Ten years ago, Bubba Watson became a father, a Masters champion and a folk hero
The signature moment of the 2012 Masters came from the powerful, artistic hands of Bubba Watson, his hard-snapping curveball from deep in the Georgia Pines somehow landing on the perfectly manicured putting canvas on the 10th hole and leading to his sudden death triumph against Louis Oosthuizen, a shot that will live on in the tournament’s lore.
But when the big-hitting lefty from Bagdad, Florida, thinks back to that magical day at Augusta National Golf Club, especially with the upcoming 10th anniversary of his first major title arriving with this year’s 86th Masters, the highlight holding sway in his mind is not slipping on the green jacket, gaining lifetime residence in the Champions Locker Room or becoming a folk hero in the game he loves.
No, his most memorable highlight actually came the following morning.
He changed a diaper.
After exiting Magnolia Lane late Sunday night with the sport’s most cherished garment, Watson dashed home to Florida. Arriving in the early morning, he hung the green jacket in a closet and looked down at the crib where his 1-month-old son, Caleb, who he and his wife, Angie, adopted just 13 days prior, was sleeping.
“Holding my son was so much better than getting a green jacket,” Watson said in a phone call with Golfweek. “I know it sounds bad, but that’s who I am. My legacy should be about who Bubba Watson is as a person, and who Bubba Watson is as a husband, who Bubba Watson is a dad. My legacy should not be about my job.
“At the end of my days, we shouldn’t talk about how many victories I had. We should talk about who I am as a person, a husband and a dad if that makes sense.”
There’s nothing wrong, or bad, as Watson said, with putting family and faith before his craft. And it should be noted that Watson certainly doesn’t shun his work. He’s a winner of 12 PGA Tour titles, three of which he had won before the 2012 Masters.
Bubba Watson walks to the 18th green on the first hole of a playoff against Louis Oosthuizen during the final round of the 2012 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Photo by Jack Gruber/USA TODAY Sports
Still, it came as a surprise that Watson won in 2012 considering his work in major championships and heavy favorites Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and world No. 1 Luke Donald, among many others, to deal with.
Heading to Augusta that year – his wife shoved him out the door to go and prepare for the Masters because she didn’t want to see him just show up and go through the motions – Watson had just two top 10s in 16 starts in majors.
And in three Masters starts, he had finished T20, 42nd and T38.
But Watson rolled into the 76th Masters hot – and in a euphoric state.
In his first seven 2012 starts, he had three top-5 finishes, including finishing second in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and tying for fourth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his last two starts before going to Augusta.
And he had become a father for the first time.
“I went in there on a high,” Watson said. “It’s all about playing good and confident. So it’s really not so much the course. When a guy gets on a roll, they just get on a roll, right? And I was on a roll.
“And then we adopted my son. My life was on an all-time high. I was just on cloud nine in life.”
Still, Ted Scott, who was on the bag for all of Watson’s 12 PGA Tour titles before the two split late in 2021, was surprised at his boss’s declaration after a practice round on Monday.
“He told me he thought he could win the Masters,” Scott said. “So he had already planted the seed in his head that he could win that tournament. As a caddie, you believe in your player, but it’s kind of like you’re looking at the results going in.
Bubba Watson (left) gets a hug from his mother after winning the 2012 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. USA TODAY Sports
“So that was different, you know? But he loves the course, the visuals, fast greens, the creativity you need. So it does definitely bring his skill set alive.
“And he was playing great starting the week. Right away, you kind of see his focus. He tends to be reactionary and he wasn’t. He very much was taking everything on the chin. That’s when I knew he was in it.
“So I believed him.”
Watson opened with a 69 to stand two shots back of Lee Westwood, then followed with a 71 to sit one shot back of Fred Couples and Jason Dufner at the halfway mark. A 70 in the third round left him three shots back of Peter Hanson, who would go out with Mickelson in the final group, with Watson and Oosthuizen in the penultimate pairing.
Then, about 30 minutes into his final round, Watson, wearing all white and wielding a pink driver, was witness to the rarest shot in golf – an albatross – as Oosthuizen holed his second shot on the par-5 second with a 4-iron from 253 yards to reach 10 under, four clear of Watson.
It was only the fourth albatross in the first 76 editions of the Masters. Unnerved, however, Watson played steady but a three-putt bogey on 12 dropped him two shots behind Oosthuizen.
Yet winning wasn’t on his mind.
“I remember talking to Teddy going to the tee on 13, saying, ‘Man, I can still have a great finish. I can still top 10, I can still top five,’” Watson said. “There are two par 5s and if I can just play under-par from here to the clubhouse, I could get a top 5 or better.”
He got better.
Watson birdied 13, 14, 15 and 16 to tie for the lead.
“I never thought about winning that day until I made the four birdies in a row on the back nine,” Watson said. “I remember walking to the tee on 17 and I told Teddy, ‘We have a chance to win the Masters.’ And then I hit the worst shot of the week, a big old slice way to the left. I finally got out of my element. Instead of just focusing on good golf, focusing on my beautiful family back home, I started thinking about things that I can do instead of thinking about just playing the golf.
Bubba Watson of the United States walks up the 18th fairway during the final round of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
“That’s when Teddy got in my ear.”
Scott said he just had to remind Watson how good he was.
“Bubba is such a great recovery artist that you just go tell him that. You can hit any shot, Bubba, I told him. And I told him that he told me when I first started caddying for him that if I have a swing, I have a shot,” Scott said. “He had a swing.
“Caddying is trying to get your player to believe in himself and commit to what he’s doing because these guys are incredible at the game.”
Watson hit a superb recovery shot, saved par, made par on the 18th and signed for a 68 to finish at 10 under with Oosthuizen, who shot 69.
They both made par on the first playoff hole, the 18th, with Watson missing his putt from 15 feet that would have won the Masters.
Then the two went to the par-4, downhill 10th.
Watson, hitting first, tried to hit a cut on the dogleg-left hole and instead hit it long and straight deep into the trees, his right arm immediately signaling the ball was going way right. Upon seeing this, Oosthuizen switched clubs but hit a heel-cut, pop-up short and into the right rough, his ball coming to rest more than 220 yards from the green.
“Okay, I didn’t know where Bubba was, but Louis had no easy par,” Scott said.
Oosthuizen came up well short of the green with his second as Watson was studying his next course of action, the ball nestled on pine needles.
But he knew what he was going to do, even though he could barely see the green.
“There was only one shot in all of our minds. That was a no-brainer.” Watson said. “The shot was perfect for me. There was never another shot to think about.”
A punch-out was not in the equation.
Bubba Watson of the United States plays at a shot from the rough on the second sudden-death playoff hole on the 10th during the final round of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2012 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
“I saw the gap in the trees and I’m just like, this is Bubba Golf, here we go,” Scott said. “I played 100 rounds of golf with that dude and I’ve seen him hit so many different shots every single round.
“It wasn’t surprising he hit the shot, to hook it as much as he did, but under the situation, to come through like that, that’s what makes it incredible. That shot was just normal for Bubba. The situation just made it more special.”
Watson said he had 135 yards to the front of the green, 160 to the flag. He hit a screaming hook some 40 yards with a gap wedge that ended 15 feet from the hole.
“I had no idea where he was,” said Oosthuizen, who failed to get up and down for par. “Where I stood, when the ball came out, it looked like a curve ball.
“Unbelievable shot. That shot he hit definitely won him the tournament.”
Within seconds of tapping in for the win, Watson began sobbing. The first on the green was his mother. And Watson thought of his father, a former Green Beret who battled post-traumatic stress disorder and died in 2010 after a long battle with cancer. Some of his peers, including Rickie Fowler, Aaron Baddeley and Ben Crane, were on hand ready with a hug and a shoulder to cry on.
“It’s fun to win, but in the end, it’s empty if you don’t have people to win with,” Scott said. “And I think the fact that when he won, and he came off that green and saw the support from other players and friends and his parents, you know, his mom, I think that’s where you realize, like, ‘Man, this is a big deal, but it’s not the biggest deal in life, but it’s a big deal.’ And Bubba has always had that perspective.
“He’s incredible. And that’s a gift that he has, and I wish more pros could take that away from the game of golf and realize it’s just a game. If you have a great family, then you’re blessed. And I think that’s the perspective that he has.”
It wasn’t easy getting there for Watson, who in the past self-diagnosed himself as having attention deficit disorder and has battled anxiety and depression issues. But the man of faith lives – and plays – on.
“The trophy is nice, the green jacket is great, but being there for my family, being a good dad, a good husband, a good man, is what it’s all about,” Watson said.
Two years after his major breakthrough, Watson won his second Masters. His son waddled onto the 18th green, his hands in his pockets, to greet his father that day as the sun set over Augusta National. Seven months later, the Watsons became a foursome with the adoption of daughter, Dakota.
When the 10th anniversary of his 2014 Masters title arrives, expect Watson to tell you his utmost memories of that win was Caleb greeting him on the 18th and then the addition of Dakota to the family.
That would just be Bubba being Bubba.