HARTFORD, Conn. – When Jim “Bones” Mackay told Bruce Edwards that the Caddie Hall of Fame wanted him to become a new member in 2003, the Wethersfield native was reluctant to accept.
Thankfully, Mackay, who worked for Phil Mickelson for 25 years and now carries for PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas after being inducted into the Caddie Hall of Fame in 2017, pressed Edwards on reaching the pinnacle of the caddie trade. Edwards finally relented and agreed to be inducted not long before he died of ALS at the age of 49.
Edwards’ all-around greatness on and off the course was epitomized again Monday night when he and Travelers executive Andy Bessette became the 96th and 97th members of the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Hartford Downtown Marriott.
Among those in attendance were eight PGA Tour caddies, including Joe LaCava of Newtown, who was inducted into the Caddie Hall of Fame in 2019. LaCava, 61, has worked on the PGA Tour for more than 30 years, mostly for Fred Couples and now Tiger Woods since 2011. He’s “temporarily retired” awaiting to find out if Woods will make his third PGA Tour start of the year in the Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland on July 14-17.
“Bruce showed a liking for me and kind of took me under his wing when I came out on the Tour in 1987,” said LaCava, who began his caddie career looping for his cousin, Danbury native Ken Green. “He was great to be around and very receptive with all of the caddies, which a lot of guys weren’t. When I started with Fred, we played a lot of practice rounds with Bruce and Tom (Watson), and I always watched how they acted as a team. He was very competitive but a really genuine person.”
Eric Larson, 61, who has worked on the PGA Tour for more than 40 years and now carries for Travelers Championship defending champion Harris English, called Edwards “the Godfather of caddies.” He said Edwards was one of the leading forces behind elevating caddies to a higher and more appreciated level.
“He was the best,” said Larson, who met Edwards in 1980 and has survived 11 years in federal prison for selling cocaine. “I always took notice of how he worked with his guy and tried to instill confidence in him. Everyone was really receptive of him, and he always respected others and took time to answer any questions whether it was about players or caddies.”
Tim “Smiley” Thalmueller, 64, of Ponte Vedra, Fla., has been on the PGA Tour since 1976, and Edwards helped him get a job with Watson after Bruce had left one Hall of Famer for another, 1995 Greater Hartford Open champion Greg Norman. He also worked for Watson in the Father-Son tournament in December in Orlando, Fla., and is caddying for Henrik Norlander in the Travelers Championship, which begins Thursday at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
“I’ve never found anyone better than Bruce,” said Thalmueller, whose other bosses have included Scott Hoch, Mark O’Meara and 1990 Canon GHO champion Wayne Levi. “He was always so helpful, which a lot of guys aren’t because they’re so touchy. And he was always so nice and so smart. I told him if he had ever been a doctor, he would have found a cure for ALS.”
Watson was unable to attend the ceremony, but he did a video tribute to his longtime friend for whom he still actively works to find a cure for what he calls “the dreaded disease.” A dinner to benefit the Bruce Edwards Foundation for ALS Research after the second round of the 2016 Travelers Championship raised more than $1.1 million, a record for such an affair. Speakers included Watson, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, CBS-TV personality Jim Nance, best-selling author and emcee John Feinstein, who wrote “Caddie for Life” about Edwards, and Travelers executive chairman of the board Jay Fishman, who died of ALS only two weeks after the tournament. More than 40 players and caddies attended the event, including three-time Travelers champion Bubba Watson, who donated $100,000, and Brian Gay, who contributed $10,000 that he won during closest-to-the-pin competition at The Umbrella at 15½ at TPC River Highlands.
“The glass was always half full, not half empty, for Bruce,” Watson said. “I’ll never forget the call that I got after he visited the Mayo Clinic and said, ‘I just made a quad.’ But that’s the way that Bruce was even in the most difficult times.”
Gwyn Dieterle represented her brother at the induction and said she still finds it difficult to accept Bruce died 18 years ago.
“It’s very special that he’s still alive in peoples’ minds,” Dieterle said. “When he graduated from Marianapolis Prep (in Thompson in 1973), 33 people headed for college and one headed to the Kemper Open. He worked until five months before his death and kept showing that courage is getting up every morning knowing you’re playing a game that you can never win.”
Jim Nance, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, caddie John Wood and former Travelers champions Watson, Kevin Streelman and Marc Leishman gave video tributes about Bessette. Longtime entertaining ESPN personality Chris Berman, who has done a lot to promote the tournament for years, introduced Bessette, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Travelers.
“The Travelers Championship is the best marketing tool for the state,” Berman said.
“It’s an honor well-deserved,” said Monahan, a graduate of Trinity College and the University of Massachusetts who was born in Belmont, Mass. “Andy is a major reason that the Travelers Championship is one of the strongest events in New England and on the PGA Tour.”
Bessette, 68, is also on the board of trustees at the University of Connecticut, his alma mater, and was an All-American hammer thrower and on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. He received the Congressional Gold Medal that Bessette called the “highest civilian honor” and is given for distinguished achievement and appreciation on a national level. Each member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that would have participated in the Summer Olympics received one, and Bessette went to the White House to get his.
Bessette also serves on the UConn Health Center board of directors and the board of governors at Hartford Hospital. He has helped extend the title sponsorship between Travelers and the PGA Tour three times, with the current deal running through 2030.
As usual, Bessette was his modest self, saying he was “honored, humbled and very appreciative” of being inducted, giving credit to tournament director Nathan Grube, whom he accompanies to several PGA Tour events every year, and Travelers, which provides thousands of volunteers every year.
“I’m so thankful for their support in getting me inducted,” Bessette said. “And when I met Tom Watson, he told me how great person that Bruce was. I congratulate him for something that’s well-deserved.”
Previous Hall of Fame inductees in attendance were yours truly, Fairfield native and 2005 tournament champion J.J. Henry, Stan McFarlane, Dick Zanini, Jim Becker, Fran Marrello, Ted May, Lida Tingley, Gary Reynolds and Kyle Gallo. Henry, now a part-time PGA Tour player, and amateur Ben James of Milford received sponsors’ exemptions into the biggest sporting event in Connecticut. James, 19, is the No. 1-ranked junior player in the country who played on the victorious U.S. Junior Ryder Cup and Junior Presidents Cup teams, recently graduated from Hamden Hall Country Day, lost in an eight-way playoff for a spot in the U.S. Open and will be attending the University of Virginia in the fall. Henry and James played in a pro-am at TPC River Highlands before attending the inductions. James will make his PGA Tour debut on Thursday.
Will Zalatoris, who lost a three-hole aggregate playoff to Justin Thomas in the PGA Championship in May and tied for second in the U.S. Open on Sunday, withdrew from the tournament for an undisclosed reason. But marquee players still in the 156-man field include No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, the Masters champion who also tied for second Sunday; No. 2 Rory McIlroy, who finished second in the Masters and tied for fifth Sunday; No. 5 Justin Thomas; No. 6 Patrick Cantlay, the 2021 FedExCup and PGA Tour Player of the Year; No. 9 Sam Burns, a three-time winner this season; No. 11 Jordan Spieth, the 2017 Travelers titlist; and No. 15 Xander Schauffele, the Olympic gold medalist.
On Tuesday, the tournament hosted the Charlie Sifford Centennial Celebration Golf Outing at Wethersfield Country Club, where the event began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open. The outing is named after Charlie Sifford, the first Black man to reach the PGA Tour who notched his first Tour victory at Wethersfield CC in 1967. He would have turned 100 years old earlier this month, and proceeds from the event will go towards the Dr. Charles L. Sifford Scholarship.
“Charlie is a part of our legacy. He is the Jackie Robinson of golf,” Grube told the New Haven Register. “When you dig into that legacy and history, that’s something we are super proud of.”