Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Watson's caddy battling fatal disease



By BILL VILONA
Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal

PENSACOLA, Fla. - Tom Watson admits golf no longer is a constant obsession. Competition still stirs him, but life has presented other challenges. The biggest one stands at his side.

For 30 years, Bruce Edwards has been Watson's primary caddy. They've been teammates, striding the fairways together as Watson emerged as one of the sport's greatest players.

Now, they're in a race against time.

Edwards was diagnosed in January with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. There is no cure for the progressive neurological disease, which got its nickname from the famed New York Yankees slugger felled by the disease in 1939. The disease attacks nerve cells, causing an eventual loss of all motor function. The life expectancy of those diagnosed ranges from two to five years.

"I'm trying to take a page out of Bruce's book when he says, 'We'll just carry on.' That's what we're doing," Watson said.

He has channeled a passion into helping Edwards beat this fatal illness. Inside a plastic bag, Watson had ALS information. Messages. Physician numbers. Drug company literature. He spends hours working the phones.

"There was a drug that was successfully used on a disabled patient," he said. "A doctor used it to reverse ALS on a woman. Unfortunately, this drug is hard to get. We're kind of in a situation where we don't know how to get it."

Watson is doing everything he can. He's going after any possible cure the same way he battled to victories in 39 PGA Tour events, including eight major championships.

"Honestly, I've played a lot of golf in my life, and I still want to come out and compete," said Watson, in his fifth season on the Champions Tour. "But I have other things to do. I've got other interests. I honestly don't spend the time honing my game like I used to."

Edwards, 48, is holding on, although he told NBC-TV golf reporter Jimmy Roberts in an interview earlier this year, "It's scary, because this is something that kills you."

Treating ALS costs an estimated $200,000 in annual medical expenses. Like most caddies working professional golf, Edwards has no insurance. Watson has pledged to pay every dime.

The two met in 1973, in the parking lot of a St. Louis golf club. Watson, then 23, was searching for a caddy. Edwards was searching for a golfer. A year later, Watson won the Western Open, igniting a decorated career that made him the No. 9 money winner of all time.

"Everybody loves Bruce," said Dennis Turning, another caddy.

Turning has known Edwards since they were 12. They grew up together in Connecticut. "It's very hard to deal with," he said. "You're helpless."




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