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Paul Hayward: Masters winner Bubba Watson tells how his adopted son and his faith mean more than the game


2011 champion Charl Schwartzel presents Bubba Watson with his green jacket

2011 champion Charl Schwartzel presents Bubba Watson with his green jacket

2011 champion Charl Schwartzel presents Bubba Watson with his green jacket

‘BUBBA Golf’, as pioneered by Gerry Lester Watson Jnr, requires no lessons, can be played with pink clubs, comes with a heavy dose of born-again Christianity and features much "goofing around" with trick-shot videos on YouTube.

Its vehicle of choice is the General Lee, the orange Dodge Charger from television’s immortal The Dukes of Hazzard.

If Bubba Watson was sent to the world of sport as a parody, he crossed the line on Sunday night at the Augusta National course into mainstream recognition. April 9 would have been Seve Ballesteros’s birthday. It was also the day when the deeply lachrymose Bubba Watson bestrode the game with the kind of ingenuity even Seve would have envied.

The cult of Bubba is upon us. In a two-hole play-off with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen as the twilight thickened, Watson, 33, became the 14th different major title winner in a row and wept so uncontrollably that he ought to have been awarded the green jacket under the name Blubber Watson.

He cried on his caddie, then his mother, then in the Butler Cabin where last year’s champion, Charl Schwartzel, helped him on with a garment that is going to clash with his pink-trimmed shirts and sun visor.

Oosthuizen is the iron man who performed a miracle but still lost. His albatross at the par-five 575-yard second electrified an unforgettable final round. It was the first in Masters history at that hole and evoked Gene Sarazen’s at 15 in 1935 (“the shot that was heard round the world”).

Game over, many of us assumed. Such brilliance was bound to be rewarded. But Watson, who has never had a golf lesson in his life, had other plans.

In his home videos, he sports an apron and hits boiled eggs off a tee, whacks lighted candles down his lawn and tries to smash a ball through a piece of wood. If you heard the background giggles that accompany these pranks, you would think he had wandered in from a frat house with a lot of talent and zero chance of directing it into a proper career.

That talent, though, is what prevailed when his tee shot flew deep into the Georgia pines at the second play-off hole. The inscribers were preparing to carve ‘Oosthuizen’ on the Masters scroll. Then wizardry interjected. “I get down there – saw it was a perfect draw. Even though the tower was in my way,” Watson said.

“I didn’t want to ask if I get relief or anything, because it just set up for a perfect draw – well, hook. That’s what we did.”

What followed prompted even Tiger Woods to tweet: “Congrats Bubba Watson. Fantastic creativity. Now how creative will the champions’ dinner be next year?”

One American writer speculated that it would be relocated to Sticky Fingers, a fast-food joint off the Bobby Jones Expressway.

“We always joked about Bubba golf. My caddie has always called it that,” Watson said, explaining his stunning escape shot, which left him with two putts to win.

“I just play the game, the game that I love. And truthfully, it’s like Seve played. He hit shots that were unbelievable.

“And if you watch Phil Mickelson, he goes for broke.

“I attack. I always attack. I don’t like to go to the centre of the greens. I want to hit the incredible shot. Who doesn’t? That’s why we play the game of golf, to pull off the amazing shot. Fun-loving Bubba – just try to have fun and goof around.”

A university graduate of Georgia, Watson is not without a sense of history, as he demonstrated by paying $110,000 (£69,000) for the car “them Dook boys” screeched about in The Dukes of Hazzard. The pink Ping driver is to raise cancer awareness. At the French Open, Watson complained of “homesickness”, criticised the security arrangements and referred to Eiffel’s masterpiece as “that big tower”.

Over Easter weekend in the Bible belt, religion played its hand, too, loading on to an already rich narrative themes of redemption and self-purification.

“A few years ago, I was living the wrong way,” Watson started out. “Every golf shot was controlling how mad I got, how I was on the golf course. But off the golf course, outside the ropes, as soon as I signed my scorecard, I didn’t care if I shot 90 or 60. I was the fun, goofing-around little kid, joking around with everybody.

“And so with my wife [Angie Ball, a basketball pro] sitting me down and talking to me, and my caddie sitting me down, my close friends that were here today watching, they told me that I was going the wrong way. If I’m going to live my life as a Christian – in 2004 I gave myself to the Lord – you can’t live your life that way. And so I had to change.

“And my caddie said that he was going to walk away from me, even though he knew I was a good player. He said he was going to walk away because he didn’t want to see a good friend go through that struggle. It hit home. It’s a slow process. Been working hard.”

As the glory enveloped him, all he could think, he said, was: “What time is my plane taking off to get home?”

Last month his four-year quest to adopt a child brought him a one-month-old boy called Caleb. Watson said: “And truthfully there was a helicopter flying in the distance. Charl, he’s a pilot, and he’s a helicopter pilot, he’s got both licences. I wanted to nudge him and go, ‘You know what kind of helicopter that is?’ That realistically is what I was thinking about.”

“The first date me and Angie ever had, she told me she was going to have to adopt, she couldn’t have kids, and I said, ‘That’s fine, if God tells us he wants us to adopt, we’ll adopt’.

“Four years ago we started the process. On Monday night at Bay Hill [the Arnold Palmer Invitational] we got turned down. And then we made a call to an organisation Chicks in Crisis in California, on Tuesday morning, and on Tuesday night [they] said, ‘We have one for you if y’all are willing to accept’.

“I finished fourth, and then on Monday morning, we were down in south Florida, picking up little Caleb.”

In the golfing sense Watson’s most precious virtue is his gift for moving the ball: a compulsion that enables him to “see the shot in the air” as he steps up to it with his club. But you can see his thoughts crashing about like the General Lee on a back road, his eccentricity pulling away at his mind: “Because I get so amped up, I get so excited. Not nervous energy. I just get so amped up, and I’m just trying to calm down. I’m trying to keep my head down in between holes, when everyone is screaming, ‘Go Dogs’ [Georgia Bulldogs, his university team], and yelling, ‘Go, Bubba’.”

No longer a sideshow, Gerry Watson, from Bagdad, Florida, says none of this will change him: “We don’t know the future. We don’t know anything.

“Hopefully I keep crying. Hopefully I keep having the passion to play golf and keep doing what I’m doing. The thing is, golf is not my everything.”