Officially, Gerry Lester Watson Jr. won the Masters Tournament on Sunday. But it's Bubba who donned the green jacket.
He was bigger than life the day he was born, weighing 9.5 pounds. Ever since his father told his mother, Molly, “We got a Bubba instead of a baby,” he seemed destined to eventually own a car called the General Lee.
But serving barbecue at the Champions Dinner?
“I never got that far in my dreams,” Watson said just before the green jacket slipped onto his shoulders.
The kid who wore knickers sewn by his grandmother until he was 12 and rushed through his homework to hit Wiffle balls around the house hit the second best shot of the day Sunday on the second hole of the sudden-death playoff against South African Louis Oosthuizen. The British Open winner had already staked a place in history with a double eagle on the second hole that vaulted him into the lead with the 10-under score both men finally settled on in the end.
Bubba’s instinct was to high-five Oosthuizen. Five hours and a late four-birdie run later, he gutted the South African farm boy with a Bubba-like high hook that curved 40 yards from the trees on No. 10 that set up a two-putt crying jag in the arms of the caddie who once threatened to leave him, his mother, and his closest friends.
“He’s probably better off being that he had to move the ball instead of hit it straight,” said Rickie Fowler, who along with Hunter Mahan, Ben Crane and an overall-wearing Watson created a Golf Boys video that went viral. “He’s a major champion now. Not just a major, the Masters.”
Bubba’s is a remarkable story from start to finish. He’s never had a golf lesson a day in his life.
“I don’t listen to nobody,” Watson said a few years ago when he first qualified for the Masters in 2008 along with fellow Milton (Fla.) High School rookies Boo Weeley and Heath Slocum. “I’m hard-headed.”
Bubba’s hard head led to a rocky career with the University of Georgia golf team. His saving grace from his collegiate years was a statuesque Lady Bulldog basketball player from Canada named Angie. He stuck around school for her, eventually marrying her and later going back to get his degree from UGA in 2008.
“First date me and Angie ever had, she told me she was going to have to adopt,” Watson said.
After a four-year process, the Watsons adopted a baby boy, Caleb, the Monday after Tiger Woods won at Bay Hill two weeks ago. While he hasn’t yet changed a diaper, you could have gotten a small fortune betting on Bubba this week instead of Tiger.
“For that to happen last week and for him to win this week, that’s kind of hard to beat,” said Fowler. “I don’t think that’s going to be topped any time soon for him.”
Bubba’s name echoed as much through the pines on Sunday as the roars. He was embraced in this Southern town as if he drank, smoked, hunted and fished. In truth, Bubba doesn’t do any of those things.
But the guy can play some golf. He’s a natural shot-slinger, curving bombs around and through the Georgia pines like nobody’s business. He used to carry massive drives over the roof of Weekley’s house at the bend of a dogleg on Tanglewood Country Club. Now he crushes them within wedge range on the 18th at Augusta National.
“Bubba has just got God-given talent,” J.J. Dunn, the Tanglewood pro, told The Augusta Chronicle a few years ago. “There is no teaching it; there is no substitute for it. I guess it’s almost freakish what he does to create the clubhead speed that he does. Bubba knows nothing about the golf swing. Boo and Heath were always students of the golf swing. Bubba knows not one thing about why he does what he does. Doesn’t care.”
Doesn’t have to. He just does it. And it works.
Watson shot 59 at Tanglewood one time. He had all the tools and all the talent. But he didn’t have the head, yet, for winning.
His caddie, Ted Scott, threatened to leave him two years ago after a failed attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open. Watson’s attitude was insufferable. Watson got the message.
“A few years ago, I was living the wrong way,” Watson said. “Every golf shot was controlling how mad I got, how I was on the golf course. … And my caddie said that he was going to walk away from me, even though he knew I was a good player, he knew that he could make some money off of me. He said he was going to walk away because he didn’t want to see a good friend go through that struggle. It hit home.”
Watson’s won four times since then. He’s played in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup. He has the game and the personality to become a John Daly-like cult figure in golf.
“He is who he is,” Fowler said. “You either like him or you don’t. He’s as goofy as they come. He’s a big kid.”
His Florida panhandle mates Weekley, Slocum and Joe Durant all had victories on the PGA Tour. A perk that comes with it for those Florida boys was honorary membership privileges at Pensacola Country Club.
It gnawed at Watson that he had more natural talent than the three of them combined but was excluded until he finally won in 2010 at Hartford.
Now he’s welcome anytime for the rest of his life at the most exclusive golf club in America.
“It means everything,” said his mother, who enjoyed a long, silent, tearful embrace on the 10th green after Watson tapped in for the win of his life. “This is what he worked for all his life. He didn’t party around when he was young. He played his golf. His daddy always expected this to happen and always told us that it would.”
Bubba both fulfilled and exceeded expectations at the same time on a sun-splashed Sunday in the South. He hollered, “Go Dawgs!” as Masters chairman Billy Payne smiled now that Georgia has tied Georgia Tech (Larry Mize) in green jackets at the club Yellow Jacket Bobby Jones built.
Where Gerry Lester Watson Jr. goes from here – other than to his wife and new child – could be extraordinary. He shot 62 when he was 12 and retired his knickers. He shot 68 Sunday to win the Masters.
“It’s kind of limitless,” Fowler said. “He can hit any shot he wants.”
Where’s the ceiling?
“Major champion, think I’m done, right?” Bubba said. “I mean, can’t do any better than this. … 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.”