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A new name is etched in Masters lore — they call him Bubba

Bubba Watson, a hang-loose personality with an unconventional, go-for-broke golf game, shakes up the buttoned-down Masters with a miracle shot for an out-of-left-field victory.

April 08, 2012|Bill Dwyre
  • Bubba Watson plays his second shot around trees on the second playoff hole Sunday at the Masters.
Bubba Watson plays his second shot around trees on the second playoff hole… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )

AUGUSTA, Ga. — A guy named Bubba won the Masters on Sunday. Next we will have tattoos on the guards at Buckingham Palace.

The Masters is as buttoned-down as it is wonderful. It is coat and tie and the-collar-better-be-pressed. Bubba Watson is blue jeans and sandals and who-cares-if-the-shirt-is-untucked. The Masters is ordered and traditional. Watson is hang-loose and go-with-the-flow. Your outfit and your equipment are much dissected here. Watson played in ice cream-vendor white and hit it off the tee with a pink driver.

At the Masters, golf is bigger than life. So is Watson.

That he won with a shot that few would even try, much less envision, was a perfect ending to a day that, like so many Masters Sundays, had everything.

There were two holes in ones (Bo Van Pelt and Adam Scott), one shank (Peter Hanson), the first-ever double eagle on No. 2 at Augusta (Louis Oosthuizen) and a six on a par three that included two butchered right-handed shots by a left-hander (Phil Mickelson).

Then there was Watson on No. 10, the second playoff hole. He and Oosthuizen had matched pars on the first extra hole, No. 18, then marched off to No. 10 and matched ugly drives. Watson's was uglier. On the par-four, 495-yard monster, Watson had driven the ball 330 — normal for him — but so far off track to the right that he was left on some trampled pine straw and had a TV tower and trees blocking his view of the green.

"We had 135 [to the green] front," Watson said. ". . . I think we had like 164 [to the] hole, give or take. . . . hit a 52-degree, my gap wedge, hooked it around about 40 yards, hit about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree and then started rising. Pretty easy."

When his shot turned right and got up the hill to the green and kept turning until it stopped 15 feet away from the pin, golfers everywhere — most watching on TV, where the angle and dimensions of the shot were clearly apparent — knew they had just witnessed the Miracle at the Masters. Oosthuizen, who created the previous miracle about four hours earlier, when he ran a four iron 265 yards downhill and into the cup on No. 2, needed to sink a treacherous 12-footer for par to force Watson to make his putt for the win. When Oosthuizen missed and Watson easily two-putted, the world of sports became a lucky recipient.

Now, everybody gets to know Bubba Watson, who is more like a miniseries than a story.

He was born and raised in Bagdad, Fla., where, when he was 6, his mother decreed that his father, Gerry, could not go golfing on Saturdays unless he took Bubba along.

"So I guess you could say my mom got me started in golf," Watson once said.

The club pro outfitted him with a sawed-off club — "Good thing the guy was left-handed," Watson says — and he started hitting plastic practice balls. He never took a lesson then and still hasn't. His only teacher was his dad. "And he wasn't very good," Watson says. "He couldn't break 100."

He has won four times on the tour now, the first three times at tournaments sponsored by Zurich, Travelers and Farmers.

"I'm going to see if I can get an insurance company to sponsor the majors," he said at a media day appearance as defending champion in this year's Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. At the same event, he was asked if he made any changes in his game and he quipped, "Yes, I'm going to the belly putter." He also talked about his early days on the tour. "I get on the first tee and there are reporters and cameras there and they are all waiting to see this long-hitting, goofy dude named Bubba. And I rope-hooked my drive."

He was asked Sunday how he would handle the fame of being Masters champion. His body language had answered that earlier. In the post-match ceremony, as soon as the speeches ended, Watson stood up and took off the green jacket he had just been awarded. A Masters official quickly had him put it back on.

"I don't play the game for fame," he said later. "I'm just me. I'm just Bubba."

He was asked if he had dreamed of winning the Masters and he said he had.

"But I never made the putt," he said.

There is a serious side of Watson as compelling as the fun, self-effacing side.

He and his wife, Angie, adopted a son two weeks ago, their first child. He talked openly about how she told him on their first date that she couldn't have children. He said they went through the adoption process for much of the last four years, and it all came to a head two weeks ago, when he was playing at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Classic.

He said that, on Monday of tournament week, they were turned down. Tuesday, they got a call about another child.

"Wednesday of Bay Hill, we made the decision," Watson said. ". . . Then Monday morning, we were down in South Florida, picking up little Caleb."

He said that even though he had yet to change a diaper and didn't know how, he couldn't wait to get home, that a plane was waiting and he would be on it soon.

Someday, post-diapers, Bubba Watson will be able to take little Caleb on his knee and repeat his summary description of what happened in this big golf tournament just a few days after he became Caleb's dad.

"I went into a playoff," he will say. "I got in these trees and hit a crazy shot that I saw in my head and pretty soon I was talking to a bunch of reporters with a green jacket on."

And Caleb will say, " Good Lord, Dad. You did that at the Masters?"

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