I did not get to see Tom Watson shoot 65 today in the first round of The British Open. I didn’t get to see him turn the clock back 32 years to 1977 when he was 27 and staged one of the great duels in golf history with Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry, the gorgeous links where the Open was held then as it is being held now.
Why didn’t I get to watch Watson? The Maryland Motor Vehicles Association.
I needed to get my driver’s license renewed. I arrived at the MVA right after it opened to try to avoid a long wait. I did pretty well. Twenty minutes after I walked in the door, my number was called. First thing the woman did was ask me to look into one of those machines to test your eyes.
Fine. I’ve got lots of physical flaws but not my eyes. I read the bottom line easily.
“Read the letters on the right side,” she said.
“There are no letters on the right side,” I said. The column was completely blank.
“No, they’re there.”
I tried moving the position of my eyes, adjusting the machine—you name it. Nothing. It wasn’t like the column was a blur or anything it was BLANK.
“Something’s wrong with your machine or I’m doing something wrong,” I said.
“No,” she said. “You can’t see out of your right eye.”
Now, I was agitated. “Of course I can see out of my right eye,” I said. I put my hand over my left eye and began reading the sign behind her about how to become an organ donor.
“You have to go see an eye doctor.”
“WHAT? Look, I can see, it’s something with the machine.”
She handed me a form. “The doctor will have to fill this out or you can’t get a license,”
She turned away—done with me.
If there was any doubt about my ability to get angry post-surgery, it is now gone. I was smart enough NOT to use profanity, because then you get in trouble. The word, “idiots,” may have crossed my lips once or twice and her desk got slammed with a fist. People—other MVA types—began to gather. I figured I’d better get out because I wasn’t going to win the argument and I was clearly out-numbered.
I found a Wal Mart a few miles away—God Bless Wal Mart. I had to wait a while—imagine how patient I was while waiting—which is when my brother Bobby called.
“Did you see Watson?” he said. “Unbelievable! What a stud the guy is! He’s almost 60. Incredible!”
Steam came out of my ears. “WHERE are you?” he said.
The doctor was very nice. She ran me through a battery of tests and said, “I don’t know what the problem with the machine was but it DOES happen on occasion. Your vision is 20-20.”
She filled out all the various forms and told me I shouldn’t have to wait in line again at MVA since I still had my number from almost two hours earlier. Back I went to MVA. I was in and out in 15 minutes. Of course no one volunteered to give me back the $55 for the eye test, the two wasted hours or an apology for missing Watson!
I know I’ll see highlights later. But as someone who was lucky enough to be there six years ago when Watson did this at age 53 to become the oldest man to lead the U.S. Open, I feel as if I missed something special. On that day at Olympia Fields in 2003, Watson was playing with a hole in his heart, knowing that his caddy and best friend, Bruce Edwards, was dying of ALS.
The whole world knew what was going on and Tom and Bruce were cheered every step of the way that day and that weekend—Tom finished tied for 22nd. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I cried that afternoon. I was researching the book that would become, “Caddy For Life,” a love story really, about Bruce’s 30 year relationship with Tom, the sub-plot being Bruce’s remarkable courage during the last 15 months of his life.
The memories I have of that day are indelible. I remember Bruce not wanting to talk to the media when it was over—in part because he thought Tom’s golf was the story, not him—in part because it was tough for him to make himself understood at that point in the disease’s progression. When he was finally convinced to go talk, he did it largely so he could tell people that life doesn’t end the day you are diagnosed with ALS.
But as we walked up the pathway to where the media was waiting for him, Bruce whispered something in my ear I could barely hear: “You know he did this for me,” he said, the tears coming again.
Neil Oxman, a good friend of Bruce’s who is a hugely successful political consultant in real life, was on Tom’s bag today because he enjoys caddying and he sees being with Tom as a way of honoring Bruce. He had Bruce’s yardage book from Turnberry in 1994, when Watson could have won there again, in his back pocket.
I know they were both thinking of Bruce. I know I am. And I’m damn sure he’s looking down on the MVA right now and saying, “you should be ashamed of yourselves!”