Late Sunday afternoon I sat at my vantage point just to the right of #11 green at Augusta National. In the ticket scalping world (and there is no ticket for that location) I would hate to think what this spot would be worth on the most famous day in golf- the final round of The Masters. Not only could I see the second shots coming into #11 green, but I was just a few yards from #12, the 155 yard par three hole that has sunk many attempts at winning the famed green jacket.
From my stool I could see both the Hogan and Nelson bridges, which guard the #12 green. This spot is truly at the gates of Amen Corner, the most heavenly place in all of golf. The serenity of this gorgeous patch of ground is really unheralded. It has the all of the character of Arlington National Ceremony- minus the grave stones. However, Rae’s Creek, the body of water behind #11 and in front of #12, has been a watery grave to many over the years.
Shortly before 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, Charl Schwartzel who was the defending champion for this year’s Masters made his way through Amen Corner. In a poignant moment he stopped at the base of Hogan’s bridge on his way to #12 green. Schwartzel spent about 30 seconds engrossed in the plaque at the foot of the bridge.
“This bridge dedicated April 2, 1958 to commemorate Ben Hogan’s record score for four rounds of 274 in 1953. Made up of rounds of 70, 66 ,69 and 69. This score will always stand as one of the finest accomplishments in competitive golf and may even stand for all time as the record for The Masters tournament.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the first time that he had ever noticed the plaque. You know how focused athletes can be during the course of competition. What a difference a year makes. In 2011, Schwartzel became the first player to ever birdie the final four holes at Augusta in winning the tournament. He may never have a bridge named after him, but Schwartzel will always have his place in Masters’ history.
A little while later there was a thunderous roar off in the distance behind me. When that happens at The Masters I immediately try to anticipate where it came from and what player might be in the vicinity. Just seconds later the call came over the Rules Committee radio that Louis Oosthuizen had made the first double eagle on #2 in the 76th year history of The Masters.
When the ball found the cup, the South African was -10 for the tournament. He had made a two on two, and went from two shots down to Phil Mickelson and Peter Hanson to two shots up. “Deuce” Oosthuizen also went four shots ahead of his playing partner, Bubba Watson, a noteworthy tidbit based on events that would take place later in the day.
Justin Rose was the first player to walk by the leaderboard at #11. When he saw the posting of the double eagle he said to his caddy, “Look at that. A double eagle on #2. I would have thought it would have been Bubba, not Louis.”
By the time Watson and Oosthuizen reached #11, both players were nine under par. Watson had made a comeback, but I watched him three putt #12 and thought to myself, “That’s it for Bubba. He’s done now.”
Little did I know that he was about to make four birdies in a row and climb back into contention. By now, everybody knows the outcome. Bubba beat Louis on the second playoff hole. He was overcome with emotion and was greeted in victory at the 10th green by fellow Tour players- Rickie Fowler, Aaron Baddeley and Ben Crane.
Crane, Fowler and Hunter Mahan teamed up with Watson last year to produce the music video entitled “Golf Boys.” It was a spoof on rap and the group will be releasing an album this summer. Watson’s win at Augusta should help sales.
Bubba’s win is popular in golf circles. He is unconventional with his swing. He plays with a pink driver. He wears all white outfits. Watson recently paid $100,000 for the General Lee, the famed bootlegging Dodge Charger in the TV show “Dukes of Hazzard.” Watson hails from Baghdad, FL a town of 32,000 just outside of Pensacola. His wife Angie, was a college basketball player.
I spent a lot of time with Watson at the 2010 Ryder Cup. In fact, I sat next to him on the team charter to and from Wales. He is one of the most open and genuine people you will ever meet. His dad, a Viet Nam, veteran recently died. When the U.S. players were presented official bomber jackets in the Ryder Cup team room, Watson was overcome with emotion and had to leave the room. At the time, his dad was dying of cancer.
My favorite Bubba Watson story? On the flight back from Wales I asked him what his best Ryder Cup memory was. His answer was typical Bubba. “It was the first chance that I ever had to be around Phil. He took several of us young guys aside this week and told us what our responsibilities were to promote and grow the game of golf. I think that was one of the highlights of the week for me”
Those words spoken by a guy who openly professes that his ability to win golf tournaments is not a life or death matter. That success won’t define him as a man. He is Bubba Watson and what you see is truly what you get.