Wednesday, September 6

Looping, Part 1: Bruce Edwards in 'Hog Heaven' and Caddying in Hogan Era

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.

IN MY TEENAGE DREAMS I AM STRIDING up the final fairway in the U.S. Open, matching my gait to the cheers that echo from the huge gallery circling the 18th hole. At my side is either Hogan or Snead, or sometimes Bobby Locke. And on my back, I'm lugging 40 pounds of irons and woods.

I never dreamed of winning the U.S. Open. I only wanted to caddie for the winner.

That was the dream of every kid who spent his childhood "looping" for rich members on the green lawns of luxurious country clubs, when golf carts were not yet invented and caddying double for 36 holes on a single day was like hitting the numbers in the lottery.

Though I dreamed of caddying for a champ, I didn't think of caddying as a profession. From the early thirties through the late fifties, caddies who followed the tour were one step up from being hoboes.

Well, times have changed.

Those tall, slim, good-looking blond guys you see today, carrying the bags for the tall, slim good-looking blond golfers, are living the good life, flying from one PGA Tour event to the next, signing autographs, and spending their days inside the ropes, on center stage with the pros.

Yes, times have changed.

'Hog Heaven'

Bruce Edwards and Tom Watson
in Dallas in 1975.
The first and most famous of these new caddies was Bruce Edwards who looped for Tom Watson until diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in 2003.

Edwards' career began in the summer of 1973, when, fresh out of high school, he picked up Watson's bag at the St. Louis Classic. Watson was only 23 himself, a Tour sophomore who had not yet won a tournament. That week, Watson earned $6,500, and 18-year-old Edwards made $300. "I was in hog heaven," he told me.

His wealthy Connecticut family felt differently. His brother and sisters had gone on to college, and Edwards' caddying career, he said, "made him a black sheep at home."

That perception soon changed. Edwards had caught the right player at the right time and before he was 21, Bruce was earning $25,000 a year. Watson was named golfer of the year from 1977 through 1981, and throughout his long PGA Tour career Watsom made millions, while affording Bruce five percent of those winnings as well as a slice of Watson's fame.

The culmination of this pro-caddie relationship in many ways came at the 2003 U.S. Open when Watson and Edwards worked their way up the 18th hole at Olympia Field on the way to a 65 that put Watson in contention for the tournament, and spectators, flanking the fairway and knowing of Edwards' recent medical diagnoses, stood and shouted, "Bruuuuuucce, Bruuuuuuce" to honor and recognize Edwards' contribution to Watson's great career.

But to appreciate Bruce Edwards and other professional tournament caddies, you'd have to have been there, back in the forties, when golf was glamorous and caddies definitely were not.

Earlier Days

I got my first taste of what life might on tour when I was too young to caddie, but old enough to sneak under the fence surrounding the Midlothian Country Club in suburban Chicago to follow my older brothers as they caddied for the likes of Middlecoff and Ed Furgol and I was able to watch the legendary Bobby Locke win the 1948 Victory Open.

Locke won $2,000 and Kenny Burke, a friend and another Midlothian caddie, who was 13 years old that summer, earned $75 for a week of looping.

Later, I had my chance to caddie at the famous Tam O'Shanter Country Club, west of Chicago, carrying the bag of Midlothian's own club pro, Tony Holquin, who finished second in the All American Open, the closest I ever got to the winne's circle.

Still, I was just 14 and rubbing shoulders with great players, and hanging out in the caddie shack with a few old guys who traveled the country as professional caddies. They were wizened little guys with faces tanned from long days in the sun: they always appeared to be smoking two cigarettes at a time as they squinted down at us short-haired, shirt-tailed kids, who loved to listen to their stories of life on tour.

They regaled us with tales of Ben Hogan and Julius Boros, as well as Ed "Porky" Oliver, ice cool Lloyd Mangrum, and Doctor Cary Middlecoff. We had only read about the 9th hole at Pebble Beach, or the 18th at Olympic Country Club in San Francisco. They had walked those fairways and also brought home Ralph Guldahl, a winner at Cherry Hills and PGA Champion Jimmy Ferrier at Plum Hollow.

As thrilled as we were by those stories, it never crossed our minds to go on tour. We were summertime caddies at local country clubs, lugging heavy bags for doctors and insurance salesmen, players who never broke par. We only earned $1.50 plus tip for 18 holes. Caddying wasn't a real job.

In the early sixties, however, the PGA Tour changed and the life of professional caddies did as well. 

Television had discovered golf and the charismatic Arnold Palmer and his Arnie's Army. Television rights dramatically increased, tournament purses multiplied, and thousands of mostly non-golfing spectators came out to watch the pros. Suddenly, players' personalities mattered and a half dozen colorful caddies found their way into the spotlight.

TO BE CONTINUED.

John Coyne is a bestselling author who has written several books about golf. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

No comments: