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Just moments before Francesco Molinari rinsed his ball off the 12th tee at the 2019 Masters, watching a two-shot lead disintegrate in the process, Bubba Watson put the wraps on a legendary back-nine charge — one that saw him go birdie-birdie-eagle to get to 10 under for the tournament.
For Watson, the pressure was immense. He started to think about the potential of a playoff, the possibility that he might stir some nerves in those just ahead of him on the leaderboard, and the opportunity he might have to earn a third green jacket.
As he moved from the 15th green to the 16th tee that Sunday, Watson’s mindset changed, and not for the better.
“I panicked,” Watson said this week in Augusta. “I told my caddy Teddy (Scott) if I go birdie-birdie and post, maybe I can scare the win or a top two or, you know, force a playoff or whatever. I went bogey-bogey. Because I started thinking about it, right? Instead of just playing the game that I was playing.
“Then it worked out good cause we wanted to see Tiger win over me anyway, so you know — that’s why I made the bogey-bogey.”
Joking aside, the pressure of the Tour can be overwhelming, enough to frazzle even those with the steeliest nerves. Watson, once the World No. 2 and a 12-time PGA Tour winner, has long been known to wear his heart on his sleeve. Between family and social responsibilities, the pressure was mounting.
One of the ways Bubba had dealt with stress earlier in his career — video games — took a backseat when he and his wife Angie adopted their son nearly a decade ago.
Recently, Angie suggested he pull the game console back out and use it to get away mentally.
“I stopped for a few years and then my wife finally said, ‘hey, you need to go back to playing video games, your mind needs to rest.’ When we adopted Caleb, I took a couple years off and she was like ‘no, I think you need to go back to playing video games,’ ” Watson said. “You know, I play Xbox a lot. I get home, I get my headset on and people don’t know who I am. They don’t know my name and I play Call of Duty against those people. It’s just shooting the breeze. It’s just having fun and so that’s my way of getting away.”
So Watson’s involvement with Golf Clash, a mobile video game that has nine million downloads, seemed a perfect match. This weekend, those who download the app can play in Bubba’s 9-Hole Cup, a three-round tournament taking place on the game’s scenic Southern Pines virtual golf course. A practice mode is currently available and those willing to pony up can purchase a themed Bubba Tee, Bubba Hole Explosion, Bubba Emote animated icon and Bubba Chat Message.
There’s also Bubba’s One Shot Challenge, a closest-to-the-pin style event based on the popular Golden Shot feature, which runs through April 11. Watson said he plays it with his son, who thinks it’s cool the game has featured after his dad.
And for the two-time Masters champ, it’s given him a way to decompress. As he prepares for another week at Augusta, Watson said that’s helped his mental health tremendously.
“I mean we can sit here and I can lie all day long and say I’m perfect. It’s not true. You’re going to go forward two steps and back a step,” he said. “You’re going to have moments of bad times. It’s about learning how to catch it, learning how to deal with it. Like my wife saying to play video games. You know, playing games like Golf Clash. It’s trying to find something that works and I’m trying to say it the right way — to be positive. It’s always about finding the positive way that it still is great for you and great for everybody around you. So for me, I found video games.
“I’ve been working hard on it and I’m going to have bad days. And I’m going to have great days.”