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Tears of Joy - Bubba Watson's Weep of Faith Upon Winning the Masters
Everyone knows that when a new Pope is elected, white smoke appears above the Vatican, a Cardinal joyously announces "Habemus Papam!" ("We have a Pope!"), and then adoring crowds await the new Holy Father's arrival at the balcony for his first public address as Pontiff.
Yet what most people don't know is what happens behind the scenes. After his election, but before the public announcement, the new Pope is taken to "The Room of Tears" where he is robed in the Papal vestments and left for a few minutes to become accustomed to the enormity of the appointment. It is said that each Pope is momentarily overwhelmed so enormously with the weight of his new responsibilities that he weeps uncontrollably, hence the name "Room of Tears."
Newly-minted Masters champion Bubba Watson will only have the weight of the golf world on his shoulders now, but his tears flowed like the Tiber River as the gravity of winning the 76th Masters washed over him upon defeating steely-nerved and iron-willed 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen in a two-hole sudden-victory playoff.
Some would go so far as to call Watson's achievement miraculous, as it was Oosthuizen who seemed destiny's darling after a stunning double-eagle at the par-5 second hole vaulted him into a lead he would never relinquish to Watson until the playoff ended. When Watson bogeyed the first hole and Oosthuizen fired his carronade that echoed all the way back to 1935 and Gene Sarazen's albatross, Watson was four shots back and searching for answers against an opponent whose swing was described as a human "Iron Byron" and who blew away the field by a Tiger-esque seven shots at St. Andrews.
Yet Watson showed the same faith in his swing as he shows in the Good Lord, and the deeply devout Christian, who earlier in the morning tweeted, "1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus," persevered. He cut the lead to two at the turn, and then ran off a Charl Schwartzel-esque four birdies in a row at 13, 14, 15 and 16 to tie Oosthuizen at 10-under.
"I was in a daze out there. I don't remember much until I was crying on the 10th green," Watson told reporters later.
It was the last birdie that finally rattled the seemingly unflappable Oosthuizen, who may have blown the tournament by playing too conservatively - playing not to lose, rather than aggressively to win. The South African laid up on both back-nine par-5s, making birdie on both, but playing to the fat part of the greens on the other holes, opening the door for someone to catch him when he couldn't convert one last needed birdie.
It was then that Oosty - as his friends call him - lost his swing. Gone were the laser drives and pin-point irons. Suddenly he was flailing in the trees, scrambling to reach the greens and hoping to two-putt, while Bubba put the pressure on like a chess player tightening the noose on an opponent who makes one false move and finds himself in an untenable position. Bubba actually missed two putts on 18 to win, one in regulation and another at the first playoff hole and seemingly lost the tournament when his drive at the 10th - the second playoff hole - went deep into the woods on the right side.
But then he did what champions do - he dug deep and hit the shot that became the defining moment of the 76th Masters: a screaming hook with a wedge out of the pine straw onto the green within 10 feet. With Oosthuizen short of the green in two and long with a pitch, Watson had two putts for a win that washed away the bitterness of losing in the 2010 PGA Championship playoff at Whistling Straits.
"I can't really say it's a dream come true. It's just I don't even know what happened on the back nine," he recalled in his media center interview. "I know I made bogey on 12 and then I birdied four holes in a row. Nervous on every shot, every putt. Went into a playoff. I got in these trees and hit a crazy shot that I saw in my head and somehow I'm here talking to you with a green jacket on."
It's a 40 long, for those of you scoring at home.
Unquestionably, Watson's unbelievable length was an advantage. He hit the following clubs into the par-5s Sunday: 8-iron on two, 9-iron on 13 and 7-iron on 15. Those numbers are so ridiculous they're illegal in 37 states, you just don't do that, there are signs everywhere. He was T-2 in driving distance for the week (291 yards), and yet despite being T-46 in driving accuracy (66.07 percent), he was T-4 in greens in regulation (53/72 - 73.61 percent). He had only four three-putts for the week and finished with a solid 1.67 average per hole. As steady as a saint walking to martyrdom, he was under par each of the four days with scores of 69, 71, 70 and 68.
Watson's faith and grace stand in stark contrast to Tiger Woods, who threw clubs, swore and snarled acidly all week as he sulked his way to a dismal 5-over finish. The comparison is one of sincere value versus insincere value - Woods's media-constructed image against the devout Christianity and simple humility of Watson. It used to be contrarian to hate Tiger Woods - now it's contrarian to love him. He couldn't fake his way into staying a hero forever, but he committed enough cardinal sins to see himself become the villain, and no amount of cartoons, Fruit Loops, or XXX films can fix the situation.
And so after a Mediterranean day - sparkling and warm, with cheerful puffy white clouds across an azure sky - the sun set on a young man who of course is no saint, but whose adamantine certainty of fighting for what is saintly was rewarded. Indeed, the God Squad guy put together a masterpiece the Devil himself could not find fault with.
Like the Room of Tears where a new Pope is installed, so too did a life-changing transformation occur for all of us to witness. The "The Other Lefty" no longer, the pain of Whistling Straits washed away, and a lifelong dream achieved by Watson.
"Actually, I never got this far in my dreams," he told CBS's Jim Nantz in the Butler Cabin.
Well you're there, Bubba, and now, where the dusty lots of the lonely town of Bagdad deep in Florida's Panhandle were once light years away from the grandeur, grace and gentility of Augusta National Golf Club, they are one forever.
News, Notes & Quotes
• Matt Kucher was the victim of a terrible break on the 16th hole. After taking the lead with an eagle at the 15th, some loudmouth lunkhead screamed "Go Bubba!" on his backswing. Kuchar bogeyed and never recovered. Revoke that chump's badge immediately, then drag him over carpet tacks and dip him in rubbing alcohol.
• Bubba's full name is Gerry Lester "Bubba" Watson, husband to Angie and father of one-month-old adopted son Caleb.
• One fan on Twitter: "Golf boys celebrate all you like . . . just don't sing!"
• This is the second year in a row and only the third time in the last 22 Masters that the winner wasn't in the last group.
• After no lefty won the Masters from 1934-2002, five southpaws have won in nine years: Mike Weir in 2003, Phil Mickelson in 2004, '06 and '10, and now Watson.
• UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay won low-amateur honors in his first Masters. Despite (supposedly) being courted by uber-agents Mark Steinberg and Chubby Chandler, the kid intends to play the entire college season and then the U.S. and British opens. Though some in the media said that he'd follow the money, at Congressional last year, Cantlay told your author and Golf Channel's Tim Rosaforte he would finish all four years at UCLA. Stay in school kid. You have your whole life to play golf.
• The same writer who claimed Cantlay will soon turn pro also predicted someone would shoot 62 at Augusta this week. Uhhh . . . rewrite?
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.