Fri, Jul 04, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Position of caddie made famous by long-time veteran

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Most tournament caddies are invisible. Most golf spectators are watching the pro swinging the club, whether it's Tiger Woods or Annika Sorenstam, not the caddie with all those clubs in that big bag.

But over the last quarter of a century, one caddie was often more visible than most, primarily because of the golfer he worked for, but also because he was more personable, more friendly than most.

And now that caddie is sport's most human story. Bruce Edwards, who has been Tom Watson's caddie for nearly 30 years, is trudging along under a burden much heavier than a 50-pound golf bag. He is afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the incurable neurological illness known as Lou Gehrig's disease. To the galleries, he's more visible than ever.

As Edwards strode onto the final green alongside Watson in the US Senior Open last Sunday, voices were chanting, "Bruce! Bruce!" Some of those voices meant Bruce Lietzke, who won by two strokes over Watson, but more seemed to be cheering for Bruce Edwards, just as so many voices had yelled his name at last month's US Open after the 53-year-old Watson opened with a 6-under-par 65.

Edwards is now a symbol for ALS, in a love story with both his wife, Marsha, who married him after the diagnosis, and Watson, the winner of one Open, two Masters and five British Opens.

Since Edwards, like many caddies, had no health insurance, Watson pledged to pay his medical expenses, expected to be about US$200,000 annually. Watson sent him to the Mayo Clinic for the diagnosis that calls for Edwards to take about 150 pills a day. And if a cure is discovered, the illness will deserve to be remembered as the Bruce Edwards disease.

"Now that I'm dealing with the fact that I've got what I've got, we're going to focus our attention on dollars for research and find a cure," Edwards said at the Open. "There are a lot of people that have it a lot worse than I do, and they're the ones that should be thought about, not me. You ask any family member whose daughter or son has this, they want to find a cure because eventually it kills you. There's no ifs, ands or buts."

Gehrig was 37 when he died June 2, 1941, two years after his illness was diagnosed and not long after he benched himself as the Yankees' first baseman, ending his 2,130-consecutive-games streak that Cal Ripken surpassed.

Friday is the anniversary of Lou Gehrig's legendary "luckiest man on the face of the Earth" speech at Yankee Stadium on his July 4, 1939, appreciation day -- a famous film clip that Edwards remembered seeing often on television long before his diagnosis.

During the four telecasts of last week's Senior Open, Edwards and Watson had their own clip, courtesy of the US Golf Association.

"I saw them on the `Today' show the morning after the Open, but they didn't have the time to get their Web site across," David Fay, the USGA executive director, said. "I told Tom, `If you and Bruce want to cut a 30-second public-service spot, we'll run it each day at the Senior Open."

In the spot, Watson, who requests, "Help us keep our partnership alive," identifies their connection to Driving4Life.org, or Driving 4 Life, ALS Therapy Development Foundation. The 4 represents Gehrig's uniform number. When Watson and Edwards go to next week's Senior Players Championship in Dearborn, Michigan, the PGA Tour should insert that 30-second spot each day in the USA and CBS television coverage.

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