April 09, 2019: When I was a kid, out playing golf with my friends in and around Bagdad, Fla., we’d always pretend to line up championship-winning putts. For me, that championship was always the Masters Tournament.
As a kid, you’re thinking about making the par putt to win. It’s not about how you played the hole, in general. It’s not about the tee shot on No. 1. It’s not about the 7th hole. It’s about making that final putt, to win, on the 18th green at Augusta.
Back then, I didn’t dare dream about putting on the Green Jacket. I didn’t think about the trophy that came with it. I didn’t think about the honor, the privilege, the blessing of winning the Masters. You make the putt, and then the dream ends. I wake up.
But I was lucky to learn that everything that happens after that putt is what matters.
Flash forward: It’s 2012, and I’m playing really well. I won two tournaments in 2011 – the Farmers Insurance Open and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. As I was preparing for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, my wife, Angie, and I are going through the process of adopting our first child.
“You might believe me, you might not. But I didn’t even think about the possibility of winning the Masters until Sunday”, Bubba Watson.
The Tuesday night before Bay Hill, we got a call from the adoption agency. They told us, “By Wednesday morning, we need you to make a decision about adopting this child.” We accepted, and asked them if there was any way we could pick Caleb up the following Monday, the day after the Bay Hill ended (if I still happened to be playing in it, anyway).
They said yes.
So when I was playing in the tournament, I was on a high. No negative energy could touch me. It was all positive. Usually, if I do something like three putt, it can get negative real fast. But not at Bay Hill. It was just one of those things. I was playing so well and I was so focused on my family, focused on my wife, focused on the fact that I was about to become a father.
I finished tied for fourth.
Monday rolls around and we pick him up. I’m a father. For a period of time, Caleb isn’t allowed to leave the state of Florida. Angie’s mom comes down from Toronto, and I only get about three days with Caleb before I need to leave for Augusta to play in the Masters.
My life took on a new framing. That whole week of practice had a different rhythm. I got my work done so I could get back on FaceTime with Caleb, who was only a month old at the time. I wasn’t so focused on golf, or putting pressure on myself to perform in my favorite tournament. It was never, “Do I have a chance to win this thing?”
All of my thoughts drifted to my son, Caleb. I was going to go out there and give it my best, and if I missed the cut, that just meant I could be back with Caleb sooner. And if I made it, well, I’d just come home after the Tournament ended.
You might believe me, you might not. But I didn’t even think about the possibility of winning the Masters until Sunday.
After all, Louis Oosthuizen was in control. He double-eagled No. 2, which is insane. I was four down at that time. I kept thinking to myself, “OK, Bubba, we can keep fighting and get a top-10 finish, maybe a top five.” I make a bogey on No. 12. While it wasn’t technically a three-putt, it is in my head – my first putt was from the fringe.
But instead of getting negative – my go-to three-putt reaction! – I just kept going.
I birdied the next hole, 13. I get to 14, and I’m thinking about Tiger spinning it back on the 14 green a few years earlier. So I do it, too. I remember taking a slope and trying to aim it off to the left and it came down the slope to about 16 feet. I make it for birdie. Then I hit a 7-iron right in there on 15. Perfect draw down the middle off the tee. I hit it about 20 feet below the hole, a two-putt to birdie.
And at this moment, I’m still, I’m not even thinking about winning. I’m thinking about a top-10.
At that point, I hadn’t seen a leader board in ages. I’m focusing on every shot, and not fixating on flaws, or spinning on putts I missed. I hit an 8-iron in there on 16, so about 10, 12 feet below the hole just off to the right. I make the putt.
And then I see the leader board.
I look at Teddy, my caddie. I’m walking up to 17, and I’m so nervous.
“Teddy, we can win this Tournament.”
Teddy didn’t miss a beat. “You’re tied for the lead at the Masters. Two holes left, Bubba.”
So what did I do on the 17 tee? I sliced it into the trees. What did you expect? I was freaking out!
At that moment, it all hit me. I’m a father now. And I have a chance to win the Masters, the Tournament my father and I loved and admired more than any other.
In your dreams, you make the putt, and the golf is over. I never made it that far in my dreams because I never could have imagined what actually happened next.
I know people talk a lot about my snap-hook in the playoff, but the shot out of the trees on 17 was my second-best shot of the Masters, easily.
(The snap-hook wasn’t the best shot I hit that week, actually. But that’s another story.)
I’m going to take a little bit of a storytelling liberty here – I’m sorry, Louis – and fast-forward to the final green on 10, the second playoff hole where I’m putting to win the Masters. I left the first putt about 8 inches long, but a tap-in remained. People ask me all the time why I stepped back from the tap in, lined it up, and putted it. Was I soaking in the moment? Was I making it about me, the center of attention, Masters champion?
Hardly. I was thinking about a tournament I had watched a few weeks prior, the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, one of their five majors. The leader had missed a foot-and-a-half putt like the one I was looking at, and lost. I didn’t think there was a chance I would miss the putt, but I went through my routine anyway. I didn’t want to be that guy! I motioned for the crowd to be quiet.
I made the final putt, like I did when I was 12 in Bagdad, or Pensacola, or wherever I was playing that day.
In my Butler Cabin interview, I told Jim Nantz that “I never made it this far in my dreams.” That part was true. In your dreams, you make the putt, and the golf is over.
I never made it that far in my dreams because I never could have imagined what actually happened next.
I looked up, and my three best friends on the tour – Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and Aaron Baddeley – were with their families, supporting me and cheering me on, despite the fact that they’d played earlier in the afternoon. That’s the stuff you don’t dream about, because you don’t even think it’s possible. That’s the ultimate sign of respect and love – you don’t see guys leave the clubhouse and return to the course, walking in the crowd, cheering. That’s a big deal.
And then I saw my mom, Molly.
My dad only got to go to the Masters once, in 2008. I hugged her tight, and I thanked her for all that she did for me, all of the sacrifices she made. I had just become a father, and thoughts were racing through my mind. But something she said after I won the Masters will stick with me forever.
“I wish your dad was here.”
When it comes to my Masters story, it starts in the scorer’s tent at the 2007 U.S. Open.
So there I was, in the scorer’s tent at the U.S. Open, at Oakmont. I had been in fourth down the stretch, and in order to force a playoff, I was going to need to go birdie-birdie on 17 and 18. (That didn’t happen exactly. Bogey-bogey.) For a moment there, I was feeling kind of rotten about finishing fifth, to be honest.
But then one of the scorers gave me some info that changed my life.
“Hey, top 5! Top 8 at the Open automatically qualifies you for the Masters.”
I had no idea! I called my dad immediately, from the tent. It just so happened to be Father’s Day.
“Dad,” I said. “We qualified!” He was so pumped – he had no idea either. While you could certainly make the case that a professional golfer should know how to qualify for the Masters, I’m glad I didn’t know the rule, because I almost certainly would have played worse, had I known.
It took a moment, but that euphoric moment sunk in. The Masters is the greatest golf tournament ever. It’s the best membership in the world. For our family, this was the crown jewel – this was the Watsons’ heroic moment. So, to get to call my dad on Father’s Day and tell him the news … that was an indescribable feeling.
But the news got even better.
Two older guys who I grew up playing with – Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum – also qualified. We all went to the same high school. So, there would be three Bagdad boys in the 2008 Masters. Our small town, with three guys in the Masters.
And my dad got to go. It was the only one he ever made.
When I played into contention at the 2014 Masters, it was a different situation entirely. Again, I had been playing great in the build up to that Tournament. I tied for second at the Doral in Miami. But this time, the golf course at the Masters fit my eye. I knew I could play there and win. As hard as it is for me to believe, even to this day, I could win the Masters.
Fast-forward to Sunday, and it’s me and Jordan Spieth. Jordan … man. He’s young. He’s full of energy. He doesn’t get tired. He can’t miss putts. All I really had on him was that I had won before. Me and Teddy knew what goes on in your head. Teddy kept reminding me, “Bubba, you’ve won this before. You know that the Tournament doesn’t start until the back nine. Anything can happen on the back nine at Augusta. You know the heartache of losing, but you know the joy of winning, too.”
“Dude,” he emphasized. “You gotta just stay focused.”
I was down three strokes. I plugged a ball into the bunker on 7. But I got up and down. Jordan birdies 7. He’s three up with 11 holes to go. I birdie eight, and Jordan three putts.
Right then I realize that this is going to be an interesting back nine.
I’m slowly picking up strokes. Jordan goes into the water on 12. But Jordan … again, Jordan is so good at golf. He gets an amazing up and down, but it’s a bogey. All of the sudden, I’m up two.
It doesn’t feel real. It’s remarkable that someone who comes where I come from, with my background, won the Masters. And I’ve won twice.
Maybe I’m not supposed to say this but, this time, I’m hyper aware of what else is going on on the course. I kept checking the board. I know Jonas Blixt is up somewhere in front of me, Matt Kuchar also, both in contention. Then I hit the drive on 13 over the trees, rolling down with the wind. I hit a sand wedge in there and two putt for birdie.
Jordan doesn’t birdie, and there’s no birdies up ahead of me. Teddy’s in my ear, “Par, just think par.” In order to get a tie with me, the second-place guy is going to have to birdie three times in five holes. I do the math – it’s unlikely. It was a totally different mindset than ’12, though. Just make pars.
On 18, I hit a beautiful 9-iron onto the green, about 14, 15 feet past the hole, straight down the slope. I went over to Teddy.
“How many putts do I have here, in order to win?” I asked.
Teddy, again, not missing a beat. “You can four-putt.”
I trust Teddy with my life, but you know, this was the Masters.
“Let’s three-putt, just to be safe.”
I made the putt, and won the Masters for a second time. But enough about the putt, enough with the golf stuff. I’ll never forget what I saw when I turned around.
There was Caleb, now a little over 2 years old. He had his hands in his pockets, standing at the edge of the green. He has no idea what’s going on, but it doesn’t matter. The tears are flowing. I’ve looked at those pictures, watched those videos probably a billion times. I had won the Masters for the second time, and my son is waddling up to me on the 18th green at Augusta.
What just happened?
Listen, I know I can play golf. It’s one of those things where, if I could write different stories and make up different endings, I wouldn’t do it. With the ups and downs in my career, it’s hard to believe I’m writing this as a two-time Masters champion. It doesn’t feel real. It’s remarkable that someone who comes where I come from, with my background, won the Masters. And I’ve won twice.
I love to talk. I think anyone will tell you that. But thinking about all of that makes me speechless.
When you’re a kid, you dream about making the putt. And then you go home. But that’s not what actually happens when you win the Masters.
When I look back on it, I don’t think about the putts, or taking my time to line up the winner in ’12. I think about Caleb on the green, hands shoved in his pockets. I think about seeing my friends in the gallery, wearing their golf clothes and cheering me on. I think about the dinner in the Clubhouse after I got the Green Jacket, where they let me bring my friends and their families, so I was surrounded with love all night.
I thought about my dad’s sacrifices, my mom’s sacrifices, everything that happened to get me to this point. That’s what you think about, instead of thinking about being a Masters champion. And it’s a beautiful feeling.
As for this weekend’s Masters, you know how I roll. If I’ve got a swing, I’ve got a shot. I’ll see you at Augusta.