I crept under the ropes and perched myself on the hill next to the CBS cameras on the 18th green just in time to watch Scott Verplank knock his approach to about 8 feet on the first playoff hole. It was a weird sight to see Corey Pavin, the shortest hitter on the Tour, Bubba Watson, the longest hitter on the Tour, and Verplank, one of the steadiest players on the Tour, standing in the fairway together.
I said out loud, “Now the pressure is on Bubba. Can he handle it?”
And then something weirder happened. I watched Bubba’s approach shot with a wedge from the time it left the club to when it landed on the green. Holy crap. It’s going in! But it veered just to the right only an inch before it would have dropped in the hole. As Bubba walked up the 18th fairway, he turned to the big screen behind where I was sitting to watch the replay. That was when I noticed I had chills going up my spine and felt goosebumps. Huh?
Seriously. Bubba Watson just gave me a visceral reaction at the Travelers Championship similar to the one Tom Watson did at the US Open a week earlier. Imagine that.
Just about an hour before, I had been kneeling on the hillside behind the 15th green, adjacent to the 18th tee, as I watched Bubba hit out of the fairway bunker on the 17th hole, the 71st in regulation. It rolled into the water. I thought, choke!
And then I turned around to watch Pavin line up his tee shot with a 3-wood in his hands. Huh? Why on earth isn’t he hitting driver? He’s already the shortest hitter on Tour and I haven’t seen anyone else take anything but driver.
Weird. Well, he’s the Ryder Cup captain, so there must be a method to his madness. And he hit an ugly, low, left-to-right slider into the right side.
“You know, it’s not a comfortable tee shot for me,” Pavin explained in his press conference. “It was downwind today a little bit, and it was playing firm, and I just hit a bad 3-wood.”
Yeah, clearly. But back to Bubs, who was spotted tweeting while he waited for the playoff to begin (pictured above). Still sitting behind the 15th green, I watched Justin Rose double-bogey the hole around the same time I heard a roar from 18th. Hmm. Bubba must have birdied, I assumed. Not a choke after all.
“You know, it’s a bunker shot,” Bubba said in his post-round presser. “We joked about it walking down 18 after I did it is that they tell you in a bunker, everybody tells you in a bunker you gotta hit ball first. Don’t hit sand first. I hit the top of the ball, hit ball first, but it didn’t work out.
“You know, it’s just one of those things, you know. I guess you can’t say I choked because I came back and birdied the next hole and now I’m the champion. But you know, I was nervous. I tried to hit a pitching wedge 157 out of a fairway bunker over water to win a golf tournament. And I didn’t do it. I hit it about 73 yards or something, came up short.”
I came back to the media room after I watched the first playoff hole to watch the rest on TV. I saw the tears flooding from Bubba’s eyes as he hugged his wife, Angie. More tears came in between the jokes as he spoke to us afterward, particularly when asked about his emotions.
“You know, my dad [who is battling cancer] taught me everything I know,” he explained. “It’s not very much, but that’s all I know. He would agree with that.
“You know, I’ve never had a lesson. My dad, he took me to the golf course when I was six years old and just told me he was going to be in the woods looking for his ball, so he just told me to take this 9-iron and beat it down the fairway. And now look at me after beating a 9-iron on the fairway coming from Bagdad, Florida, I never dreamed this.”
And for the second time that day, I felt goosebumps. Well done and congrats, Bubba.