AUGUSTA, Ga. – To illustrate just how much has changed in Bubba Watson’s world since 2012, since his first Masters title, he needs only to return to his Pensacola, Fla., home.
His son, Caleb, is now 6 years old, not yet old enough to understand the intricacies of the sport, but clever enough to recognize when the Golf Channel commercial comes on, the one that shows him as a toddler, hands stuffed in his pockets, waddling out to the 18th green to celebrate with his daddy. He likes the Par 3 Contest, too, because he gets to slip into the traditional white overalls and tote the bag. But that’s about it. At home, golf typically triggers a negative response – when dad gets dressed in slacks and a collared shirt, that means he’s about to leave again. The majesty of the Masters means little to him.
“I believe he’s still too young for it,” Watson said Monday at Augusta National. “I don’t think he understands. He just knows that at this tournament, you get a green jacket.”
Watson has many interests in his life – his car dealership, his minor-league baseball team, his candy shop – but it’s clear that his family comes first, second and third in his life. After all, it’s his family that keeps him grounded. That helps him maintain the proper perspective. That puts up with his unusual quirks and mood swings.
And it was his family – most crucially, wife Angie – that helped pull Watson out of his funk and improbably turn him into a Masters favorite, again.
Last fall, with his game a mess and his health deteriorating because of an undisclosed illness, he contemplated quitting the game. Then his sponsors offered him support, and Angie stepped in, giving one of golf’s most mercurial characters the tough love he desperately needed.
“They helped me come out of a dark place,” he said.
Maybe it was just that simple, that he needed to flip a switch mentally. Or maybe it was ditching the multi-colored golf balls that he tried out for a year, with little success.
Whatever it was, at the onset of major season, he arrives here at Augusta National with one of the game’s most impressive resumes this season: a victory against a top field at Riviera, then a surprising takedown of seven top players at the WGC-Match Play. It’s the first time in his career that he enters the Masters with two early-season victories.
“My life is in a great spot,” he said. “Golf sometimes makes it in a bad spot, but I’m just in a right frame of mind, and I understand what I want do with my life and where I want to go in my life.”
And where that is, golf-wise, Watson doesn’t seem particularly interested.
To keep his boss’ mind from wandering, caddie Ted Scott has told Watson to focus on the next six months, to stay in the process, to get better, to continually move forward. So six months from now, where does Bubba see himself? As a three-time Masters champion? A Ryder Cup hero? A PGA Tour Player of the Year?
“I see myself being an improved father,” he said. “The golf part, it doesn’t matter. (Caleb) could care less if I win or lose. He’d rather me not play so I could be home playing toys with him. So that’s really it – being a leader that way. I’m going to make mistakes, and how do I show him that I can improve on those mistakes?”
Watson’s many critics will say that he’s merely deflecting, that if he didn’t care so deeply about his performance that he wouldn’t occasionally treat his caddie or his fans or the media with such disdain, that he’ll be surly again just as soon as his play slips.
Except Watson sounds different this time, calmer, quieter, untroubled. He’s found that happy place before – usually during and after each of his 11 career wins – but now, with his life settled, he seems determined to stay there.
“As I’ve gotten older and been on Tour longer,” he said, “you learn and look back and figure out why it was so good this time and where I was in life, what stage of life – getting married, getting moved into the house, adopting kids, my dad passing away. There are things in life that we don’t ever talk about that causes somebody to be in a good or bad frame of mind.
“I’ve been in a good frame of mind when I won. But I’ve never been in a bad frame of mind and still beat everybody else.”
That makes Watson dangerous this week at the Masters. Now that he has purpose, perspective and peace, all of the game’s biggest titles are back within reach.
“When life’s in the right spot,” he said, “golf’s in the right spot. Golf is really easy when you free it up.”