Feinstein: There’s More To Life Than Sports

Sea Island, Georgia is a spectacularly beautiful place. It is especially lovely this time of year—cool mornings, leading to comfortable warm afternoons. The humidity is low and there’s a calm that comes over you when you drive across the Torras Causeway bridge that leads from Brunswick to St. Simons Island.

When you stand on the driving range at the Sea Island Golf Club, you look directly onto St. Simons Sound and you understand why those who can afford it would choose to live here year-round. Summer might be hot but where exactly is summer NOT hot?

I’m here wrapping up the research for my book on this year’s Ryder Cup and, as is normal with golfers, I’m getting all the time I need. I have no reason to be anything but happy.

And yet, the last two days, I’ve been walking off by myself a lot to take deep breaths and regain my composure.

The sadness first hit me yesterday morning when I walked into the locker room to meet Zach Johnson and sat down at one of the tables that sits in the broad walkway in the spacious locker area that runs between the rows of lockers. It’s about as comfortable a place as you can hope for to conduct an interview.

The minute I sat down, it hit me. I was prepared for it to a certain degree, but not totally prepared. I was sitting on almost the exact spot where, thirteen years ago, I last saw Bruce Edwards alive.

Bruce was my friend for 22 years. He was Tom Watson’s caddy for 30 years. When he was diagnosed with ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease—early in 2003, he asked me if I would write a book on his life; on his years with Tom and on the final battle of his life. Bruce knew his time was short.

As I wrote in the introduction to “Caddy For Life,” my first instinct was to say no—for purely selfish reasons. I knew enough about ALS to know that Bruce was going to die and he was going to die horribly. ALS is a death sentence—most victims die within five years, though a handful live much longer. Stephen Hawking is the best example of that. But even those who survive, live in a very diminished state.

Bruce lived for 15 months after his diagnosis. By the time he asked me to write the book at the 2003 Masters, he was already badly slurring his words and he’d lost a lot of weight. He was taking about 60 pills a day to try to slow the symptoms. After first wanting to tell him no, I said I’d write the book because it occurred to me when a good friend who is dying asks you to do something, you damn well better do it.

The last time Bruce caddied for Watson was here—in November of 2003. It was at an event called, ‘The UBS-Cup,’ a faux Ryder Cup event for players over 40. Everyone knew Bruce wasn’t going to caddy when the 2004 season began two months later in Hawaii. He was allowed to drive a cart with Tom’s bag on it so he could work the UBS event, but there was no way for him to walk 18 holes. His entire family gathered for the week.

On Sunday afternoon, after Watson had halved his singles match with Colin Montgomerie, Bruce sprinted off the green and into the locker room. He couldn’t face his family at that moment.

I went into the locker room and found him taking things out of Watson’s locker to put into his bag.

“I gotta get going,” he said, in the mumble I had figured out how to understand. He tapped his watch. “Eagles.”

Bruce was a fanatic Philadelphia Eagles fan. The match had ended at about noon and the Eagles were playing at 1 o’clock. It was about a 90-minute drive from here to Bruce’s house in Ponte Vedra Beach. I knew he genuinely wanted to see the game. I also knew he was unbearably sad because, even though he’d said to Watson, “I’ll see you in Hawaii,” (to start the 2004 season) he knew that wasn’t going to happen.

“Slow down,” I said. “Your family’s outside. Tom’s looking for you.”

He took a deep breath. There were tears in his eyes. He tapped his watch again and said, “Eagles.”

We finally sat down at the table that I found myself sitting at on Tuesday. A moment later, Watson showed up, out of breath, afraid Bruce might have left.

“Let’s have a beer,” he said to Bruce, nodding in the direction of the bar.

I walked over to the bar with the two of them, knowing that the next few minutes would be precious to Bruce—his last as a caddy, having a post-round beer with his boss and best friend. I hugged Bruce and left. I didn’t linger. I was crying by then too.

A little more than four months later, on the first day of the Masters, Bruce died. I’ve been back here a number of times since and I always shudder just a bit driving onto the property and walking into the locker room. I can’t look in the direction of the bar.

But I steel myself to it and deal with it the way we all deal with sad memories. What I wasn’t prepared to deal with was getting back to my hotel room last night, sitting down at my computer and seeing an e-mail from someone that said, “Fwd: Tribute to Gwen Ifill.”

WHAT?

I first met Gwen Ifill in the summer of 1982. I was covering Maryland politics for The Washington Post and she was covering city hall for The Baltimore Sun. I spent a good part of that summer writing about Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer—who was already the odds-on favorite to successfully run for governor in 1986.

Gwen and I hit it off right away. She was so smart and so funny and a superb reporter. We were almost the same age and yet, I felt as if I learned from her. We hung out a lot, swapping war stories—even though we were both in our 20s—and talking about our personal lives. She became a friend. Not long after that year’s election, the Post very smartly hired her. Then it was The New York Times and finally PBS, where she eventually became co-host of the Newshour, which remains by far the best nightly news show on television.

I was SO proud of Gwen, not just because she had become the first African-American woman to host a nightly national news show, but because she was so damn good at what she did. So smart; so tough and still so charming and funny. I loved telling people we were old friends.

Our lives had gone in different directions. I only saw her a couple of times a year, usually when I was asked to appear on the Newshour. She would always show up when I was in the make-up room, throw her arms around me and yell, “Feinstein, you look great!” (Gwen could also lie to make you feel good with the best of them).

I would yell, “Ifill, you look better!” which was always the truth. I’m not sure we ever called each other by first names. That’s a newspaper thing. You don’t use first names in a newsroom.

I didn’t know she had cancer. I watched PBS constantly during the two conventions this summer and she was as good as ever; as smart and as sharp as ever. I had no idea she was dying at the age of 61.

I stood on the driving range early this morning and looked out at the spectacular view, standing off to the side so I could be alone while players warmed up all around me for the RMS Classic’s Pro-Am. I smiled, reminding myself how lucky I am to be alive and healthy (knock wood and I’m going to start getting back in shape as soon as I get home) and to get paid to come to beautiful places like this.

I was also unbelievably lucky to know Bruce Edwards and Gwen Ifill, even if my memories of them right now make me feel almost unbearably sad.

I love sports. I love covering sports. But I’m often reminded there’s a lot more to life than sports.

Here’s to Bruce, to Ifill…and to the Eagles.

More from John Feinstein
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