AUGUSTA, Ga. – The shadows from the pines extended from the fairways to the clubhouse, but the sun hadn't even dropped below the horizon when Augusta National officials had blocked off access to the 10th hole. Some 350 yards from where Bubba Watson was shrugging into his green jacket, the gouge from one of the most famous golf shots in history still sat.
Eventually, like Rory McIlroy's "cabin shot" and implosion last year on the same hole, it will come to be a must-visit destination for patrons – this is where he did it, this is where Bubba won the Masters from – but the next time most of the world will see it live will be in April 2013.
It's somehow fitting that a moment that happened only minutes before becomes instant history at Augusta, a relic of a past we revisit once a year. Watson is inimitably 21st-century – surely he's the first to utter the word "Twitter" in an official context at Augusta – but he's now part of a larger tradition, part of history as much as he is current.
Thing is, Watson couldn't be any different from the stodgy reputation of Augusta National. Where the members' jackets are green, Watson favors pink. Where their hair is finely coiffed or lacquered, he's got a permanent visor-bend and curl. Where members keep up their guard, literally and figuratively, at all times, Watson creates goofball trick-shot and music videos. And where Augusta National favors restraint and decorum at all times, Watson has never felt an emotion he hasn't let show. In short, he's a lot closer to us than them.
Sunday at Augusta was vintage Watson. At various moments, he was livid, exultant, heartbroken and finally overcome with the joy of the moment. And this, he would later laugh, is after he made a conscious effort to tone down his emotions on the course.
He calls his style of play "Bubba Golf," and it's the logical extension of a grip-it-and-rip-it style that extends from Tommy Bolt to John Daly to Phil Mickelson. In a world of precise golf theorists, his is a game of feel, where confidence in your shot takes you farther than some number-crunching odds-on safe play.
Case in point: the shot that won Watson the Masters. He was so deep in the woods, he couldn't even see the flag stick because of a TV tower and the surrounding crowd. He'd just hit two of the most heartbreaking shots of his career, a potential Masters-winning putt that skidded past the cup on the first playoff hole, and a potential Masters-losing tee shot on the second.
Six years ago, the first time Watson met Ted Scott, his caddie, he told him he lived by a simple mantra: "If I've got a swing, I've got a shot." If you dream it, you can do it, that kind of thing.
But dreaming about the Masters is one thing. Outlasting a field of the best golfers on the planet over the course of 74 holes is something else entirely. So you could forgive Watson if, after two straight rotten shots, he was starting to wonder if he'd just fumbled away his best chance at a green jacket.
He didn't. He kept the faith. "We were here already," he told Scott as the two walked down the 10th fairway. They'd been in these same trees before – not as deep, of course, but trees are trees – and Watson had managed a par.
Watson and Scott sized up the ball and sized up the 164 yards to the hole. And, knowing what was on the line, knowing what this moment meant to both of them, Scott told Watson, "If you've got a swing, you've got a shot."
Five minutes and one immortal up-and-over shot later, and the green jacket was his.
It's easy to reduce sports to child's play; after all, it is grown men and women playing games. It's also easy to wrap sports in metaphor it can't support; political, social, racial and gender motivations can warp and obscure everything that happens on the field of play. But at the core, sports are about humanity, about fighting through adversity and triumphing over vast, if not necessarily life-threatening, odds. Yeah, you can say that's the kind of hokey, nostalgic goo that makes the Masters so tough for many to stomach.
But then you see a guy like Bubba Watson, a guy who lost his father to cancer in 2010 and recently added an adopted infant son to his family, achieving a dream he didn't even dare dream. You see him embrace his mother, tears flowing down his face, his shoulders shivering with sobs. You put all cynicism aside, just for a minute, and enjoy the moment for what it is.
And you hope that maybe, just maybe, a moment like that is in your future, too. That's why sports matter, and that's why Sunday afternoon at Augusta is one of the finest days of the year.
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