June 28, 2010
If you saw the pitching wedge Bubba Watson topped from a fairway bunker into the water on the 17th hole, you saw a piece of it. If you saw his monster drive on 18, the one that bounced off the cart path 396 yards into Travelers Championship legend, yes, you saw another piece.
But not nearly the whole picture.
For this late Sunday afternoon, maybe more than any other in the 59 editions of our state's golf event, was a full jigsaw puzzle of action, chain reaction and human emotion. Even as Watson sank his 3-foot putt on the second playoff hole for his first PGA Tour victory, even as he fell into the arms of his wife, Angie, and dissolved into tears, we did not have all the pieces.
It will be remembered as entirely fitting that one of the most emotional men in golf, this country boy from the Florida Panhandle, would give the most honest of responses when asked how he felt as he looked at that 3-foot putt that would win him $1.08 million.
"I couldn't breathe," Watson said. "I couldn't feel my arms."
Later, Watson would make us all feel as he spoke about his dad, Gerry, the man who had taught him the game, taught him about life, a man fighting cancer. It had been Angie, in fact, who first took the microphone at the 18th green during the awards ceremony and told us about Watson's dad. Told us how Bubba had called him as they made their way back up the 18th fairway after the playoff, about how all he could get out was, "I love you."
"Bubba always said he'd be a mess when he gets his first win," said Angie, a starter on Georgia's 1999 Final Four basketball team.
And he was.
"I cry all the time," Watson said. "When I go to church on Sunday, I'm crying. I couldn't get the "yes," or the "I do" out on my wedding day.
"My wife, we had a scare, we thought she had a tumor in her brain. We got lucky with that one. Now we're battling with my dad. I never had a [formal golf] lesson. My dad, he took me to the course when I was 6, just told me he was going to be in the woods looking for his ball, so take this 9-iron and beat it down the fairway. And now look at me … coming from Bagdad, Florida, I never dreamed of this."
His soul was bare. He was full of tears.
"To be honest, when Bubba's dad got sick I didn't know how well we'd be able to handle it," Angie said. "He has gotten strength. We both know where it's coming from. But it's just unbelievable for him to get his first win this year under these circumstances."
And to think, this Sunday had begun so ho-hum, with the full expectation Justin Rose would walk away with the 2010 Travelers title. Rose had led by six strokes on Saturday and had taken a three-shot lead into the final round, yet before the sun had set on the English empire, Rose had tanked as badly as his countrymen in their loss to Germany in the World Cup.
"It obviously was mine to lose," said Rose, who stumbled to a 75.
For two hours, a static leaderboard went into a crazy flux. Scott Verplank had two eagles on the back nine. Corey Pavin bent in a terrific 32-foot putt on the 17th. And, boom, we had a playoff at minus-14 among three men who weren't even in the final three groups.
So here was Watson, the longest hitter on the PGA Tour, dropping a 56-degree wedge from 128 yards to within two inches on the 18th, the first playoff hole. Pavin, the tour's shortest hitter, popped up a 3-wood, put his second shot in the bunker. He was done.
"Time to go back and play with adults my own age," said Pavin, 50, who splits his time with the Champions Tour.
Watson had double bogeyed the 17th, birdied the 18th after his 396-yard drive — the longest in tournament history — and followed that with another birdie on the first playoff hole (also the 18th).
"When they showed the replay [of the wedge on the videoboard along the 18th], I didn't blink," Watson said. "I still thought it was going in."
What he didn't do was take for granted his shot would win it. Watson was already thinking about what club he'd use on No. 16, how the wind was blowing, where the pin was tucked. That was wise. Verplank, showing steely resolve with his new Ghost putter, sank a 9-foot birdie putt to force a second playoff hole.
Watson would use a 9-iron on No. 16. Verplank pulled his 8-iron, tried to putt through a scuffed area on the fringe and then missed an 8-foot par putt. In his 122nd career start, Watson would have his first tour victory. Watson said he used to feel jealousy when others won and he didn't.
"And it was wrong," he said.
His faith, something he shares with Angie, gave him something his long drive couldn't — the ability to drop his envy.
"You come to a point where you don't talk about winning because everybody else is talking about it," Angie said. "We both know through our faith that it would happen when the time was right."
The puzzle would not be complete if you walked away thinking their faith made them humorless. Nothing could be further from the truth. When asked if he expected Heath Slocum and Boo Weekley, both PGA Tour winners and, remarkably, both from the same high school in Milton, Fla., to call him after winning $1 million, he said, yes, "Along with the IRS." And Angie tweeted the other day how she went down a 100-foot zip line at Brownstone Park in Portland and lost her bathing suit bottom.
Even now people will approach her at the Travelers and she will sign autographs with her maiden name, Angie Ball. On Wednesday, Bubba played with UConn women's associate head coach Chris Dailey in the Celebrity Pro-Am. Angie came out to walk a couple of holes with them. UConn actually had talked to Angie, who's from Toronto and played a year in the WNBA, late in the recruiting process.
"UConn also gave me the worst whuppin' I ever got [32 points in 1997]," she said. "It's remarkable how much people in Connecticut are into women's basketball."
It's a kinship she shares with us. And now she has another, her family's story.
"The radiation and chemo has sort of centralized Bubba's dad cancer," Angie said. "They're still aggressively treating it. I'll tell you, that phone call Bubba made to him afterward, it'll be one of the moments he'll never forget."
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