ATHENS – Bubba Watson wasn’t the only one shedding tears of joy after the UGA graduate tapped in a one foot putt to win the 76th Masters golf tournament. One hundred miles away, Georgia golf coach Chris Haack and his longtime assistant Jim Douglas ended up in a tearful embrace in the living room of Haack’s Bogart home.
Haack, Douglas, some of Georgia’s current and former players and some extended family from Roanoke, Va., gathered there to watch the final round of the Masters on Easter Sunday. With Watson, a 2000-2001 Bulldog letterman, starting the day three shots off the lead, it began as a casual hope-fest. But when Watson bagged victory on the second playoff hole, it ended in a full-fledged bark-a-thon.
“It was pretty intense; it was crazy; a great time,” said Haack, his voice still hoarse and raw with emotion an hour after Watson slipped on the green jacket. “There was a whole bunch of us here and, needless to say, we were rooting pretty hard for Bubba. I was tearing up, too. I think anytime you see one of your guys do something great and see how it affects him and how emotional he was, it immediately made me get emotional.
“You’re just so happy to see things work out, it just kind of exhausts you with jubilation. It’s just unbelievable.”
With the victory, Watson becomes the first UGA golfer to win a major championship. Chip Beck, who was runner-up to Bernhard Langer in the 1993 Masters, was previously the closest.
“I’m so happy for Bubba and that finally a Dawg has arrived at the top at the Masters,” said Beck via text message Sunday night. “It was long overdue and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I was truly impressed with his Christian expression of faith in the awards ceremony. I’m proud to have met him.”
Haack said he thought the best thing that happened to Watson on Sunday was seeing his playing partner, Louis Oosthuizen, make just the fourth double eagle in Masters history right in front of him on the second hole.
“When he did that, Bubba knew immediately how many how many back he was and that he couldn’t play cautious,” Haack said. “It’s a whole different mentality than if you’re playing with a lead. He knew right away he had to just play golf, to just play his game. It probably helped him playing with Louis.”
Actually, the point at which Haack felt the most confidence in Watson was at the point everyone else was most doubtful. After Watson hooked his drive to end up deep in the woods to the right of the No. 10 fairway, Haack and Douglas looked at each other and smiled.
“When they showed the camera angle with that gap we both said, ‘he’s got this,’” Haack said with a laugh. “If there’s something Bubba can do, he can hook a wedge or 9-iron with the best of them. If anything he probably prefers that shot to sitting in the middle of the fairway. He loves to see the ball curve. To HAVE to make it curve, that’s right in his wheelhouse! We were just hoping he picked the right club and didn’t hit it over the green.”
Watson hit the 164-yard shot almost perfectly. It spun sideways to about 10 feet below the hole, where he was able to two-putt for victory.
Watson is married to UGA women’s basketball letterman Angie Ball, who remained home in Florida with their newly-adopted baby boy, Caleb. Afterward, in the Butler Cabin with Jim Nance of CBS and Masters chairman Billy Payne, Watson was asked if he had fulfilled a lifelong dream.
“I never got this far in my dreams,” he said, choking back tears.
Haack said a truer statement never has been spoken.
“That sounds like Bubba,” he said. “Bubba has always said, ‘I’d like to win 10 or 12 tournaments.’ I don’t think he’s really ever thought about the significance of doing something like this.”
Watson’s major championship capped off what has been a pretty good run for Bulldogs in the pros of late. Watson and UGA alum Chris Kirk both carded wins on the PGA Tour this past year; Russell Henley, Erik Compton and Harris English all won on the Nationwide Tour in 2011; and English has had four Top-20 finishes on the PGA Tour this year.
But this was another thing altogether. Watson won world golf’s biggest stage with a Georgia “G” logo on his golf bag. Fans barked “woof, woof, woof” and yelled “Go Dogs” all day from behind the gallery ropes. And the first words out of Watson’s mouth at the green jacket presentation ceremony were, “to all my fans, you got to say, ‘Go Dogs.’”
It left Haack bursting with pride.
“I think it means a lot,” Haack said. “Anytime the University’s name gets mentioned in the forefront of anything good with any of our alums, it’s a great thing. It’s the same thing when Hines Ward is the MVP of the Super Bowl or anything like that. When one of your people stands out head and shoulders above the rest, that’s a point of pride for the entire university. I’m sure all over this country and in different parts of the world where there are Georgia alums, everybody is feeling a little bit of pride watching one of their own put on the green jacket.”
Haack still had not had a chance to talk yet with his former pupil late Sunday night. He just sent him a text message shortly after the din in his den subsided.
“All I said was, ‘I’m very proud of you. Fatherhood just got a little sweeter.’”