Every once in awhile, professional and parental achievements become inextricably linked.That happened last April when Bubba Watson won the Masters Tournament just 13 days after he and his wife, Angie, had adopted their 1-month-old son, Caleb.
Learning of the two life-altering events, Watson’s clothing designer Travis Mathew – who had teamed with the golfer to raise money for charity – felt compelled to fashion a miniature replica of Watson’s white Masters Sunday outfit, complete with a little green jacket, for the newest member of the Watson family. It seemed a fitting tribute.
“When the final putt went in and he won, the only thing I could think about was ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to be able to tell our son that his daddy won the Masters the week that we adopted him,’” said Angie, who watched on television with Caleb falling asleep on her shoulder. “That thought just came to the forefront.”
Watson admits being “scared to death” last spring, but it had nothing to do with chasing down Louis Oosthuizen on the final nine at Augusta National Golf Club and winning the Masters on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff. His fears came the week before when he and his wife stuffed a rented SUV full of frantically bought baby gear and high-tailed it down the Florida Turnpike to meet their son.
“Going to meet this woman and lawyers and all these people, and literally they’re going to hand Caleb to us,” said Watson, who hit the road immediately after finishing fourth at Bay Hill. “Scared to death. I think it’s the best tournament I played in because I didn’t even remember finishing fourth. I was so worried about getting this child.”
Twice before that year the Watsons had adoptions fall through, so they took nothing for granted. This time, however, the birth mother had chosen them from a stack of prospective parents.
But like expectant parents unwilling to make announcements in the first trimester, Watson didn’t want anyone to know. He had considered withdrawing from Bay Hill when they got the phone call on the eve of the tournament, but pulling out after finishing runner-up in his previous start at Doral would only invite questions he wasn’t ready to answer.
The Watsons officially had started the adoption process four years earlier, but in truth it began on their first date – at least if you accept Bubba’s version of the story.
“The first date me and Angie ever had, she told me she couldn’t have kids,” Watson said.
The subject of children rarely comes up on a first date, and Angie claims she didn’t open with that ice-breaker in 2001.
“That’s debatable because I think it was actually our second date,” she said. “Our first date was a round of golf, but apparently in the world of professional golf, playing golf is not a date. But I think spending four hours on a golf course with somebody you just met and you’re attracted to is a date in my book.”
Regardless of the semantics, Watson and Angie Ball hit it off immediately. The 6-foot-3 Georgia golfer had his eye on the 6-foot-4 Bulldog basketball player for more than a year but lacked the courage to make the first move. When Ball returned to Athens to rehab what turned out to be a career-ending knee injury with the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting, she ran into him playing pickup basketball with her old teammates.
After the disputed “date” on Watson’s turf, she shared with him the fact that she could not bear children in case it was a deal-breaker.
“We were at that point in our lives when you start dating you don’t date just to date,” she said. “We had those conversations about what we thought our futures entailed so I shared that with him.”
Watson delivered what turned out to be the perfect response.
“That’s fine,” he said. “If God tells us he wants us to adopt, we’ll adopt.”
Despite all those years of planning, the week before the Masters was a confusing whirlwind. The day after picking up Caleb on March 26, Watson had to fly home to Arizona to complete his individual adoption home study and bring back clothes for Angie.
“We weren’t planning on having a child coming back before Augusta,” he said.
One of the conditions was that until the adoption was finalized, the baby couldn’t leave Florida. So the Watsons had to scramble to find a place to live.
“We’re in Isleworth renting a house just for Tavistock Cup and Bay Hill and I said, ‘I need a house,’” he said. “They said they don’t lease houses. So I told them why and they said, ‘Perfect, we’ve got you a leased house.’
“Isleworth took care of everything. They had movers and furniture so he could have a place and a bed for us. That’s all we asked for. Isleworth was basically like having parents. They took us under their wing and did everything for us.”
The Watsons have since bought Tiger Woods’ old home in Isleworth and will move there permanently.
After all this life upheaval in the span of a week, it was time for the Masters. Angie insisted that Bubba go.
“We never considered not playing Augusta,” she said. “He considered cutting his preparation a little shorter. You kind of have to get back to life. You’re parents but we wanted to sort of get used to our role as parents and traveling and golf and wanted Caleb to make that adjustment quickly. I wanted him to be comfortable because the golf course is a sanctuary and to go and play his favorite tournament in the world. Of course I wanted him to go do that and do it well.”
On the Friday before the Masters, Watson picked up golf clubs for the first time since Bay Hill to play a round with his father-in-law, Wayne Ball. Then on Saturday he flew with Ball and caddie Ted Scott for a boys-only week at the Masters.
“Wanted it to feel like a normal tournament,” he said. “I’d been playing so good at the beginning of the year that we knew I had a shot for a top finish. Always dream about winning but never know if you can.”
Despite all the routine practice rounds, this was not a normal week. The major changes in Watson’s life had a calming effect on him.
“Life is changing but in positive ways,” he said. “I knew my wife had her mother there. Everyone is healthy and doing good and they’re sending me pictures. Yeah, that probably did help me … that your focus and perspective in life changes. Golf is still a high priority, but not as high as it was.”
Scott saw a peace in Watson that week and understood from personal experience the effect it had on his game.
“When I played mini-tour golf, my best result ever was following the almost-drowning of my niece,” Scott said. “I realized that a 10-footer wasn’t the most important thing in life. Sometimes in professional golf, when the game is on the line it becomes the most important thing in the world when it really isn’t. Winning the Masters is life-changing in some ways, but in the end of your life it really isn’t. It’s just a cool thing to win. Win or lose you still have a family that loves you.”
His wife watched the tournament from Florida with her mother and sister and Caleb.
“I was more nervous watching it on TV than I would have been if I was there,” she said.
But she didn’t feel absent from the proceedings.
“It was hard not being there for Bubba, but I was right where I needed to be,” she said. “We were both fulfilling a lifelong dream of ours to have a family together and Caleb needed me. That moment that we didn’t get to share on 18 green, we got to have that same moment when he got home at 4 a.m. in our driveway. That moment was still just as special.”
As difficult as the confluence of sudden fatherhood and Masters super-stardom have been to adjust to, the Watsons can’t imagine it any other way. Two dreams collided in a span of two weeks, but it proved to be the perfect script.
“I think the Lord’s timing was just absolutely perfect for us,” Angie said. “We adopt Caleb on March 26 and our world is just rocked. We’re still going through a mountain of paperwork and don’t know what’s going to happen in limbo with the adoption finalization. It’s just a stressful time for both of us. Then Bubba goes and wins the Masters and his world is flipped upside down even more. But he has to come home and still be a dad and attend to all that stuff. It kept us humble and kept us grounded.”
Caleb’s little green jacket will be retired to a shadow box while Watson will have to return his to Augusta National for safekeeping. The way everything fell into place the past year, the Watsons hope one more case of perfect timing will punctuate their first family trip to Augusta.
“Hopefully Caleb will be walking and able to at least carry his putter around in the Par 3,” Angie said.