Bubba Watson wasn’t interested in hanging around Augusta National Golf Club for too long after his first major victory. He had a plane to catch.
Waiting for him at home in Florida were his wife, Angie, and their month-old adopted son, Caleb.
For a player formerly known as much for his blustery demeanor on the course as his powerful drives and shot-making abilities, Watsons’ priorities have changed. The makeover culminated with a winner’s green jacket last night in Augusta, Georgia.
“I was living the wrong way,” Watson said of his old self. “Every golf shot was controlling how mad I got, how I was on the golf course. It’s a slow process. I’ve been working hard. Hopefully in the years to come it gets better and better.”
Watson’s playoff victory over South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen capped a week of tension over the private club’s all- male membership and anticipation over the possibility of Tiger Woods’s 15th major victory. At the end, Watson trumped it all with a par-saving wedge shot from out of the trees on the second playoff hole.
“It’s just Bubba golf,” Watson, a 33-year-old left- hander, said of his play. “I attack. I always attack. 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.”
With his ball resting on trampled pine straw, amid the course’s towering magnolia trees, Watson hooked a pitching wedge from about 150 yards, sweeping it from left to right. The ball came to rest about 10 feet from the hole. He two-putted for a par and the win after Oosthuizen made bogey.
“I hooked it about 40 yards,” Watson said. The ball was “about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree and then started rising; pretty easy.” Watson then winked.
In addition to his aggressive playing style, Watson is one of golf’s most colorful characters and a University of Georgia consumer-economics graduate, making him a clear crowd favorite on the course, located about 2 1/2 hours east of Atlanta. Earlier this year, Watson bought the original 1969 Dodge Charger car used in the 1980s “Dukes of Hazard” CBS television show for $110,000 at an auction. He drove the car to the U.S. PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open in January.
Watson says he has always been fun-loving. Early in his career, though, missing a potential tournament-winning six-foot putt, as he did on the first playoff hole, or launching his tee shot into the trees, as he did a hole later, would’ve been enough to send him into a tailspin.
His maturation began about four years ago when his wife and his caddie, Ted Scott, sat him down and offered some perspective. His wife told him to stop being so angry on the course and appreciate that he gets to play golf for a living. Scott was ready to leave him, Watson said.
“He was going to walk away from me, even though he knew I was a good player,” Watson said. “He didn’t want to see a good friend go through that struggle. It hit home.”
As Watson left Augusta National to be with his wife and new son, Woods left with his worst finish in 16 appearances as a professional at the Masters. As frustrating as Woods said his play was, his inability to control his emotions also became the subject of harsh criticism. He was the opposite of Watson.
During the first two rounds, Woods cursed after poor shots. He dropped his club at other times in disgust and kicked his 9- iron about 20 feet after an errant shot on the par-3 16th during the second round. His actions led CBS golf analyst Nick Faldo, a three-time Masters winner, to say “I think we can safely say Tiger has lost his game, and his mind.”
‘Trying to Compete’
“It’s just the way it is,” Woods said after his final round. “I’m trying to compete. Unfortunately, I just didn’t play well.”
Woods’s agent, Mark Steinberg, said the 14-time major winner was spoken to about his actions. He declined to say who talked with Woods directly, although he said it wasn’t the club or the PGA Tour.
“He apologized,” Steinberg said in an interview. “Of course he is aware of it. He’s got emotions like everybody else. It was a frustrating week. Some people forget that he won 14 days ago.”
It was Woods’s win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago that lifted expectations for the Masters. Golf World magazine put him and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy on the cover of its tournament preview issue, with both players wearing boxing gloves.
Woods and McIlroy finished tied for 40th at 5-over par, 15 shots behind Watson.
The female member issue was left hanging. Bloomberg News first reported the conflict between Augusta National’s men-only membership and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM:US)’s new Chief Executive Officer, Virginia Rometty, on March 28, setting off a nationwide debate on whether she should be admitted.
The previous four CEO’s of IBM have been Augusta National members. Billy Payne, Augusta National’s chairman, repeatedly refused to discuss the club’s membership during a news conference on April 4, the day before the tournament started.
As Watson prepared to leave Augusta National, he couldn’t help but talk about how the course suited his long drives and imaginative playing style. With his first major accounted for, there could be more green jackets in the future for “Bubba Golf.”
“Who knows?” he said “That’s the best part about history, we don’t know what’s going to happen. Hopefully I keep crying. Hopefully I keep having the passion to play golf and keep doing what I’m doing.”
First, he said, he’ll have to learn a basic fatherly skill.
“I haven’t changed a diaper yet,” Watson said.
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