AUGUSTA, Ga. — The family of Louis Oosthuizen sat in the small room off to the right of the grille room in side of the Augusta National clubhouse, fixated on the flat-screen television in front of them. His wife, Nel-Mare rocked the couples’ two-month old daughter Sophia in her arms, while his parents — mother, Mienie and father, Piet — sat expressionless. They had just watched Bubba Watson defeat their beloved family member on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff to decide The Masters, so they did the proper thing: They clapped.
Nel-Mare wiped a single tear from her right eye as the CBS cameras showed Watson and his mother hugging and crying on the green of the 10th hole. She handed Sophia to her mother-in-law.
Staring across at her husband’s manager, Louis Martin, she patted her hands on her thighs and exhaled.
“Good week,” she said, forcing a smile.
One that almost had an improbable ending.
Oosthuizen began the day two shots and one group ahead of the leaders, but by the second hole of the final round, he had turned that on its head. Holing out from 235 yards, he notched the fourth double-eagle in the tournament’s 76-year history and took a lead he wouldn’t relinquish until well past dinnertime. He looked like he the green jacket was his to lose, ready to be placed alongside the Claret Jug in his trophy case — only to be swiped away by Watson.
So, as they watched Watson’s emotional win cumulate deep away from the recesses of the clubhouse lounge, there was a part of them that was happy for the man from the Florida panhandle. Even though they wished to be hugging and crying from within the safe confines, there was little to be disappointed with.
It had been an incredible day, even in spite of the bittersweet ending.
* * *
“It feels like the last nine holes were a blur.”
What more did you want Bubba Watson to say on the putting green behind the 10th tee box last night? That he had craftily executed every perfect shot? That he had an answer for the four-birdie stretch on the middle of the back nine, which vaulted him from a fading contender to a co-leader? That he knew exactly what he was doing when he punched his way out of the pine straw off of the 10th — and second sudden-death playoff hole?
“I’ve never had a dream go this far,” Watson said afterwards. “Like I’ve been saying, so I can’t really say it’s a dream come true. It’s just I don’t ever know what happened on the back nine. I know I made bogey on 12 and then I birdied four holes in a row. Nervous on every shot, every putt. Went into a playoff. I got in these trees and hit a crazy shot that I saw in my head and somehow I’m here talking to you with a green jacket on.”
The incredible charge picked up steam with birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th holes. But Oosthuizen wouldn’t let up. He picked up birdies at 13 and 15, as well. So Watson would have to create an opening where there wasn’t one.
It came at the 16th.
The par-3 over the pond is one of the most picturesque settings on a Masters Sunday. It’s where memories are made and green jackets are secured. It has belonged to Arnie and Jack and Tiger. And when he rolled the eight-foot putt for birdie in, it belonged to Bubba.
“I just get so amped up and I’m trying to calm down,” Watson said of the crowd support after he tied for the lead at 16. “So I’m trying to keep my head down in between holes, trying to keep my head down when everyone is screaming, ‘Go Dogs!’ and yelling, ‘Go Bubba!’ Just trying to calm down as much as I can instead of getting amped up.”
Both he and Oosthuizen would par the final two holes.
Sudden death for the green jacket awaited.
* * *
After they had signed their scorecards for the regulation round, both Watson and Oosthuizen tried to figure out if there was enough time to get a few practice swings in. Oosthuizen made his way through the clubhouse and stood out front, asking Augusta National member Tom Nelson, if he could get a few putts before they went to the 18th hole to tee off.
The answer was no.
Watson in the second seat of golf cart No. 287, pulled up in front of him. The two exchanged stares before Watson zipped off. Another golf cart then pulled up for Oosthuizen and his caddie. There would be no time for practice. The two golf carts maneuvered their way around the front and then side of the clubhouse. Past Butler Cabin and the Par-3 Course.
Minutes after they had breezed through the cool spring air, a man in a black suit and maroon tie came racing out of the clubhouse.
He carried four newly-minted green jackets.
Only one would be needed.
* * *
After the first playoff hole ended with both players making pars, it was on to No. 10.
The long 495-yard, par-4 is a downhill, twisting, turning nightmare for players with a near-blind approach to the elevated green if you’re not in the fairway. Oosthuizen was. Watson was not. His drive had found a patch of pine straw in amongst the trees on the right side of the fairway. He had an opening, but not much of one.
“I (had) no idea where he was,” Oosthuizen said. “Where I stood from when the ball came out, it looked like a curveball going to the right. So I knew he had to hit a big hook. But an unbelievable shot.”
Before Watson’s miraculous second shot nestled up to within 15 feet on the green, Oosthuizen’s approach had fallen short.
Back in the lounge room inside the grill room, Oosthuizen’s family was a range of emotions.
Nel-Mare stood in the corner in front of a fake eucalyptus plant, rocking Sophia. As her husband got ready to hit his third shot to the green, she picked up the pace as he settled in to hit. Mienie had her head down and eyes closed, clutching a crumpled tissue in her right hand. Piet, unflinchingly, stared directly at the screen watching it all unfold.
“You know, I left myself in a really awkward spot with that chip and just didn’t get the check on it that I thought I would,” Oosthuizen said. “And like I said, hit a good putt. But that shot he hit definitely won him the tournament.”
In the grille room behind them, the three televisions on the wall were three seconds ahead of the feed in their room. There was a loud chorus of groans as Oosthuizen’s putt for par slid by the hole. Seconds later when their feed caught up, they reacted like there might be a different outcome.
* * *
With Watson having two putts to seal the victory, the Oosthuizen clan relaxes being resigned to Louis’ fate. Some of those peeking in on their reactions have filtered out of the room. Mienie still can’t watch the final putts. After Watson rolled the winning putt into the cup and sobbed uncontrollably on his caddy’s shoulders, Oosthuizen’s mother looks up for a minute and then begins unpacking a bag.
Jana, the couple’s 2-year old, had fallen asleep on the white couch, despite all of the excitement and tension.
“She just died,” Nel-Mare tells her mother-in-law, looking down at the asleep child.
On the screen in front of them, Watson is being embraced by his friends on tour: Rickie Fowler is there, alongside Aaron Baddeley. Ben Crane comes out.
So does Hunter Mahan. The camera cuts to Oosthuizen, who is about to be interviewed by CBS’ Bill Macatee on the green. They all pause for a minute as the interview is conducted.
After it’s done, there is silence. A hesitated clap of support by a female security guard in the back of the room breaks it.
Oosthuizen’s manager began chatting briefly with Nel-Mare about travel plans back home on Sunday night. He tells her that the drive back to Atlanta is only about 2 1/2 hours. She nods her head approvingly, still cradling Sophia who was wearing a white shirt with a green shamrock on the front with the words: “LUCKY CHARM” in green. Now that The Masters has been lost, it’s time to move on.
She handed Sophia back to Mienie, before looking back at the rest of her family.
“It was a good week,” she said.
Contributor Brendan Prunty is the golf writer for the Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey. He can be reached at email@example.com and can be followed at Twitter.com/BrendanPrunty. This is his second Masters tournament.