An oral history of Bubba Watson's incredible hook shot that set up his Masters triumph
At 2:30 on a lovely April afternoon, Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen set off in the final round of the 2012 Masters. They are in the second-to-last pairing. Oosty, an easygoing South African, is two strokes behind Peter Hanson; the high-strung Bubba, by way of the Florida Panhandle, is three back. They have no way of knowing the drama that awaits them: jaw-dropping shots, wild momentum swings, agonizing misses and, ultimately, one of the most memorable finishes in Masters history.
Oosthuizen needs only a hole and a half to turn this Masters on its ear, as he jars a 253-yard four-iron on the par-5 2nd hole for the most celebrated albatross around Augusta since Gene Sarazen's deuce at the 15th hole in 1935.
Oosthuizen: I played the shot exactly like I wanted, but obviously there's some luck involved. What I remember most is how long it took the ball to roll across the green toward the hole. The noise was building and building.
Watson: When it went in, I forgot for a minute I was playing in the Masters -- I turned into a fan. That was an awesome shot, man. I was happy I got to see it. I wanted to run over and give him a high five.
Jim Nantz, CBS announcer: From that moment on, I think we all had a feeling it would be Oosthuizen's day. He's got to win the Masters so that shot can find its place in history. It's too big, too rare. He can't make that double eagle and not win the tournament. Right?
Oosthuizen's albatross propels him two strokes clear of the field. Watson birdies the 2nd, leaving him four behind his playing partner. On a firm, fast setup, none of the contenders are going low. Oosty plays the next 10 holes in two over par but remains atop the leaderboard. When Bubba three-putts from the fringe on 12, he falls two off the lead and into a funk.
Watson: After that bogey, I'm thinking I probably can't win. I'm thinking, Well, finish strong and maybe get a top five. Then all the craziness began.
Watson regroups on the par-5 13th hole, reaching the green with a nine-iron (!) and two-putting for his first birdie since the 5th. But Oosthuizen makes his first birdie of the day to remain two ahead of his playing partner.
Angie Watson, Bubba's wife: Thirteen was when I started to get nervous. He played that hole so confidently I felt like he was going to keep making birdies.
Angie is watching the telecast at a rented home in Orlando with their only child, six-week-old Caleb.
Angie: We were still finalizing the adoption, and because of Florida law Caleb wasn't allowed to leave the state. Bubba had only spent two days with him before it was time for him to go to Augusta. It was hard for him to leave. He talked a few times about withdrawing, but I wouldn't let him. I said, "It's your favorite tournament, you love being there, just go play your best for your son." It was the hardest goodbye we've ever had.
Watson, who led Georgia to the SEC championship in 2000, birdies 14, 15 and 16 to tie Oosthuizen for the lead.
Oosthuizen: The atmosphere was tremendous. Bubba is going to be popular wherever he plays, but especially around there. The noise was so great, there were times I could feel it in my chest. You always dream of what it would feel like to come down the closing holes at Augusta with a chance to win. It was even more exciting than you can imagine.
Still tied on the 72nd hole, Oosthuizen flies his adrenaline-fueled approach shot to the upper tier of the green, and his long, downhill birdie putt trickles six feet past the hole. Watson now has a 20-footer to win the Masters.
Nantz: I set the stage for that ball to go in the hole. I was feeling it! We have seen so many dramatic putts made on that green. When Bubba missed, it was impossible not to feel a little sense of letdown.
Watson: It was pretty much the same putt Mark O'Meara had [in 1998]. I thought I knew the break, but it stayed a little high. But [Oosthuizen] still had a tough putt for par, so the last thing I want to do is run my putt too far past. I was trying to make it, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking, Just leave a tap-in.
With the Masters hanging in the balance, Oosthuizen holes his par putt, setting up sudden death. Watson's closest friends on Tour -- Aaron Baddeley, Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler -- decide to watch the playoff in person.
Crane: I know when I've won and had friends out there with me, it means the world. It's so cool to have your friends share it with you. Rickie and I were in the caddie room watching TV with our caddies. He was in street clothes and I was still in my golf clothes, and I say, "Hey, Rick, if this happens, you might want to go and change real quick." All of a sudden he came back and he's in golf clothes.
Watson and Oosthuizen return to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole. Bubba draws the honor. Both players find the fairway and then the green in regulation. Oosthuizen has an 18-foot birdie putt, while Watson is left with a 10-footer.
Oosthuizen: I had the putt Mickelson [in 2004] and O'Meara made to get their victories. I felt it was a putt a lot of people over the years had made, so I felt I knew the line, just a ball outside on the right. It should turn the whole way. I hit a great putt -- good speed, perfect line. It turned all the way and then two feet in front of the hole it decided to stop turning. I still thought it might catch the right side and lip in, but it just stayed straight and went over the right side of the cup. At that stage I thought, That's it. It's over. I had my shot at it.
Watson: I don't know how he missed. He put it on the edge of the cup, and it never moved. So now I have another putt to win the Masters. It's human nature to think about what might happen: putting on the green jacket, lifting the trophy, kissing your mom, doing this, doing that.
Angie: The only other person with me was my sister, Amy. We wanted to get the perfect picture of Bubba winning, with me facing the TV and Caleb on my shoulder looking at the camera. We must've taken 20 pictures when Bubba was putting on the 72nd hole. We did it again on the first playoff hole. It kind of took my nerves away -- I was less worried about him making the putt than getting the photo right!
Watson: I felt pretty composed when I was over the ball. I was on pretty much the same line as Louis. Because of how his reacted, I aimed dead center. It can't break. But it did.
Ted Scott, Watson's caddie: There's a mystery to golf, because you can hit the same putt twice from the same spot and sometimes it will break and sometimes it won't. Even at Augusta.
Oosthuizen: You think if a playoff goes more than one hole, you had a shot somewhere for the title. After he missed that putt, I thought it was mine to win.
The playoff moves to number 10, the sweeping 495-yard downhill dogleg left that over the years has played to a stroke average of 4.32, making it Augusta National's toughest hole.
Gary Player, three-time Masters champion and patriarch of South African golf: I firmly believe in a playoff you must be aggressive. You can think only of making birdies. But number 10 is a very difficult hole. Par there is usually a good score. So when a playoff goes to number 10, the psychology is interesting. Do you attack, or play conservatively?
Oosthuizen: The guy who goes first can put the pressure on, or he can take it off, so it wasn't a big thing to me that he went first.
Scott: That hole sets up perfectly for Bubba. He loves to hit that big cut around the corner. There was never any question he'd hit driver. He always does. He hits that fairway pretty much every time. I was shocked to see his ball headed for the trees.
Watson: It was a cut that didn't cut. Must've been the nerves. If you watch the replay, my head drops, my shoulders go down. I'm in trouble. I know it, [Louis] knows it. But now there's a lot riding on his tee shot.
Oosthuizen: It's never a driver for me. I can't turn driver over that much. I hit a nice draw with my three-wood, and it usually pitches onto the middle half of the slope and runs down the hill, leaving about a seven-iron. I had three-wood in my head even before he hit his shot. Unfortunately, I heeled it. It didn't turn at all, so I lost a lot of distance.
Oosthuizen's drive comes to rest in the right rough, 228 yards from a treacherous back-hole location. Watson disappears into the forest in search of his ball, but his playing partner does not follow to inspect what kind of shot Bubba faces.
Oosthuizen: Even if he was in the middle of a bush I would have done the same thing. I wanted to hit it into the middle of the green and give myself an uphill putt. To make a par there is always good, especially where he was. I was thinking a par could definitely win that hole.
Player: Nine times out of 10, when a guy is in the trees on 10 he's going to make bogey. But this is a match-play scenario. Louis had to assume Bubba was going to do something miraculous, so he needed to think birdie.
Oosthuizen: The lie was fine, just a little downhill. It was between five-iron and four-iron. I felt the four would pitch too far and be in danger of going over the back [of the green]. I was thinking of the adrenaline, thinking I might carry the irons a little farther than usual. I hit a great five-iron, but by then it was a little cold, so the ball didn't travel that far. It landed just short of the green and stopped dead, and it left me with a really tough chip. I should have hit the four.
Watson's errant tee shot is sitting on pine needles, and the dense forest precludes a shot directly at the green; he will have to play out almost sideways and try to draw his ball sharply toward the green.
Watson: I have issues, you know? I'm really conscious of my surroundings. I don't like enclosed spaces. I don't like fans on top of me, and when I get off the fairway I move them around a lot. But when I get down there, I don't want anyone to move an inch. The way the fans are fanned out -- that tunnel they made through the trees -- is a perfect visual for how I want to play the shot. As soon as I get to my ball I'm pumped up, because I can see the shot. I know immediately I can pull it off. Of course, by pull the shot off, I mean hit the green. I'm not thinking about hitting it next to the hole. That's once in a lifetime.
Scott: This is going to sound crazy, but it wasn't that hard a shot for Bubba. What made it hard was the moment. In our seven years, I've seen him hit shots like that hundreds of time.
Jens Beck, Watson's manager: It's become a bit of a cliché, but Bubba always says, "If I've got a swing, I've got a shot." Just a month before, on the final hole at Doral, he pulled off what I believe was a more difficult shot. He was one back of Justin Rose and needed a birdie. Bubba drove it way right. It was 190 yards to the flag, into the wind, water all down the left, and he had to thread the needle with a long-iron between two palm trees and all these low-hanging leaves. The gap was barely big enough to squeeze a ball through. He hit it inside of 10 feet. That was a classic example of Bubba Golf.
Angie: The coolest shot I've even seen Bubba hit was years ago when we were playing with friends at the Country Club of Brewton in Alabama. He drove into the trees on a long par-5. He had at least 250 yards to the green. There was the tiniest gap for him to hit through, and the trees were right in front of him. This shot had at least 50 yards of fade. He hit it to six feet.
Fowler: I'm trying to remember where it was when we both missed the cut and went to play with some buddies. Anyway, there was a telephone pole to the right of the tee, and Bubba said, "All right, I'm going to cut the ball around it," so he hit a big cut that started right of the telephone pole and then went around it and came back in. That's what we do in practice rounds -- we try to have fun and mess around and invent shots.
Watson: The greatest shot I hit all week wasn't in the playoff, it was on number 11 [during the first round]. My ball was in the pine straw down the right side, but it wasn't a clean lie. It was almost like in a bird's nest, with straw all around it. There's the pond left of the green. I had to aim it at the pond and hook it back to the green. But I was under a tree so I could only hit it about head-high. I had 180-something to the hole. I told Teddy I was gonna hit nine-iron. He said, "Nine iron?! You have to hit it low!" I said, "I'm gonna hit nine-iron, keep it low, rope-hook it over the pond and stop it on the green." He said, "I don't think we should do it." I said, "No, no, I got this." He took a really deep breath and was like, Uh, O.K.
Scott: That was one where, taking the club back, I'm thinking, What the heck are we doing? This isn't even possible.
Watson: I hit this low screaming hook, 40 feet from hole. That shot had more hook than what I faced on 10. Sometimes I have a tough time focusing. But that's never the case when I'm facing a really tough shot. That's when I focus the best.
Before playing off the pine needles in the playoff, Watson carefully examines his lie, 164 yards from the hole.
Watson: Couldn't ask for a better lie. The ball was a little above my feet, so that made it easier to hook it. It was just enough uphill to get me excited. I moved a few twigs and leaves, but I was just trying to slow myself down. The whole time I'm saying to myself, This is perfect.
In 2010, after Mickelson hit his memorable shot out of the trees on the 13th hole during the final round, he said his biggest concern was that his feet would slip on the pine straw during the downswing.
Watson: I wasn't worried about my footing. The ground was pretty firm. The longer the club, the faster the swing, so with a six-iron like Phil had, it's more of a fear.
Watson opts for his gap wedge.
Watson: Off pine straw I always think the ball [a 2011 version of the Titleist Pro V1x] is going to go farther because the lie is cushiony. It's like hitting off a mat at the range -- the club bounces into the ball. I normally hit my gap wedge 135, maybe 140. The extra 25 yards was adrenaline and the hook spin.
Matt Rollins, Ping Golf's senior PGA Tour rep: He used a Tour-S 52° gap wedge, True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shaft, D5 swing weight. The unique thing about the clubhead is that it's made of 8620 steel, which is softer than the 1704 we typically put in. Bubba likes the increased feel.
Watson: It wasn't the club, it wasn't the ball. It all comes down to technique and belief.
Sam Snead, another feel player extraordinaire, was once asked how he hits a draw. "I think draw," Snead said.
Watson: I'm like Sam Snead -- I think about the shot I want to hit, and my body and my mind create it. But with a hook, it's all about the hands. All I thought about was rolling over my wrists. But belief is more important than technique. One thing about Augusta -- we've seen shot after shot out of the trees. We've seen Phil on 13, Tiger's hit a couple amazing ones at 11, and I remember Ernie [Els] had a great one there too. That was a big thing for me, knowing it's been done. When I stand over that ball, I'm not thinking about the crowd, I'm not thinking winning. All I'm thinking is, I gotta hook this ball. A lot. I got into that zone where everything went blank.
Oosthuizen: I was walking down the fairway, probably just level with him when he hit it. When it came out, it looked 30 yards left of the green, but I could see it had a big hook on it. I didn't know if it was going to turn enough.
Crane: I was standing to the left of the green. I was like, Oh, no, that's coming right at me! So my instinct was to duck.
Watson: As soon as I hit it, the crowd swarms around me. That takes my feel away because I can't see the ball. I'm saying, "Where is it?" I start thinking I didn't turn it enough, it's in the trees, I'm in trouble. I'm a wreck. We get out to the fairway, and I ask Teddy, "Where is it?" He says it's on the green. I'm looking front of the green, looking left side. I never looked near the pin, because why would you do that? He says, "Look 15 feet below the hole." I was like, No way! Then I see it, and I go, "Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh!"
Angie: I'm usually pretty calm anyway, but especially then because Caleb was falling asleep on my shoulder. When they showed the ball land on the green and spin toward the pin, I couldn't help it. I let out a yelp and jumped a little bit. Caleb lifted his head and kinda looked around like, What just happened? But he just kept snoozing.
Player: That will go down as one of the greatest shots in the history of golf. Period.
Oosthuizen: He hit a great shot, but the playoff wasn't over. He still he had a tough sidehill putt for birdie. It's a very fast green, and he couldn't really chase the birdie because it's easily a putt he could run six feet past. I felt I had a chip and a putt to take it to the next hole.
Watson: As we're walking to the green, I'm already getting too excited, but here goes Teddy again in my ear: He's going to get up-and-down a hundred times out of a hundred. He might even chip it in. You have to make the putt. You have to make it. He was unbelievable about keeping me focused on what I had to do.
Scott: I was thinking about what Larry Mize did to Greg Norman [in 1987].
LOUIS'S LAST GASP
The conservatism that left Oosthuizen short of the green affects his club selection for his third shot.
Oosthuizen: On a shot of that distance, I normally would take a sand wedge. But it's such a big hill to climb, I took a pitching wedge, so I knew it would release and roll up. A sand wedge, I had to pitch it perfect. To throw it farther up the hill with a little check, it has to be perfect. [Pitching wedge] was the low-risk shot. The last thing I wanted to do was have it check too much and leave myself below the bank, 40 feet for a par.
As Oosthuizen sizes up his pitch, Beck arrives behind the green with Watson's mother, Molly. Bubba's father, Gerry, a Green Beret, died in 2010 after a long battle with throat cancer.
Beck: In 15 years of doing this I've never pushed my way through a crowd. But we had to get Molly to the edge of the green, so she could see the finish and be there for Bubba. I very politely tapped people on the shoulder and explained this was Bubba's mom. The crowd just parted for us.
Oosthuizen's chip races 18 feet by. He hasn't lost his turn.
Oosthuizen: I just overcooked it a little. It was probably a yard too far. Past that hole it's very, very fast and the ball just kept rolling.
Oosthuizen's attempt to save par looks good the whole way, but at the last instant it dives on the low side. Bubba now has two putts for the green jacket.
Watson: When you have to make it, it frees your mind. But having to two-putt from 15 feet is the hardest thing in the world. And I notice everything, unfortunately. Before he missed his putt, I saw my mom behind the green, I saw Rickie and Aaron and Ben, I saw my manager and my trainer [Andrew Fischer], I saw a bunch of friends. I saw everything.
The delicate lag putt leaves Watson only a foot for victory. But he pauses to take a few deep breaths, then motions for the boisterous crowd to settle down.
Watson: The reason why I took so long on the short putt was I was keeping my emotions in check. I didn't want to start crying yet. Because of my dad passing away, my mom being there by herself, the struggles they went through to get me where I am, the struggles she's gone through without my dad, all the people who encouraged me throughout my life, my friends at the golf course growing up, all the people who were there for me behind the green, all the support I've had through the years, all the heartache I've had doing it my way, thinking about my wife back home watching on TV with our baby boy, thinking about how he's changed my life, how much I love him already -- when you add all that up, the emotion overwhelms you.
Watson knocks in the putt to win the 76th Masters. He dissolves, sobbing, into the arms of his caddie and then his mother.
Angie: Oh, yeah, we shed a few tears too. But Amy still got that picture I wanted of Caleb and me with Bubba on the TV! I love that picture.
Oosthuizen: It's horrible, losing at Augusta like that. I felt sick for a few days. My caddie and I couldn't speak to each other; we felt we could burst out in tears at any moment. There's no comfort in losing to a shot like that. The hurt is the same. It's just the way it goes -- if I won it, I'd probably have the best shot in Masters history, with my four-iron on 2. But he won it, so now he has the best shot in Masters history.
Watson: So many things had to happen exactly right for me to be able to play that shot. What if my ball rolls another five feet down the hill? What if there was a big ol' branch hanging down in front of me? You could say it was luck, you could say it was fate, call it whatever you want. But that's the mystique of the Masters.