Bubba Watson has already had a memorable December. Our golfer of the month opened it by winning the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, followed it up by hitting his first competitive hole-in-one of the season in the Thailand, and plans to close it out by playing “Bubba Claus” with his family, friends and fans for the holidays back home in his native Florida.
The whirlwind tour was a great way to cap a successful 2015 season, but the only things you might have heard about him in the press are a couple of out-of-context comments he made to the media. Watson announced he was selling the Isleworth mansion he bought from Tiger Woods a few years ago, and that he would retire from golf if he ever reached the No. 1 rank.
What they should have been talking about is how he has moved out of Woods' shadow since winning the 2012 Masters, turning him into an apparent overnight success, but Watson's story is 37 years in the making. From humble beginnings, he could be moving out of Tiger's house and into his former spot atop the World Golf Rankings if he continues his ascending play in 2016.
For years Watson was one of those many struggling golfers playing second fiddle (and for second place) to Woods. A flood of young talent has arrived on the scene as golf makes the transition to the post-Tiger era, but Watson isn't part of the Brat Pack invasion. Unlike the influx of country club kids who have emerged recently, Watson grew up middle class in Bagdad, FL.
Although he began playing golf at the age of 6, when he was given a cut down 9-iron and a quick lesson from his father, it was the only semi-formal training Watson ever received. He taught himself to play by hitting Wiffleballs around the house and got good enough to earn a golf scholarship at the University of Georgia but rarely played before turning pro in 2001.
Watson struggled to make the PGA Tour and was little more than a journeyman until he finally won his first tournament in 2010. He backed it up with a breakthrough year and three victories in 2011, but it wasn't until he won his first Masters that he was considered a serious contender. Four wins later, including another Masters in 2014, and Watson is ranked No. 4.
That win total doesn't include the Hero World Challenge, where Watson was masterful in posting a 25-under total to win Tiger's own tournament. Social media fans may remember Watson screaming “Mudball!” after a shot, but it was quickly forgotten when he dropped the bomb about selling Tiger's old house, jokingly offering to sell it back to Woods during a press conference.
The house may hold bad memories for Woods, but it is where Watson has enjoyed the happiest years of his career. It's where he plans to rest and recover from his hectic season and celebrate the holidays with his wife, kids, kinfolk and friends. Watson even gets in the Christmas spirit by becoming “Bubba Claus” and giving gifts to the less fortunate.
But Watson says he has reached a point in his career where the material wealth of his success allow him to go back to his roots and give back to his community. He is selling his Isleworth estate to move back to Bagdad to raise his family and help the people of his hometown with his foundation and pet charities, like Drive A Million and Birdies for the Brave.
“Truthfully, my goals have changed over the years,” the down-to-earth Watson said during the press conference. “… I think I can do more off the golf course. Golf has given me so much, why not give back? At the end of the day, when I'm passing away, nobody's going to think about, Man, you only won nine times. They're going to think about all the other stuff I did.”
If good things happen to good people, Watson should have a shot to take over the top spot in the rankings in 2016. His threat to retire if he ever reached the lofty goal was followed by a clarification that it would be the final goal left on his bucket list, and he would be happy to ride off in the sunset and call it a career if he completes his climb to the top.