LORAN SMITH COLUMN: Bubba’s the pride of Georgia

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

AUGUSTA — When the Bulldog golf team went on the road in 2001, Bubba Watson stayed home. He didn’t like it, which is understandable.

There was good reason for his not making the traveling squad, five in fact — Eric Compton, Nick Cassini, Bryan Hibble, David Miller and Bryant Odom. Each member of the Georgia team were named All-Americans. This curious circumstance has also never happened before in NCAA history — and it hasn’t happened since.

Bubba later expressed himself in negative terms toward his coach and Georgia which surfaced in a newspaper story. When Chris Haack, the Bulldogs’ coach, saw the story, he wrote Bubba a letter and Bubba called to clear the air.

“I explained to him,” Haack began, “that it was nothing personal and that coaches sometimes have to make choices and whomever we left at home would be bothered.”

At the time, Bubba did not have his degree and Haack began encouraging his former player to address that omission. Bubba returned to Athens for one semester, stayed with the Haacks and earned his degree. He then announced that there would be a “G” on his golf bag. You could spot that “G” Sunday as he tapped in his putt on the second playoff hole to win the Masters — his first career major title.

Haack always knew about Bubba’s potential that he predicted, with maturity, might move him into elite status.

“I told a lot of my coaching friends who kidded me about having five All-Americans on our team, that the best player might be back at home,” Haack says these days, although he still kids Bubba that by not traveling with the team, he met Angie Ball, a member of the Lady Dawg basketball team. Angie later became his wife and was back home with their new baby Caleb late Sunday when Bubba captured the biggest win of his young career.

In Haack’s opinion, Bubba can maintain superstar status on the tour.

“He has such a good game. His distance is a tremendous asset, and he is a fine shot-maker. He can pull off a lot of creative shots like he did on the 10th hole to win the Masters. I’ve seen him do things like that many times,” Haack said Monday. “Lately, he has done a nice job of controlling his nervousness, and I sincerely believe that the best is yet to come.”

When Watson got established on the PGA Tour, he sought out Tiger Woods and would get up early in the morning and practice with the world’s No. 1 player.

In the ceremony in the Butler cabin following the championship, there was chairman Billy Payne, a Bulldog himself, congratulating the new Masters champion before hosting Bubba for dinner later in the evening.

When defending champion Charl Schwartzel came for the presentation, he probably was disappointed that he wasn’t draping the Green Jacket on the runner-up, his countryman Louis Oosthuizen, who made double eagle on the Par 5, second hole, a first at that green.

Although he lost the tournament, Oosthuizen made history with his second shot. He won’t be remembered like Gene Sarazen, whose double eagle at the par five 15th hole in 1935 propelled him into a playoff with Craig Wood. Sarazen won in a 36-hole playoff and achieved fame as the “double-eagle man.”

Sarazen said no more than about 15 people saw his shot, unlike the millions who saw Oosthuizen’s shot Sunday. Two of Sarazen’s witnesses were Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Later, Sarazen said that with the passing of time many more — probably more than a thousand — told him they had seen his double eagle shot at No. 15.

For all the attention that shot will bring his way, there is no doubt that he would trade it for the prize that Bubba Watson has today — a Masters Green Jacket.