EVEN if he wins two more Masters, Bubba Watson will not consider himself a golfing god. “I’m not trying to play golf for everybody to tell me how great I am or I’m one of the greats of the game,” he insisted.
“I play golf because I love it and I want to grow the game. The game has brought me everything that I’ve ever owned in my life. My parents taught me values through the game of golf.”
Watson, the boy from Bagdad in Florida who now owns two Green Jackets, is not the person he painted himself to be when he behaved like a spoiled child after missing the cut in the French Open in Paris two years ago.
He dismissed the Eiffel Tower as “that big tower”, described the Arc de Triomphe as “an arch in the middle of the road” and blamed everyone but himself for failing to provide value for money in return for a whopping appearance fee.
On the contrary, he is a caring and thoughtful individual, as he showed here on the eve of the 78th Masters. Last Sunday marked the inaugural “Drive, Chip and Putt” tournament, a junior event organised by Augusta National to give young golfers the chance to compete in these fabled grounds. Remembering his own humble beginnings, Watson broke off from his preparations to make a point of shaking hands with the competitors on the practice ground.
It was a sign that he felt relaxed coming back here again. Twelve months ago, he didn’t cope with the additional pressures of being defending champion. He didn’t really cope at all with being a first-time major winner, in fact. It led to him slipping down the world rankings, misfiring in last year’s FedEx Cup and missing out on the Presidents Cup.
Bubba is back, though. He had already won this year – in the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles. Now he has joined an elite club by becoming a multiple Masters champion.
Knowing what lies ahead, he should have nothing to worry about. The sky’s the limit for the man who gives a pink-headed, pink-shafted driver an almighty whack and has never received a lesson in his life.
“After getting the Green Jacket the first time, I found it overwhelming,” he admitted. “It’s crazy to think that a guy named Bubba from a small town has achieved such a feat and it took me a while to adjust to that.
“At the same time, my wife and I were adopting my son [Caleb] and that threw a wrench in there as well. Learning to be a dad and then learning to have a Green Jacket with you are two big things to adjust to and it took me a little time.
“But I’ve got a good team around me. We worked out schedules of how I could make the most of my practice sessions then come back and be a dad and be a husband. It took me a year or so to get adjusted to that and here we are with another Green Jacket after two years.
“The good thing is that this time things are a lot different to the first time. My son was a month old when we got him so I had to be there for him to get used to smell, touch, feel, sound, everything. Golf was the furthest thing from my mind so I took off some tournaments. Trying to be a good husband, a good dad at that moment was the most important thing.
“So this one is a little bit different. My schedule is probably not going to change. I’m trying to make the Ryder Cup team and win the next tournament I play in. So it’s a lot different situation now than it was back then.”
Watson’s wife, Angie, and Caleb were waiting for him behind the 18th green after he had closed with a 69 for an eight-under-par total of 280 and a three-shot victory over American 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and Swede Jonas Blixt. Spieth, bidding to become the event’s youngest winner, held a two-shot lead after seven holes. The “turning point”, according to Watson, was a four-shot swing at the eighth and ninth. When Spieth dumped his tee shot in Rae’s Creek at the 12th, it left Watson three ahead and he free-wheeled to victory. For once, the Masters didn’t start on the back nine. It ended before it even got there.
“I knew Caleb and my wife were back there as I tapped in at the last,” said Watson. “Seeing him, what a blessing that is for us to have to go through the adoption process. There’s so many kids out there that need homes, would love homes. So you know, what a dream, hate to say this because I have it on right now, but having my son means more to me than the Green Jacket. Hopefully he still likes me in about 13, 14 years, so we can talk about some of the great times we had, because he probably won’t remember it until I show him the pictures.”
Parenthood made Watson realise how special that “Drive, Chip and Putt” event was in terms of what it can offer, both in golf and life. “Golf is about growing this great game and seeing the family members with their kids last Sunday was a joyous occasion. Hopefully my son can do that so I can be here on the grounds with him watching him hit.”
If his old man is anything to go by, young Caleb won’t need any lessons. “It’s hard to explain,” he admitted to being asked how someone who has never had a coach or sought any swing advice whatsoever could emulate the likes of Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods by winning more than once here. “But, you know, it’s a drive and a will and a lot of hard work.”
GERRY ‘BUBBA’ WATSON FACTFILE
1978: Born November 5, in Bagdad, Florida
2003: After playing golf at both Faulkner State Community College in Alabama and the University of Georgia, Watson turns professional.
2005: Joins the Nationwide Tour and finishes 21st on the money list in his first season.
2007: After spending much of the weekend in contention, finishes in a tie for fifth at the US Open.
2010 27 June - Claims his first PGA win at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, winning in a sudden death play-off.
15 August - Finishes as runner up at the US PGA Championship, losing in a play-off to Martin Kaymer.
2011 30 January - Wins his second PGA Tour event, the Farmers Insurance Open.
1 May - Wins the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in a play-off.
2012 8 April - Beats Louis Oosthuizen in a play-off to win the Masters, hitting a memorable hook from the trees on the second play-off hole to secure a winning par.
2014 February - Shoots back-to-back rounds of 64 to win the Northern Trust Open, his first victory since the Masters.
20 March - Withdraws from Arnold Palmer Invitational after a first round of 83, saying his head was “discombobulated” due to severe allergies.
13 April - Wins second Masters title by three shots from Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt after a closing round of 69.