The Golf Boys finally got some much needed street cred.
It was right before last year's U.S. Openwhen a bunch of young Americans who called themselves "The Golf Boys" took quite a bit of criticism for the silly video spoof they did. At a time when their European counterparts were dominating the sport – including a blowout victory by Rory McIlroy in the Open at Congressional – "The Golf Boys" seemed to lack style and substance.
Bubba Watson might not have been the group's leader – I think the video was actually Ben Crane's idea – but the loopy lefty with the self-taught swing was certainly front and center. Barechested and wearing a pair of overalls that spoke of his backwater roots, Bubba from Bagdad (Florida) was probably the most accomplished of the group that also included Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan.
There is certainly no doubt now.
Watson, who once cost the University of Georgia a chance at making the cut at an NCAA championship by completely whiffing on a short putt, found the ultimate redemption Sunday night by tapping in for par on the second playoff hole to win the 76th Masters at Augusta National. The way he did it was typical Bubba: hitting an otherworldly recovery shot on the hole to beat Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa.
All day long, Watson seemed to be merely a witness to history – watching Oosthuizen's double-eagle 2 on the par-5 second hole, only the fourth double-eagle in Masters history and the first ever televised in the tournament, leapfrog the 2010 British Open champion into a lead he would never completely relinquish until Watson tapped in for that par to win.
Playing with Oosthuizen, Watson finally pulled even with four straight birdies on the back nine and seemed to have the lead – and possible victory – taken away after barely missing a 60-foot birdie putt on the 71sth hole in regulation and then a 10-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole. The first rimmed the cup and the second inexplicably went to the right.
Watson's chances for his first major victory seemed to disappear into the Georgia pines with his drive on the par-4 10th. But having driven there earlier in the day, and with a gap to curve a 190-yard approach with one of his patented 40-yard yard hooks, Watson found the green. In this case, he also found the green jacket when Oosthuizen, who put a 3-wood into the trees, bogeyed the hole.
One of the most emotional players in recent history, Watson fell into the arms of his caddie, then his mother, then some of the "Golf Boys" themselves. Watching the scene unfold, I thought of the first time I ever encountered Watson, eight years ago at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, after the then unknown 25-year old had qualified for his firstU.S. Open.
"It's a dream come true," Watson said that night.
When asked Sunday night in Butler Cabin by CBS' Jim Nantz, if he ever dreamed of winning the Masters, Watson was typically honest.
"My dreams never got that far," he said.
How could they? Unlike Phil Mickelson, whose scratch-player father taught him the game, Watson was taught by his father, Gerry Sr., who barely ever broke 100. Unlike Tiger Woods, who is working on his third swing change after winning 14 major championships, Watson has had the same swing since he was a kid.
But young Bubba had dreamed of hitting the kind of shot he made on the second playoff hole Sunday night.
"When kids were playing with toys, I was dreaming up shots," Watson said that night at Woodmont.
Initially, what attracted me to interview Watson was his famous last name. Long before Nantz pronounced "Another Watson wins the Masters", this Watson was just another Southerner named Bubba.
"I think some people think it's colorful," he said. "Or redneck."
There was some irony in the fact that Masters chairman Billy Payne proudly congratulated his fellow Bulldog on the victory, since Watson, for the longest time, was mostly a bitter Bulldog. A year after that infamous whiff, Watson, a senior, was replaced in the team's starting lineup by a hot-shot freshman and left Athens "not even telling anyone I went to Georgia."
But with the help of his wife, Angie, a former WNBA player, and a strong religious faith, Watson carved out a more than respectable career. Once known mostly as a long hitter, Watson won three times on the PGA Tour and nearly won the 2010 PGA Championship before losing in a playoff. But until Sunday night, the most attention Watson received recently came after last year's "Golf Boys" video.
That changed on the second extra playoff hole in the 76th Masters at Augusta National.
Bubba from Bagdad had finally won the big one.
The Golf Boys might have to do a sequel.