Somewhere down in tiny Bagdad, Fla., there must be a patch of woods from where little Bubba Watson used to extricate an errant plastic golf ball with the developing wide-arcing swing and flick of his wrists. A 12-year-old with the given name of Gerry Jr. but the nickname Bubba would aim shots around his boyhood home and manipulate the ball past the live oaks that adorn the far western Florida Panhandle burg.
“If you know about wiffle balls or plastic balls, it's hard to cut the ball,” Watson said years ago. “Then I learned to hook it the other way, hit it high over limbs, hit it low under limbs. I'd say non-stop every day from 6 to 12 years old. Instead of playing with trucks out in the yard, I'd play with a ball and a club."
Bagdad and Augusta are worlds apart but Bubba Watson learned his childhood lesson well as millions watched while dusk approached on Sunday at the 76th Masters Tournament. After a hooked drive into the woods on the second playoff hole, the par-4 No. 10 at Augusta National, the left-handed Watson remained positive.
“If I have a swing, I've got a shot,” Watson said on Sunday evening. “So I'm used to the woods. I'm used to the rough. “
Watson’s approximate 150-yard shot from the woods drew on his youthful play. He used a gap wedge to hook the ball right nearly 40 yards, over the fairway bunker, around a TV tower and the viewing patrons to within 10 feet of the hole. After playoff foe Louis Oosthuizen failed to get up and down from the front of the green, Watson two-putted for par to win the Masters and established another in a long line of great shots to win the Green Jacket.
“I've never had a dream go this far,” Watson said, “so I can't really say it's a dream come true.”
Watson’s story entering the Masters was of the fairy tale variety for the 33-year old University of Georgia graduate. His wife, Angie, is a 6-foot-4 former college basketball player at Georgia who also played professionally. During Masters week, she was busy at their temporary rental home in Orlando, Fla. with the couples’ recently adopted newborn son Caleb. Just two weeks before the Masters and during the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, the Watsons rode life’s rollercoaster – a Monday adoption opportunity had been denied, Tuesday news that another had been accepted and then the Wednesday decision to finalize the adoption process. Five days later, on Monday, March 26, the Watsons went to South Florida to pick up Caleb.
As Watson came to Augusta National to prepare for the Masters less than a week later, thoughts of his new son were prevalent but also soothing. His creativity also played out perfectly.
Watson sports a pink driver head and shaft to support cancer research, in honor of his late father, Gerry, who died of cancer in October 2010. His clothier supplied his all-white outfit last week in hopes of raising funds for surgery for children with physical defects. Off the course, Watson may be the most digitally inclined Masters champion, participating in the new Masters Collector’s Edition EA Sports video game, co-starring in humorous musical videos with other PGA Tour players Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan and as an extremely active social networker. He even purchased the “General Lee” Dodge Charger made famous in the 1980s TV show, “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Likewise, he rarely takes the straight path on the course, instead choosing to go full speed and shape shots in both directions, sometimes as much as 60 yards while working the ball toward the hole location. He has never had a lesson or watched his swing analysis on video, truly a rarity among today’s pros. Laying up is an insult – as he emulates Seve Ballesteros and Phil Mickelson – and hitting short irons into par 5s at Augusta National offers a distinct advantage. One prominent instructor recently said Watson has the best hands in golf he has ever seen.
“I attack. I always attack,” Watson said. “I don't like to go to the center of the greens. I want to hit the incredible shot; who doesn't? That's why we play the game of golf, to pull off the amazing shot.”
You can consider that achievement completed.