Tears and Triumph
At the Open, Watson, Caddy Edwards Turned Back the Clock
By John Feinstein
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, June 17, 2004; Page D11
The first round of last year's U.S. Open at Olympia Fields was most memorable for the extraordinary 65 shot by Tom Watson. At age 53, Watson was tied for the lead after the first round, becoming the oldest player to lead an Open. Carrying Watson's bag was Bruce Edwards, his longtime caddy who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) diagnosed in January 2003. Edwards died the morning of the first day of the Masters this past April. His life and career have been chronicled in "Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story," a book written by regular Washington Post contributor John Feinstein and published by Little, Brown and Company. What follows is an excerpt, beginning with Watson entering the front nine, after opening his round by shooting 2 under on the back:
The first hole is probably the easiest one on the golf course, a relatively wide-open par 5. Watson's drive caught the rough and he was forced to lay up. His wedge stopped 12 feet past the hole, leaving him a slick downhiller for birdie. He knocked it in. Now he was on the leader board, and word was starting to make its way around the golf course that something extraordinary was happening.
By now Bruce was really in a battle with his emotions. He knew what was going on, knew Watson was being Watson again, but he also knew he had to keep himself steady and do his job. Watson was afraid to look him in the eye, because he knew if he saw Bruce losing it, he might lose it too. "Which I couldn't afford," he said. "There was still a lot of work to do."
The seventh is another long par 3, 212 yards, but doesn't play that long since the tee is elevated. Watson decided 5-iron and ended up about 35 feet past the flagstick. Not a bad shot, but Bruce walked down the hill wishing he had campaigned harder for a 6-iron.
It can be argued that Watson has made as many long, dramatic putts in his career as anyone who has ever played the game. He is justifiably proud of his ability to make long putts. He might never have enjoyed making one more than the one he made at the seventh on Olympia Fields that afternoon. The putt had a major left-to-right break to it, maybe 20 feet according to Bruce, but it was tracking the hole all the way. As it rolled closer and closer, the crowd noise grew louder and louder. Watson was tempted to put his arms in the air because he could see it was dead center. But at the last possible moment, the ball stopped right on the lip of the cup. When he saw the replay later, Watson was convinced that the ball hit some kind of ridge on the edge of the hole. "You could actually see it rock backward just a tiny bit," he said.
Standing up by the hole, getting ready to putt after Watson, Scott Verplank saw the ball stop, rock, and then, as Watson started walking, begin to move forward just a tiny bit. "Hey," he shouted over the din. "It's moving; it's going to go."
Watson walked toward the ball, fully intending to wait the 10 seconds the rules allow when a ball is hanging on the lip before tapping in for his par. Just as he arrived at the hole, the ball, as if intimidated by his presence, rolled that last inch forward and disappeared. As the crowd screamed -- really screamed -- Watson kicked his left leg gleefully as if kicking the ball into the hole, then turned to where Bruce was standing and bowed. That was it for Bruce. He was laughing and crying all at once.
"The kick was pure joy," Watson said. "The bow was to everything and everyone: to Bruce, to the crowd, to the moment -- everything."
Golf crowds can get very loud -- usually more so on Sundays -- but they rarely get raucous. When the putt dropped and Watson kicked and bowed, the noise could be heard all over the golf course. "I've heard loud in my day," Watson said. "But that was really loud."
Waiting back up the hill on the tee, knowing where Watson stood on the leader board before the putt went in, Billy Andrade saw the kick and the bow and felt himself losing his composure. "I wanted to run down the hill and hug both of them," he said. "At that point it was really hard for me to concentrate on my own golf game. I wanted to go and cheer them on."
It was, by now, very much them. What Watson was doing would have been remarkable under any circumstances: 53-year-old past Open champion one shot out of the lead 21 years after his Open victory. But everyone in the place knew Bruce's story. The media, which had been sitting around the press tent dutifully telling leader Brett Quigley's life story while explaining what had gone wrong for Tiger Woods, basically dropped everything for Tom and Bruce. The other 155 players, at least for one day, had become a footnote.
Both Watson and Bruce were fighting their emotions as they walked to the eighth tee. "I just felt like we had turned the clock back," Bruce said. "It was as if we were back at Pebble Beach again. We were both young and confident and knew anything was possible. It was just an amazing feeling."
There were, however, still two holes to play. Watson was alone in second place now, one shot behind Quigley. Pumped up, he crushed his drive at the 433-yard eighth and had only a 7-iron to the green. He hit it perfectly, stopping it 12 feet from the hole. "I walked onto the green and said to myself, 'Oh my God, he's going to make this one too,' " Bruce said. "You could just feel it at that point."
Watson was feeling it too. The birdie putt was never going any place but the bottom of the hole from the moment it left the putter. "I really swished it," Watson said. "I looked back at Bruce for a second and I could see he was losing it completely by then. At that point, I was really fighting it myself."
So was almost everyone else. Watson was now 5-under-par and tied for the lead with one hole to play. The ninth is the longest par 4 on the golf course, at496 yards, but it plays shorter because the hole plays downhill. Watson took a 3-wood and found the right side of the fairway. He wanted to play his second shot, a 6-iron, right to left to the flag tucked on the left side of the green. Whether it was nerves or adrenaline or just all that was going on around him, Watson hit the worst shot he had hit since his opening tee shot five hours earlier. "Just fanned on it," he said. "It was a bad golf shot."
Handing the club back to Bruce, Watson said, "Lousy shot."
"No problem," Bruce said. "Let's just get it up and down."
Watson walked into the bunker and examined the shot and the lie. He would later say it was "a fairly easy bunker shot." Most players would not have agreed. The lie was good and there was plenty of green to work with, but it was slightly uphill, it was a long shot to the flag, and the ball was going to break hard from right to left as it got near the hole. All of that made it delicate.
Refusing to think about what was at stake, Watson got over the ball and, quick as ever, softly nudged the sand, popping the ball up onto the green. The ball took a couple of hops, swerved to the left, and came to a halt seven feet from the flag. A superb shot. "Typical Watson under pressure," Bruce said.
They took some time over the putt, Watson making sure that Bruce's read was the same as his. "It was just outside right," Bruce remembered. "I was shaking by then, but I knew he was going to make it."
Once he had the read, Watson quickly got over the putt. The silence around the green was deafening. A few seconds later, the roar was ear-splitting when the ball went straight into the cup. Watson had done it. he had shot 65 to tie for the lead in the U.S. Open at age 53, the oldest man ever to do so. "My first thought was, 'I can win this thing,' " he said, remembering the moment. "Then I saw Bruce."
Bruce was crying by now, joined by many around the green and by many others around the country, watching on TV. Instinctively, remembering it was Thursday, Watson put his hand out. Bruce was having none of it. He threw his arms around Watson and whispered in his ear, "Thanks for a great five hours."
That was it for Watson; he was crying now too. "Normally, hugs are for Sunday," he said. "But the hug was absolutely the right thing to do at that moment. I think Bruce and I have had two very emotional hugs in our life on the golf course. One was at Pebble Beach and the other was that day at Olympia Fields. They both meant a lot to both of us. This one was more emotional because of the circumstances."
Bruce agreed. "Pebble Beach was pure joy. This was different, because there were so many emotions involved."
The easy part of the day was now over. For once, Watson wasn't talking to the media just because it was part of his job. He practically bolted into the interview room and said, very bluntly, "I have the bully pulpit today and I intend to use it." He then talked about Bruce and about the desperate need for funding to do more research and find a cure for ALS. Patiently he did every TV interview he was asked to, even sticking around to sit on ESPN's SportsCenter set. "I had no problem doing any of that stuff," Watson said. "To begin with, it's my duty as a player. I understand that. But on this day, I wanted to do it. This was an opportunity, and I know just how fleeting fame is. I had to grab it and run with it while I could."
Bruce wasn't nearly as eager to meet the media. For one thing, he was exhausted and emotionally drained by the events of the day. For another, his thinking was that Watson had shot 65, not him. He had heard the fans calling his name, "Bruuuuuce," as if he were Springsteen. He was moved by the sentiment. But he didn't want people focusing on him after what Watson had just accomplished. "He shot one of the great rounds in U.S. Open history," he said. "I really didn't think the story should be about me."
But the story was about him. Actually it was about both of them. Clearly Watson had been inspired by the moment and the setting, and by Bruce's emotions and by his understanding that this might be their last time together in this sort of mega-spotlight. Watson knew that and Bruce knew that. But Bruce wasn't eager to talk. Tired as he was, he knew his speech would be slurred and difficult to understand. After Bruce came out of the scoring tent, pressroom volunteer Steve Malchow approached him to tell him that quite a few reporters had asked to speak to him. "I'd really rather not," Bruce said. "They should talk to Tom."
Malchow understood Bruce's reluctance but thought his story was an important one to tell. Bruce thought about it for a minute, then lit a cigarette. "I'll be there the whole time," Malchow promised. "If you get tired, or it's too tough, you tell me and I'll stop it."
Bruce agreed. He walked back outside the locker room and found a phalanx of reporters waiting for him -- notebooks, tape recorders, and cameras were everywhere. Bruce had talked to reporters for 30 years; he had done a good deal of media at the Masters. But nothing like this.
He spoke slowly, trying to make his words clear, about what the day had meant to him. He talked emotionally about all Watson had done for him. "To have a friend like Tom Watson," he said at one point, "is an incredible thing. I can't tell you how lucky I feel."
The tears were coming again, and he paused and looked down to gather himself. When he looked up, he glanced at some of the faces around him and noticed something: Many of those listening -- cynical, jaded reporters -- were crying too.
"All my years in the business," Malchow said, "I've never seen reporters crying. They did it that day, and I don't think any of them was ashamed to do it."
It was that kind of day.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company