Watson's tribute to bagman Edwards

Even Here where sentiment is as tangible as the dogwoods brushed by the breeze and the smell of pine, something remarkable happened last Thursday night. Tom Watson, the winner of eight majors and for a little while the only man who ever scared Jack Nicklaus on a golf course after he had supplanted The King, Arnie Palmer, walked into a room filled with journalists and television cameras and proceeded to weep. It went on for the best part of an hour but there was little concern that it might be embarrassing.

Even Here where sentiment is as tangible as the dogwoods brushed by the breeze and the smell of pine, something remarkable happened last Thursday night. Tom Watson, the winner of eight majors and for a little while the only man who ever scared Jack Nicklaus on a golf course after he had supplanted The King, Arnie Palmer, walked into a room filled with journalists and television cameras and proceeded to weep. It went on for the best part of an hour but there was little concern that it might be embarrassing.

Watson talked lucidly and the level of his voice was meticulously controlled. It was just that the tears kept falling down. They had a life of their own.

He had managed to suppress them most of the day after his second wife, Hilary, visited the locker-room shortly before he went out to play the first round of the Masters for the 31st time. She told the 54-year-old Watson that Bruce Edwards had just died in a hospice.

Edwards, aged 49, was a caddie who put himself into the consciousness of America when he leaped into an embrace with Watson, who had just chipped in to win the 1982 US Open at Pebble Beach. The picture was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and if you ever wanted an image of fulfilment in sport, this one was at the very least the rival of Nicklaus's Caesar's salute when he won his last major title here in Augusta 18 years ago.

"It was the only major he won on my bag," Watson said, "but he knew it was the one I wanted most."

Watson, you could see, was going through a thousand memories, good and bad. Of how it was when his game was in crisis, and when it had broken out into the sunlight. He recalled their only row on the course. "The only time I was angry with him was at the Hawaiian Open. I hit the ball, I hit it typically to the right of the tee on the 13th hole, into this hazard. It must be a 100 yards off line. And I'm having a heat attack. I'm in this hazard and over there they have red clay, like they have here in Georgia, and I get in that thing. I get my shoes in it, they are all muddy, and I chop this thing out of there. He just takes off with the bag, and here I am with shoes full of mud. I'm hot and I want a towel. I said: 'Where the hell do you think you're going?' He turns round and says: 'What do you mean? I'm going to get the yardage.' So I chopped out into the rough."

Watson won his Masters titles in 1977 and 1981, when regular caddies stood down in favour of the local pool who, in the customs of a club which still does not entertain the idea of a women member, were summoned as casual labour, but Edwards followed Watson around the course in '77. Watson recalled the time without bothering to brush aside a tear. "I started to make my run at No 5. I hit a four-iron and when it was in the air I heard this 'Yeah', and it was Bruce because he knew it was a good shoot. I ended up making birdie and I birdied six, seven and eight. He came over that night and we celebrated. We had a great celebration.

"He always wanted to caddie at Augusta but when the time came we never really got close to winning, but he just loved being here. Hanging out, breathing it in. He cried when we had what he believed was our last round here together. It was the thing he hated to let go."

Watson spoke of the time he and Edwards first connected, in St Louis in 1973. "I played the tournament there. I was a long-haired golfer and he was a long-haired caddie. We fitted the bill but I said he should go off to college. But he insisted that being a caddie was the neatest thing in the whole world."

At one point they parted professionally, Watson telling the caddie that with the prize-money dwindling he should take any opportunity that came along. Edwards rang one day to say that Greg Norman had offered him his bag. He took it with Watson's blessing, but the new working relationship did not work out.

Fifteen months ago, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. It attacked his lungs. He knew he was in trouble when he went into a bar and was refused a drink. He was slurring his words and the barman said that he was drunk. In recent months Watson and Edwards talked long and hard about the most basic things, including the fear of death. Edwards said that he did not fear it because he was going to meet some old buddies on the first tee of another place.

"Bruce was a gypsy and he broke a few hearts," Watson said. "A former wife burned down his house, but he didn't let things get him down - nothing. A few days before these Masters he e-mailed me with advice. I would have liked to have shot better than 76 today. For one thing I carried his yardage book in my hip pocket."

Watson said he would work to help the funding of research on the disease that had taken away his friend. He would also try to help the hospice where he died. He was grieving publicly for the loss of a friend and perhaps also, deep down, he was sad for that part of his life which had gone with the former long-haired young man who gave him that victory hug beside the Pacific at Pebble Beach.

There were those times when Watson was so brilliant on a golf course that even Nicklaus was in awe of him. It happened, among other times, one day at the course that the great man built in his native Ohio. Watson leaped to the head of the leader board of the Memorial tournament in wild wind and rain.

Nicklaus came off the course congratulating himself on an even round, "one of the best I've ever played" he said. Then he looked at the leader board and saw Watson's numbers in red: 68. He did a double-take and then said, "That's just unbelievable. Only Tom Watson could do that."

Watson won the British Open five times and his status as Nicklaus's heir apparent was never in serious question. But then something happened. He got the yips, which some attributed to a rarely discussed drink problem. He had a wrenching divorce and he no longer terrified the field with his sheer virtuosity.

This week he cried for his friend, and maybe some of the things that life can do to you, out of a clear blue sky, when it was fair to assume you had conquered the world.

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