Former UGA golf star and defending Masters champ Bubba Watson returns to Augusta this week after triumphantly conquering the course last year with a shot for the ages. Watson even got to host the Champions Dinner on Tuesday, serving grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and corn.
AUGUSTA — Bubba Watson is known for doing things his own way, and he’s blazing a new trail as the reigning Masters Tournament champion.
From keeping his green jacket largely hidden from public view to shunning the tradition of disclosing details about his Champions Dinner menu before Tuesday night, Watson has become the undercover champion.
“I think, as Masters champion, I should be allowed to just wait to tell everybody,” Watson said when asked recently about what he’d chosen to serve his fellow champions and Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne at the annual dinner.
As it turns out, it was a very Bubba-like meal: grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and macaroni and cheese.
Secrecy hasn’t been the only idiosyncrasy that Watson has brought to his year in the spotlight. Aside from his immediate media blitz in the two days after his victory in April, the former University of Georgia star has kept the green jacket that’s in his possession for a year largely out of sight.
The only other time he’s taken it out of the garment bag in his closet was to pose for a cover photo for The Augusta Chronicle’s Masters preview section.
“You know, out of respect for the Masters and Augusta National and all their members, I haven’t done anything with the jacket,” Watson said. “I wore it for media day up in New York. They’ve asked me to do a photo shoot, so I wore it one time for a photo shoot for Augusta. And then it’s been in my closet hidden away. None of my friends have seen it. None of my friends have taken photos of it. It’s been in its — what do you call it — the garment bag. They give you a garment bag with 2012 Masters champ on it.
“But it’s been sitting in that garment bag. I haven’t taken it out. I don’t let anybody see it or take pictures of it out of respect for the tournament and out of respect for the members of Augusta National.”
Watson’s actions are in stark contrast to his immediate predecessor, Charl Schwartzel. The 2011 champion from South Africa would personally cook a traditional “braai” with monkey gland sauce for media and friends who wanted to know what he planned to serve his fellow champions. And he never went anywhere in the world for 12 months without his green jacket in tow, and he would gladly take it out for friends at parties or sometimes just take a peek at it in his hotel rooms just to remind himself of the achievement.
Watson marches to his own tune.
“Since we came back to our house here in Scottsdale (Ariz.), I haven’t seen it,” he said of the jacket. “I put it in the back (of my closet). I know it’s there just because I don’t want anybody to steal that thing, but I know it’s there. But no, I don’t look at it, I don’t ever see it. I can see the corner of it because it’s like back with my jackets, so I can see the corner of the green garment bag so I know it’s there at all times, but I don’t ever glance at it or anything like that.”
Watson also has no plans to rush down the 10th fairway upon his return to Augusta National and try to recreate the dramatic hook from the woods that won him the Masters on the second playoff hole. Former champions who have won on similarly heroic shots — such as Sandy Lyle and Angel Cabrera — have been known to relive those famous moments over and over in ensuing years.
“So I don’t have any reason to go over there. Hopefully I hit the fairway from now on so I don’t need to practice that shot anymore,” he said.
But returning to Augusta this week did make the emotions pour out for Watson. After all, it was an emotional victory a year ago.
Watson welled with emotions after winning the 2012 Masters and one year later he cried again when asked if he did anything special with the prized green jacket he took away from Augusta National.
Choking up and taking a couple of minutes to compose himself at his Masters news conference Tuesday, Watson spoke about the moment an Augusta National member said he could keep the famed winner’s jacket for a year.
“I told him that I was going to go home and wrap Caleb up in it,” he said about the baby boy he and his wife had adopted a week before last year’s Masters. “Only thing I did was wrap Caleb up in it,” the 34-year-old added, wiping away tears.
The sensitive, sentimental Watson stands in contrast to an ebullient, outgoing alter-ego, who roars around in vintage cars and glides along in his one-of-a kind hovercraft golf cart, and makes rap videos dressed in overalls as one of the Golf Boys with some of his fellow young pros.
Watson won his maiden major at Augusta in fitting fashion, with a miraculous recovery shot from out of the pine straw inside the tree line on the right that enabled him to win his playoff against Louis Oosthuizen by making a par on No. 10.
The native of Bagdad, Florida, took his wife, Angie, to the magical spot right of the 10th fairway upon their return.
“As defending champ, I got to bring a guest so my wife played eighteen holes with me on Sunday. What a dream, what an honor,” said Watson.
Some golfers are making a point of checking out the position from which Watson dramatically hooked a 160-yard shot that ran up onto the 10th green and settled just 10 feet from the cup.
“Sunday when me and my wife were playing, we were coming down off of 18th tee, there was a group of guys over there (at the 10th). Couldn’t see who it was, and I yelled at them and I said, ‘No, that’s not the spot, it’s a little over,’ ” related Watson.
“Just joking with them, and they saw it was me. And come to find out it was Billy Casper and his son,” Watson said about the 81-year-old Masters champion of 1970. “Kind of funny.”
Watson tied for fourth in the season-opening Tournament of Champions but has not made much noise since. That does not discount his chances to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only players to win back-to-back Masters.
“I can see that I can compete at a high level at certain moments. You know, I’m not as consistent as some of the guys, I’m not up there every year, but any moment I have a chance to win,” said Watson, who has won four PGA Tour events. “Like I did last year, not putting pressure on myself, enjoying the moment and just having fun.
“As a competitor, as a believer in my game, I can see pulling it off. It wouldn’t shock me. I would still cry, but it wouldn’t shock me.”
Information from Reuters News Service and The Augusta Chronicle was used in this report