Hail, Augusta: “Where a well-timed par will beat a premature lucky albatross, every time.” By The Sports Philosopher

April 9, 2012
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     Sunday at the Masters.   The greatest day of the year in all of sports?

     That’s just one man’s opinion.   But after watching 33-year-old Gerry “Bubba” Watson hit maybe the greatest golf shot I’ve ever seen, virtually steal the Masters from pint-sized South African Louis Oosthuizen, and then break down afterwards, unabashedly, while reflecting alternately on both the winning of his first major championship and his personal crucible leading to acquiring his recently-adopted son, I became convinced.  The way I become re-convinced every single April.

Gerry Lester "Bubba" Watson, Jr., before he let his hair grow out, is one of the few left-handed golfers on the PGA tour.

Gerry Lester "Bubba" Watson, Jr., before he let his hair grow out, is one of the few left-handed golfers on the PGA tour.


     It was quite a day.   Oosthuizen seemed destined to win from the beginning after hitting a miracle shot of his own, a double-eagle two on the par-5 2nd hole.   A double-eagle is the rarest shot in golf, three under par on a single golf hole.   An “albatross” they call it.   He stuck the green from 250 yards away and the ball rolled for over 100 feet before barely falling into the cup.   It was magical.

     The shot of his life vaulted Louis from 3rd to 1st place in one fell swoop.   But it also cost him (he admitted later), because it took him the entire front-nine to get his mind around what he had done.   His game wobbled a bit, and he didn’t come close to making a birdie until the back-nine.   And he made a couple of loose bogeys to make things worse.   So his albatross actually cost him a chance ~ ironically ~ to draw clear of the field.    

     Then there was Phil Mickelson.   Phil is practically everyone’s favorite golfer, including mine, because “Lefty” is every bit as brilliant as the masses want him to be while also being every bit as dumb (occasionally) as they are.   Mickelson has always found new and intriguing ways to screw up a golf tournament he was supposed to win.   This week he had played the best golf of anyone going into Sunday, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy (the two guys most likely to out-hit him) were nowhere to be found, and the three-time Masters champ seemed poised to pick up his 4th ugly green jacket.   But on the 4th hole he did what only he seems capable of doing consistently.   Blow a whole 72-hole golf tournament on one hole, in spectacular, unnecessary fashion.   His drive on the par-3 drifted way left, hit the grandstand, bounced high and crazily and into a woodsy thicket of bamboo, landed under some shrubs, and was virtually unplayable.   But he tried to play it anyway rather than accept a penalty, hitting two shots right-handed (remember, he’s Lefty) to escape the forest, the two shots traveling one foot and fifteen feet respectively, and he wound up taking a triple-bogey 6.   He struggled valiantly all day to catch up, but could not.   Well, at least he has that $300-million-dollar fortune to fall back on….

     That leaves Watson.   Bubba is quite the iconoclast.  For one thing, he doesn’t look like some fat guy named “Bubba”.   He’s skinny, kinda goofy, needs a haircut, hits a pink driver, and, if you’re old enough to remember, looks a lot like the comedian Andy Kaufman.

     He’s also the longest hitter on tour.   And has perhaps the most imagination.

     Watson and Oosthuizen (the latter nicknamed “Shrek” for his gap-toothed grin) finished the day’s 18 holes in a tie, and went immediately into a sudden-death playoff.   Each nearly sunk title-winning putts on the 1st playoff hole.   And then, on the 2nd sudden-death hole (the par-4 10th), Bubba became legend.

     Both men blew their drives.   They both hit it into the trees.   But at least Louis had a clear shot to the green, albeit from very far away.   He came up a few feet short of the green from 235 yards out, but still seemed in great shape; because Bubba was lost deep in the woods, and from where he stood over his ball he could not even see the green.   Plus his ball wasn’t even sitting on grass, it was resting on some loose pine straw.   No chance to find the putting surface.   Perhaps no chance to win at all.

     Except, as mentioned, that this is a golfer of nearly peerless imagination.   Only 150 yards away (his drive, though errant, had traveled well over 300 yards), he figured he could pound a high wedge with a severe left-to-right hook—Bubba is left-handed—and still land the ball on this un-stick-able, elevated green which he couldn’t even see.   A preposterous idea, but it’s what he saw in his head so he tried it.

     And it worked.   The ball curved forty yards to the right while in the air, plopped on the green, skidded to a stop from the backspin, and came to rest eight feet from the cup.   Unbelievable!   The top twenty golfers in the world could have each taken five balls, dropped them where Bubba had hit his shot from, tried to duplicate Bubba’s effort, and not one ball would have come to rest closer to the hole.

     Shrek was visibly shaken.   His chip up onto the green was awful, it left him with a long do-or-die 18-foot par putt, he missed it, and suddenly Bubba Watson needed merely to get down in two shots from eight feet away to win his 1st Masters.  

     Which he did.  

     You have to understand something.   Oosthuizen’s albatross was a great, great shot, but it was also pretty darn lucky.   When a ball rolls across a green for over 100 feet and goes in, especially after first traveling 250 yards in the air, the going in part is pure luck.   Let’s face it.   Plus, it had come on the 2nd hole, when everyone in contention was just starting out.   It didn’t decide anything.   Whereas Bubba’s miraculous wedge-around-the-corner shot was literally the most important shot of his entire life, with the whole tournament on the line.   In other words, he came up with the greatest shot he will ever make, at the exact moment in his career he most definitively had to have it.   The stuff of legends.

     Bubba, in his post-match interviews, was amazingly candid about his personal life.   He talked about how he had known from their very first date that his future wife was physically incapable of ever having children, how they had been trying to adopt for over four years, how they’d actually been turned down a couple times for adoption, and how, just two weeks ago, they finally took possession of (I don’t know how else to say it) their little infant son “Caleb”.   Bubba is a known chronic weeper anyway, so it was no surprise he started crying again.   He was having a hard time assimilating all the good things that had happened to him in the last two weeks.

     And then one of the reporters asked him to sum up what it all meant to him.   At this point, Bubba, chin quivering, eyes glistening, came up with a line that might have even matched his stupendous shot to win the 76th Masters on the 74th hole.   He said: “I don’t know.   I never got this far in my dreams.”

     Can you imagine an NFL player saying something like that?

     And now I was crying.   I must be getting old.

     It’s why if I had to pick between watching only the Masters or the Super Bowl, I’d pick the Masters.   Every time.

     And it reminded me of that scene in that great 1987 movie “Broadcast News”, where William Hurt says to Albert Brooks, “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?”    To which Brooks, whispering, replies, “Keep it to yourself!”  

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0021

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered literary savant, and converted Bubba supporter.   Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.   His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’.   Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, of triumph, and of utter despair, entitled WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com.   And then order it.   And then READ it.   And then tell everyone about it.   And then read it again.   He thanks you.     





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