Bubba Watson takes the cover off his driver, as caddie Ted Scott waits, before… (Bret Hartman / Associated…)
Bubba Watson won the Masters this year, captured the hearts of millions with his personal story and his golfing style and won the lifetime devotion of Michelle Tesori.
Countless words have been written and broadcast about Watson's adoption of his child the week before the tournament and his impossible hooked gap wedge out of the trees to win on the second playoff hole.
But not much about the Michelle Tesori story.
It began during a practice round before the Masters. The azaleas had bloomed early and were mostly gone, but Magnolia Lane was as magnificent as always. Watson and his buddies, Webb Simpson and Rickie Fowler, were marching down the fairway after hitting their tee shots on the par-three fourth hole.
"We were just kind of talking, like guys do," Watson said Wednesday at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, where he is one of 18 top players competing in Tiger Woods' World Challenge.
"Webb's caddie, Paul [Tesori], tells us to look over there to our right, that there is a palm tree there. I didn't know there was a palm tree at Augusta National, and Paul says it is the only one. And he tells us not to say anything, because he has told his wife, Michelle, that there is one somewhere on the course and if she can find it, he will buy her a diamond ring she has been wanting for a long time."
Watson, full of the boyish devil, found out Michelle's name and immediately spilled the beans.
"I asked where she was," Watson said. "Paul kind of gestured over his shoulder that she was right there, over on the other side of the green, following us around. So I started yelling and pointing over toward the palm tree and waving my arms until she saw it."
Pretty soon, Michelle was across the green, in front of the palm tree and taking pictures. She had the proof and Paul had a big bill to pay. The cost of the ring, which was the matching centerpiece to rings she already wore, was $9,000.
"Paul said, 'Hey, why did you do that?'" Watson said. "I said, 'Who cares? It's your wife.' "
As the practice round went on, and so did the palm tree banter, Tesori told Watson he hadn't already bought the ring because it was too expensive. Watson, perhaps feeling a little guilty, or perhaps just being true to the spontaneous personality that drives both his golf game and his ever-growing fan base, had another thought.
"I told him," Watson said, "that if I won the tournament, I'd buy the ring."
Little did he know.
So, it came to pass that the world of golf, with millions tuned in worldwide to what is normally the most dramatic closing nine holes in golf, watched in amazement as Watson curved his second shot on No. 10 out of the trees, turned it about 40 degrees to the right and landed it 12 feet from the pin, from where he two-putted for the coveted Masters title.
"Thinking back on it," Watson said Wednesday, "it might have turned more than 40 degrees, and there was no way I thought I could get it to 12 feet. On the green, sure. But not to 12 feet."
For Michelle Tesori, the magical shot brought much more than the simple amazement it brought the rest of us.
"I get hugs when I see her now," Watson said.
It could have been an easy commitment to blow off, an easy throwaway line to throw away. Some in that spot would have said they were just kidding. It was just boy talk. There was no handshake, no signed paper.
Not Gerry Lester Watson Jr., who became "Bubba" at birth in Bagdad, Fla., when his dad saw the 91/2-pound baby and said to his mom, "We got a Bubba instead of a baby."
Not the Bubba Watson who shot 62 at age 12, who once hit a drive 420 yards on the Nationwide Tour and 416 on the PGA Tour, or the Bubba Watson who has never had a golf lesson, a golf coach or a sports psychologist.
And certainly not the Bubba Watson who won the most prestigious of golf titles and says now, about his adopted son, "I would have given up any Masters title for him."
With the blessings of Watson, Paul and Michelle went to their jeweler, got a ring fitting and told him the story. The jeweler caught the spirit and granted a nice discount. Then Watson finished the story.
"I wrote a check for $7,500," he said.
Of course, a few months later, Paul Tesori's man, Simpson, won the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
"I texted them right away and told them Paul could afford it on his own now," Watson said, laughing.
In a main lounge at the clubhouse at Augusta National, a fireplace warms the room and large couches and easy chairs further punctuate the Southern comfort. The wall decor includes trophy cases of golf clubs, donated by past champions who have used them to make history.
The most recent addition is Watson's 52-degree gap wedge, henceforth to be known as the Palm Tree Special.