Apr 11, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Sunday evening, the sun slowly setting behind tall Georgia pines, the tension unbearable…okay, enough poetry.
Two men were still trying to win the Masters in a sudden-death playoff. One, Louis Oosthuizen, had just left his second shot on the 10th hole short of the green. A tough spot, yes, but still better than his opponent, whose tee shot was jailed deep right in the trees, his ball sitting on pine needles.
In other words, a perfect sport for Bubba Watson to be Bubba Watson and launch a 155-yard shot that ducked under the tree in front of him, got in the air, and then hooked 40 yards (at least) until it thumped down on the putting surface, bounced dead right and stopped 10 feet from perfection.
So a stirring final day that began with Oosthuizen’s electrifying albatross on the 2nd hole ended with Bubba tapping in for a winning par and burying himself in the arms of his caddie, his mother and his friends, the tears copious.
Minutes later, he put on a green jacket. And American golf had a new hero, a fun and refreshing alternative to the Will-Tiger-Ever-Dominate-Again storyline that tends to run out of permutations the hundredth or so time it’s repeated.
More importantly, the emergence of Bubba Watson brings back a classic narrative in the game – that of a self-made player who, through hard work and all kinds of trials and errors, propelled himself to the top, defying doubters and skeptics.
We find its best previous versions in two sons of Texas. Ben Hogan was small and slight, started out with a brutal hook, was drummed from the fledgling tour twice, and nearly a third time, as the country still tried to recover from the Depression.
But through religious practice regimes never seen before, Hogan was, by his mid 30s, dominant, winning as many as 10 tournaments a year. That same tireless, dogged work ethic also helped him make a miraculous comeback from a near-fatal car crash in 1949 to claim six more majors, adding to the legend.
A couple of decades later, a dirt-poor kid from El Paso by way of Dallas found his only solace in golf, learning the game through fashioning his own unorthodox swing and seeing it hold up in high-pressure money matches, some of it outright hustling.
Then in his late 20s, Lee Trevino took on the world of professional golf, his motion through the ball dubbed “agricultural” and his gift of gab ridiculed. No one was laughing, though, after Trevino had nabbed his own sextet of major titles, often at the expense of the exalted Jack Nicklaus.
This brings us to Bubba Watson. He hails from Bagdad, a town in the Florida panhandle, population not even 1,500. He learned golf by hitting wiffle balls, and taught himself – no mentors or swing coaches. Every shot is curved, and hit a long, long way.
From the time he hit the PGA Tour ranks, Bubba was a mental mess. He got distracted easily, and when things went bad, he took it out on everyone nearby. His caddie nearly quit.
Peace only came through a loving wife, a newfound religious faith and a desire to please a Green Beret father who, by 2010, was losing his battle with cancer. No one who saw Bubba win for the first time in Hartford that year forgot the deep emotions that poured out.
Now the confident building blocks lined up, from nearly winning the 2010 PGA Championship (he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer) to a strong Ryder Cup showing to two more wins in 2011 before the big moment at Augusta.
Yet it’s the way Watson plays that make him so compelling. In classic third-person style, he calls it “Bubba Golf”, wielding a pink-shafted Ping driver to hit it 350 or so off the tee, but also displaying an incredible array of shots around the green. The putting comes and goes, but it’s never dull.
Neither is the personality of Bubba. Last year, he and a few friends (Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Ben Crane) actually concocted a “music video” as the Golf Boys. Look it up at your own peril. He just purchased the original General Lee 1969 Dodge Charger, as in the “Dukes of Hazzard”, proving that he’s just a good ol’ boy who never meant any harm.
Let’s get back to that playoff at Augusta. This was the first Masters played after the passing of Seve Ballesteros. Among the many things the Spaniard is credited for (like popularizing golf in continental Europe), he was credited with having the greatest genius for shotmaking in the game’s history.
So it only made sense that the decisive shot was something straight out of the Seve playbook, made by a guy who regards Seve as a guiding spirit, requiring just the right combination of skill, imagination and guts that isn’t found in any instruction manual or gleamed from any big-name teacher.
Part of the reason golf is so compelling is that no one reaches their apex in the same manner. Bubba Watson took a very individual journey, and it led to a green coat he can keep forever.