AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bruce Edwards, who caddied for Hall of Fame golfer Tom Watson for most of the last 30 years, died in his sleep at his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on Thursday morning. Edwards, 49, was diagnosed 15 months ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease.
Watson learned of Edwards' death when he arrived at Augusta National Golf Club to play Thursday's first round of the Masters. Watson, a two-time Masters champion, had promised Edwards that he would play and went on to shoot a four-over-par 76.
"He was out there on the first tee," Watson said. "He's not with us in body anymore, but I can tell you, he's with us in spirit.
"The spirit of Bruce Edwards, if you ever ran across him, you knew what a genuine person he was. He will be missed. He will be missed."
Edwards had been under hospice care recently and had suffered a respiratory attack Friday. At that time, doctors told his wife, Marsha, that he didn't have much time left.
Edwards was to have received the Ben Hogan Award, given to an individual for coming back from serious illness or injury and remaining active in golf, Wednesday night at the Golf Writers Assn. of America banquet.
Jay Edwards accepted the award for his son.
"It's been a tough few weeks," he said. "And the hardest part is, you never expect to outlive a child."
A popular figure among his fellow caddies, Edwards was on the bag for Watson at one of the most historic moments in golf, when Watson chipped in at the 17th hole at Pebble Beach to win the 1982 U.S. Open championship.
Edwards also was Ben Crenshaw's choice for caddie captain in the 1999 Ryder Cup. Crenshaw broke down as he finished play when told of Edwards' death.
"He was picked for a positive outlook, and he gave us that," Crenshaw said. "He was a real professional and one of the most positive human beings I have ever been around.
"This is not fair. It is not a good day for any of us."
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement:
"Bruce put up a brave battle with this terrible disease and, with Tom's assistance and support, brought extensive attention to ALS and the fight to find a cure."
Edwards grew up in Wethersfield, Conn., the son of a dentist, and took up a career as a professional caddie after graduating from high school. Besides working with Watson, Edwards was Greg Norman's caddie for three years.
He was diagnosed Jan. 15, 2003, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He had noticed shakiness in his hands and that his speech was becoming slurred. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive illness that damages the nerves in the spinal cord and brain. There is no cure.
The ALS Assn. reports that as many as 5,600 are diagnosed with the disease each year in the U.S., and that ALS has stricken about 30,000 in the U.S. and 70,000 worldwide. The average life expectancy of someone with bulbar ALS, the type Edwards had, is one to three years.
Watson has been active in fundraising for ALS research. Former PGA Tour pro Jeff Julian also has ALS and has been on a respirator since November. Edwards had declined such care.
The last time Watson and Edwards worked together was at the UBS Warburg Cup at Sea Island, Ga., in November.
Only weeks before, Edwards had carried Watson's bag at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the so-called senior tour championship, at Sonoma.
There, Edwards posed for photographs, smiled, chatted with well-wishers and signed autographs. He said he wished he could have kept a lower profile, but that there was a positive side to the attention.
"If being in the spotlight means I can make people aware of ALS, then it's a good thing."
Watson, who won the season-long competition and a $1-million annuity at the tournament, donated that amount to ALS research. After he finished his round Thursday at the Masters, Watson reiterated his sense of loss, then his desire to stop the illness.
"I want to say, 'Damn this disease, damn it.' They are going to find a cure."
Edwards is survived by his wife and two stepsons, Bryce, 10, and Avery, 9, as well as his parents. Services are tentatively scheduled Monday at Ponte Vedra Beach.