David J. Phillip/Associated Press file photo
David J. Phillip/Associated Press file photo
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bubba Watson had reason to feel like a rock star.
His playoff win at the Masters on the second extra hole stretched into early evening, and when he finally slipped on the green jacket during the trophy presentation, the flashes from so many cameras danced across his face like strobe lights.
“I’m not ready for fame,” Watson said. “I don’t really want to be famous or anything like that. I just want to be me and play golf.”
He might not have a choice. His style of play – “Bubba golf” is what he likes to call it – already made him one of the popular figures on the PGA Tour.
In the buttoned-up sport of golf, Watson is different. He hits the ball a mile, rarely in a straight line to where he’s trying to get. His driver is pink from the shaft to the head. When he’s not on the course, he is posting videos of his crazy stunts on Twitter. His dream purchase was the “General Lee 01,” the original car in the TV series “The Dukes of Hazard.”
And now he is the Masters champion.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the top two stars of their generation. Rory McIlroy is right behind them, carving his own niche around the world as a U.S. Open champion with the rawest skill of any player in his 20s.
And now there is Bubba, on a first-name basis everywhere he goes.
Perhaps it was only fitting that during his victory speech Sunday he found one downside to winning the Masters. He has been in the members’ locker room since he first showed up at Augusta National in 2008 and couldn’t break 70. The next time he drives down Magnolia Lane, he will walk through a different door, up the stairs to the locker room reserved for champions.
“I heard now that I leave the locker room,” Watson said. “It’s going to be sad. I’ve been there for four years. I know all the guys. They treat me real well. So, sorry.”
It’s time to move on, and move up.
Watson, with his fourth career win in his last 51 starts, is now No. 4 in the world, which makes him the highest-ranked American. He is virtually a lock to be at Medinah for another Ryder Cup. It was the second time in the last six majors that Watson has been in a playoff, losing to Martin Kaymer at the 2010 PGA Championship. He has earned more than $3 million in each of the last two seasons and played in his first Ryder Cup.
How much better can he be?
“Major champion ... I mean, can’t do any better than this,” he said. “I’ve won four times and won a major. Who knows? That’s the best part about history. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know the future. We don’t know anything. Hopefully, I keep crying. Hopefully, I keep having the passion to play golf and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Watson showed his emotions at the start of the week. Stopped under the oak tree after a practice round, someone asked him what it would mean to win, and he brought up the adoption of his first son, Caleb, two weeks ago. Watson got so choked up he walked away.
Winning the Masters? He was uncontrollable.
He sobbed on the shoulder of his mother, Molly. He hugged everyone he could find – caddie Ted Scott, his trainer and players who stuck around to see him go two extra holes for a green jacket, such as Ben Crane, Aaron Baddeley and Rickie Fowler.
Watson is a self-described goof, yet he looked more determined than ever at the Masters.
Sunday at Augusta was a supreme test.
He started three shots out of the lead, and two holes into the final round, he watched Louis Oosthuizen make an albatross on the par-5 second hole with a 4-iron that landed on the front of the green and rolled some 90 feet into the cup for a 2.
That put him four shots behind, though Watson knew he could make up ground, and he was right. The turning point came after his bogey on the par-3 12th, when mud on his ball sent his putt behind the green off line and some 6 feet by the hole. Watson ran off four consecutive birdies, all of them impressive – a 9-iron for his second shot on the par-5 13th for a two-putt birdie, a sand wedge to 5 feet on the 14th, another massive drive for a 7-iron onto the green at the par-5 15th and an 8-iron to 4 feet at the 16th.
Still, this Masters will be remembered for two wild shots in the playoff. One was an accident. The other was on purpose.
After he and Oosthuizen each missed birdie chances on the 18th in a playoff, Watson pulled his drive into the trees to the right of the 10th fairway. When he saw his ball deep in the woods, he immediately pictured the shot in his head.
Not many others could have seen it.
He used the crowd as a line for how he wanted to start the gap wedge from 155 yards – straight to the fairway, low enough to stay under a large limb and then a wild hook toward the green.
“Hooked it about 40 yards, hit about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree and then started rising,” he said. “Pretty easy.”
It set up a two-putt par from 10 feet, enough for the win when Oosthuizen chipped 12 feet by the hole and two-putted for bogey.
Where does Watson get the nerve to hit such a shot? Because that’s fun to him, whether he’s in a practice round with friends or playing for the prestige of a green jacket.
“I want to hit the incredible shot,” he said. “Who doesn’t?”
That’s what makes Watson special. His father, who died after the Ryder Cup in 2010, was the only teacher Watson had, and there weren’t many lessons. He showed his son how to grip the club and swing it, and the boy figured the rest out himself. Watson still doesn’t have a teacher.
“Why do I want somebody to tell me what to do?” he once said. “I’m still a kid. I’m hitting shots that I want to hit. I’m doing the things that I want to do. I play it my way.”
Bubba golf. It’s going to be fun.