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Critics of Bubba's absence are way off base

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Bubba Watson is not at The Players Championship this week. He is the reigning Masters champion and golf’s newest star. There are people who are not happy with his decision to skip an event that many consider the most important non-major.

When the subject came up last Saturday during CBS’s telecast of the Wells Fargo Championship, Nick Faldo was vehement about how wrong he thought Watson was to take a pass on The Players.

“Very surprised at that,” Faldo said. “You’re the Masters champion. It’s The Players Championship. You really should be there. The way that course is set up, it’s always tough and breezy. He could be one of the favorites. So I would say that’s a poor decision.”

Seriously?

Watson chose to skip The Players to spend time with his wife Angie and their newly adopted son Caleb. The Watsons adopted Caleb the last week in March. Less than a week later, Angie Watson pushed her husband out the door because she wanted him to prepare for the Masters properly, not just parachute in and play in the tournament without any practice rounds. Remarkably, Watson won, pulling off one of golf’s all-time pressure shots to win a playoff against Louis Oosthuizen. He then spent several days away on the victory tour most Masters champions make.

After that he was home for a few days before going to play in New Orleans because, as the defending champion, he felt obligated. He made the cut tied for 18th and then – finally – went home to be with his wife and child.

For anyone – and Faldo was not alone in criticizing Watson – to question Watson’s decision is remarkably insensitive. Unless you have been through the adoption process there is no way to understand how painful it can be. There’s a saying among adoptive parents that the only good thing about the process is the end result.

I say this based on personal experience. I have been fortunate to become a father both biologically and through adoption. The only thing about the two that is identical is the way you feel: there isn’t a shred of difference in how much you love them.

Virtually everything else is different. You do not have nine months to prepare for the baby’s arrival. Sure, once you begin the adoption process you can buy all the requisite baby materials, but if you believe in karma even a little bit, you’re almost scared to do so.

More important, there is no way to prepare for the emotional roller coaster. There are almost always false starts: You think you’re going to get a baby and then, often at the last second, you don’t. Adoption laws have changed through the years to give adoptive parents more rights, but there are still cases where adoptive parents hold a child in their arms, instantly fall in love and then are told, “sorry, this isn’t your child.”

Thank God I never went through that, but I do know people who have. I can promise that every prospective adoptive parent lies awake at night worrying that it might happen to them.  

The joy and relief you feel when you do get a baby is about the only thing that gets you through the fear, the exhaustion and the suddenness of it all. Frequently, a call comes and you are told: Come NOW. Not after you get a chance to get organized, to collect your thoughts, to take a deep breath and say, “OK, I’m ready.” No. NOW.

The Watsons said they had two false starts. They had been working on adopting for four years. A couple of weeks before they adopted Caleb, Watson was asked if he thought they were close to getting a baby. “It could be two weeks,” he answered, “or it could be two years.”

He wasn’t being flip. That’s the way it works.

Players, media and fans who have criticized Watson simply don’t understand what this time is like in his life. One colleague said to me, “Well if he can’t play, what was he doing at a basketball game the other night?”

Taking a quick break for a couple of hours is the answer. He wasn’t leaving home for five or six days, he was catching his breath. When my son was born my wife ordered me to go to a basketball game one night because she needed a break from me. Others have said since the Watsons can’t leave Florida with Caleb, they should have just brought him to The Players.

Delightful idea. Angie and the baby can hang out in an expensive hotel room all day while Bubba is playing, practicing and dealing with media obligations for about eight hours each day. What fun. What bonding for father and son.

“I wish Bubba was here,” Zach Johnson said Wednesday here at The Players. “He’s my friend and I like to compete against him. I know the fans love seeing him play. But he’s going to play in The Players a lot the next few years. He’s never going to become a father for the first time again.”

He paused for a moment, thought and then said: “In the end, my opinion doesn’t matter. Neither does yours or anyone’s – except for Bubba and Angie. They’re the ones who have gone through this together.”

Exactly.

A couple of weeks after my son was born, I was talking to my editor at the Washington Post on the phone. The baby was asleep and my wife had gone out for a walk. While we were talking, my son started to cry.

“George, I have to go,” I said. “The baby is waking up.”

“John, he’s not the first baby ever born you know,” he said.

“I know that,” I answered. “But he’s the first baby ever born that I’m responsible for.”

There are a lot of people at The Players Championship this week who are parents. They know and understand a lot of what Bubba and Angie Watson are feeling. If they have never adopted, they know far less about what they are feeling and what they went through to finally reach this point.

And, whether they have adopted or not, they can’t possibly know exactly what the Watsons are feeling. Which is why, as Johnson says, their opinions don’t matter. They should simply wish the Watsons much joy, good luck and Caleb good health and a wonderful life.

Period.