruce began looking at his hand to figure out what was wrong.
That was when he noticed the cleft—a deep indentation between his thumb and index finger. He tried again to make a fist, failed, and waved Watson over.
“Hey Tom,” he said. “Take a look at this. Something’s wrong with my hand.”
Watson walked over and looked at the spot where Bruce was pointing. A chill that had nothing to do with the weather went through him. “I had a black thought right then and there,” he said months later. “Can’t tell you why, I just did.”
Firmly, Watson told Bruce the time had come to get to a doctor. Shaken, Bruce nodded, wondering what the heck was going on. First the speech problems, now this. Still, he tried to keep the outlook as bright as possible. “I’m probably getting arthritis,” he said, walking off the green. “I’m getting old, you know.”
Watson forced a smile in response. He seriously doubted that Bruce had arthritis. As the day warmed, Bruce’s hand loosened up. But the cleft was still there. Watson went on to win the tournament, and Bruce had no more trouble with his hand. Still, Watson reminded him again that he wanted him to get a physical as soon as possible. “You let me know when you can go up there, and I’ll set you up at the Mayo,” he said. Bruce told him he would. When he got home, he began—finally—looking into getting medical insurance. He got all the forms and began filling them out. He didn’t want to tell Watson he didn’t have insurance, so his hope was to get insurance, then set up the appointment at the Mayo. He wondered what was wrong. He knew his lifelong smoking habit was dangerous and was hoping he didn’t have emphysema or lung cancer.
It was the off-season now, and he was resting and feeling better back home in Florida. Marsha visited on his birthday, and he went to see his parents on Thanksgiving. They had noticed some slurring in his speech, but said nothing. “We were sitting around at night drinking wine,” his father said. “We figured it was nothing more than that. His spirits were good, and even though he wouldn’t admit it, we thought something was clearly going on with this girl who had put together this incredible book for him for his birthday. He seemed as happy as we could remember seeing him in a long time.”
By the time the Christmas holidays rolled around, Bruce knew something was wrong with him. The cleft in his hand had grown and he was losing weight, something he never did during the off-season, when he wasn’t walking five miles a day with a forty-pound golf bag on his back. His parents went to Boston for Christmas to spend time with Gwyn and Lenny and their kids. On Christmas Day, Bruce called to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
Gwyn answered the phone. “I said, ‘Geez Bruce, I can’t put you on with Mom and Dad, you’re hammered,’” she remembered.
Bruce hadn’t had anything to drink. He didn’t argue with his sister, because he knew by then that he probably did sound drunk, even though he wasn’t. When Marsha arrived the next day, he kept hiding his left hand from her, because he was convinced she would notice how deep the cleft had gotten. By now he was scheduled to have blood drawn by someone from an insurance company in early January. That would be, he hoped, the last step toward getting insurance. Then he could have his physical, find out what was wrong, and start getting better.
When he proposed on New Year’s Eve, he and Marsha agreed they would get married sometime in the summer. Watson was tentatively planning to take a month off after the Senior British Open in July. That would be the perfect time to schedule the wedding and give Marsha time to do all the planning that was needed—not just wedding plans, but moving plans. The day after New Year’s, she flew home to Dallas to tell Brice and Avery they were all moving to Florida, that she was marrying the guy who kept sending her all those instant messages on the computer, and that they were going to live in a house with a swimming pool. A few days later, she flew back to Ponte Vedra to look for an apartment—“I wasn’t going to just move in with two kids when we weren’t married”—and to get Brice and Avery enrolled in new schools. On the night before she was supposed to fly back to Dallas, Bruce woke up in the middle of the night coughing.
And couldn’t stop.
“It went on a long time,” Marsha said. “It was scary. I thought we were going to have to go to the hospital. He couldn’t stop for a long time. When he finally did, he was out of breath, exhausted, and, I think, a little scared. He’d had coughing fits before, but never anything quite like that.”
The next day Marsha called Hilary Watson, whom she had become friendly with, and told her about what had happened. When Hilary passed the news on to Tom, he again called Ian Hay and described all of Bruce’s various symptoms. “He didn’t make any comment to me about what he thought it might be,” Watson said. “But I guessed he had suspicions. What he said to me was direct: Get him up here now.”
Tom called Bruce to tell him in no uncertain terms he was making an appointment for him for the next week. There would be no more negotiating or stalling. That was when Bruce finally confessed that he had no medical insurance. “Forget about it,” Watson said. “You get up there, get checked out, and tell them to send the bills to me.”
Bruce argued briefly, saying something about getting blood drawn that week. Watson didn’t want to hear it. “I’ll call you back and tell you when you’re going up there,” he said. It was no longer a suggestion or a request. Bruce understood. Watson called back a little while later to say he was expected at the Mayo Clinic on January 14. He would need to be there at least two full days for the battery of tests Dr. Hay was planning. Bruce called Marsha to tell her about the appointment. “I’ll go with you,” Marsha said. Bruce told her she didn’t have to do that, he’d be fine. Like Watson, Marsha wasn’t in a mood to argue. “I’m going,” she said. “In fact, I’ll make all the travel arrangements and meet you up there. You just rest.”
Bruce rested. On the Saturday night before he was scheduled to fly to Minnesota, Greg Rita and Mike Rich, a close friend who worked as a bartender in Ponte Vedra, came over to the house to watch the Eagles and Atlanta Falcons’ playoff game. The Eagles won, and Bruce decided that was a good omen for the week to come. He told his friends he was going to get a physical, that Tom had set him up at the Mayo Clinic. Both were glad he was finally going to see a doctor.
“I didn’t make a big deal out of it,” Rita said. “But I was glad he was going.”
Bruce had told Rita and Rich about proposing to Marsha shortly after New Year’s. At that stage, he hadn’t told anyone else—not even his family or the Watsons—because he wanted to do it in person. Both men were delighted, especially Rita, who had first met Marsha back in 1984 and had thought
that she was the best woman Bruce had ever dated. He was happy to hear that Marsha was going, because he sensed that his friend was just a little bit scared. “Or maybe,” he said, “I was a little bit scared.” Without telling Bruce, he called Marsha in Dallas and gave her his cell phone number. “I want you to call me from up there and let me know what’s going on,” he said. She promised that she would.