Watson's hometown all abuzz with Bubba fever

By Randall MellApril 12, 2012, 7:10 pm

The Blackwater River Region in the Florida Panhandle is all abuzz with 'Bubba fever.'

Plans are in the works to change the name of the main drag in Bagdad, Fla., to Bubba Watson Road and host a victory parade.

Bagdad is Bubba’s hometown, a small village of 2,239 on the outskirts of Milton, the small city where Watson went to high school.

Old Bagdad Highway, the street Watson grew up on, may soon be renamed to honor Watson for his Masters victory, according to village officials. Bubba’s mother, Molly, still lives in the house where Bubba was raised.

Watson’s father, Gerry, who died about 18 months ago, would have relished hearing what is in the works in the Blackwater River Region to celebrate his son’s triumph, says Mike Johnson, president of the Bagdad Village Preservation Association.

Two days before Gerry Watson died, he wrote a letter to Santa Rosa County officials asking if signs could be erected on the three main roads leading into Bagdad, Johnson said. In the short months after Gerry’s death, his wish was granted, with those signs proudly proclaiming: “Welcome to Bagdad, hometown of Bubba Watson.” One sign is posted on the Forsyth Road entrance to Bagdad, one on Garcon Point Road and another on Old Bagdad Highway.

“It was very emotional, the signs going up after Gerry’s death,” Johnson said.

Per Gerry’s wishes, each of those signs was set up on the left side of the roads, honoring Bubba’s left-handed game.

Johnson said the signs will probably have to be changed now to acknowledge Bubba as a Masters champ.

“There’s a lot of talk about that,” Johnson said. “There was one proposal that we just make a green jacket attachment to the sign. There’s a lot of talk about having a celebration event.”

Before Watson’s Masters victory, Bagdad was most famous for being the original home of Mary B’s Biscuits and Dumplings. An old Florida community, Bagdad was founded in 1842 and once flourished as a mill town on the Blackwater River. The mills exported native virgin heart pine wood to all parts of the world.

“It was valued because it was as hard as oak but cut like pine,” Johnson said. “Back at the turn of the 20th century, Bagdad was the richest economic concern in the state of Florida.”

That all changed when the final virgin heart pine was cut down in 1939. Today, many of the village’s homes, including the house where Watson was raised, are protected as part of the National Historic Registry. Watson’s home was built in 1910.

What’s Bagdad like now?

“It’s a little piece of heaven,” Watson once said. “It’s a great little town. It’s just real quiet. There’s a post office and that’s about it in the town. No red lights, all stop signs, elementary school and good ole people, good ole southern people.”

Watson’s the pride of more than Bagdad, though. Over in Milton, there are more celebratory plans in the works, including a possible parade and banquet.

“We would need to coordinate it with Bubba, but there are all kinds of talks going about what we should do to honor him,” said Milton Mayor Guy Thompson. “The feeling in town, the atmosphere here, it’s just filled with so much pride over what Bubba accomplished. Really, it’s phenomenal that a small community the size of Milton could produce so many professional athletes and champions.”

Milton High is also where PGA Tour winners Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum graduated. Lawrence Tynes, the placekicker who helped the New York Giants win two Super Bowls, is one of three NFL players from Milton High. The school also claims Mark Everett, an Olympic middle distance runner who won the bronze medal in the 800-meter race at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.

Over at Tanglewood Country Club in Milton, where Watson learned to play tagging along with his father, there’s immense pride in being the course where Watson learned to shape the shots that made him a champion. There is a wall in the clubhouse filled with photos and memorabilia of Watson, Slocum and Weekley.

Hiram Cook, the head pro at Tanglewood and nearby Stonebrook, said Watson’s great escape from the trees in the Masters’ playoff didn’t surprise anyone at the club. Watson learned to hit a lot of creative shots playing Tanglewood’s narrow design. Tight and tree lined, Tanglewood is an escape artist’s training ground.

“You miss the fairways at Tanglewood, and you’re in the trees, on pine straw or sand,” Cook said. “It was so short and tight, you had to learn to work balls around trees and run shots up onto greens.”

Cook said Bubba was 10 when he first saw him tag along in a round with his papa, Gerry. Bubba and Cook’s daughter, Robin, grew up playing junior events.

“Robin was in tears watching the Masters,” Cook said. “So was my wife. We were all so proud.”

That pretty much sums up what a lot of folks were feeling late Sunday night in the Blackwater River Region. 

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.