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Golf

Dying caddie gets respite on course

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By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- You are Bruce Edwards, and you are staring out the window into the gray fabric of the morning.

These are the most difficult of moments, these empty slices of silence between home and work. You sit in a condo in Augusta, watching the rain wash away the times you love best, and you try to filter the thoughts in your head.

You are Bruce Edwards, and there are difficult times ahead.

Today you work a double shift. As you have done for three decades you will put on the whites, and you will sling Tom Watson's golf clubs across your shoulder and you will go to work. You will clean a few clubheads, rake a few bunkers.

Most of all, you will walk. Up and down hills, across rain-slickened grass, through mud so deep it wrestles you for the shoes on your feet. One round, then another, as long as rain and light permit.

If anyone thought about it, and no one does, they'd realize how difficult a profession caddying can be. Carrying a 45-pound bag for 18 holes is tough, but doing it for 36 holes is torture. It's not just Sancho Panza, handing Don Quixote whichever sword he desires.

You are Bruce Edwards, however, and today does not frighten you.

There are tougher times to come.

You are Bruce Edwards, and you are dying. Simple as that.

Amytrophic lateral sclerosis, the doctors call it. ALS. Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a death sentence, they tell you. There is no cure. There is only time, and not much of that.

As little as two years. Maybe as much as five. And so you hoist a bag, and you walk a course, because what the heck else are you going to do with the time you have? Surrender? You allow fairways and greens to become your sanctuary. When you are out there, you do not have to think about 150 pills a day or experimental drugs or the sad looks in the eyes of those who love you.

They notice you now, the fans in the gallery. For years you were another nameless man standing behind Watson. These days you cannot help but see someone look at you, then nudge his companion and whisper. That's him. That's the caddie with Lou Gehrig's disease.

It has happened so fast. Last November you had a little numbness in your hand and your speech was starting to slur. Watson kept urging you to see a doctor.

Finally, in January, you did. The news wasn't good.

Was that only three months ago? The time is flying past. Two weeks after the diagnosis you married Marsha. You told her she could back out if she wanted. She didn't. Some people come up big down the stretch, don't they?

People don't understand. They keep asking you why you continue to lug a golf bag, why you don't take Marsha and retreat to some garden spot for your final hours. They don't get it when you pull out a golf metaphor on them, if you compare ALS to an unplayable lie or a nasty patch or a quadruple bogey.

But golf is what you know. You have caddied since you were 12, so what other metaphors do people expect? You have spent most of three decades at the right hand of one of the greatest players in history, pointing out the trouble to be dealt with.

It's an easy credo: You have a bad hole, you tee it up again. You play to the last stroke, okay? You do not concede. It sounds trite to some people, but that's all you know.

You are Bruce Edwards, 48 years old, newlywed, and did you ever notice how loudly a clock ticks?

Time is melting away. You, too. Already you have lost 20 pounds, and you try to avoid talking on the telephone, and you seem to get tired more easily than you used to. You want to think about anything but this darned disease, and it seems to be the only thing people want to talk about.

Sometimes, when the moments are empty like this, the dark thoughts slip in. How long before the muscles go? The speech?

You attended a golf writer's dinner Wednesday night, and Jeff Julian was there. Julian, a former PGA pro, also has ALS. His is much more advanced, and the results look devastating. He has lost strength in his arms and legs and has to use a communicator to amplify his voice. You could not help but wonder: Is this you? And if so, when?

You are Bruce Edwards, and you push the thoughts away.

Stay positive, you tell yourself. Someone is going to beat ALS someday. Why not you? For now, just slow the disease down, so you can squeeze as much time as possible out of the clock.

Hey, it isn't like time isn't going fast for everyone else, too. Has it really been 30 years since you approached Tom Watson and asked if he needed a caddie. He gave you a week. It lasted three decades.

Oh, there were the three years you left Watson for Greg Norman, but that didn't work out. Watson was your big brother, remember. There was a bond that brought you back.

These days Watson has taken up your fight as his own. He has paid a reported $200,000, and he has set up the Bruce Edwards Foundation. And people thought he was impressive at Pebble Beach? This is better.

You are Bruce Edwards, and who knows how many tournaments you have left?

What you have is today. This is normal. This is life. This is what you do. You will lift another bag and head toward another tee box. You will try to bring your golfer home in good shape.

The weather report says the sun is coming out today.

You are Bruce Edwards, and you cannot wait.

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