PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The Bubba Watson Show came to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on Saturday, for the Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic. Bub got to the 17th tee and grabbed a microphone. Tim “Two Gloves” Tebow, native son of Jacksonville, headed to the Jets, was doing some gardening on the 16th green.
“Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow!” the host of the next Champions Dinner at Augusta National barked out. Behind him, TV towers were going up for next month’s Players Championship. “You’re the ugliest guy out here!”
The new back-up quarterback for the Jets would not engage in such a childish competition, although the brown-and-tan plaid shirt Bubba proudly wore to the Friday night suit-and-tie tournament gala could surely do well in one of those Ugly Plaid Shirt competitions. Let it be noted Bubba pulled it off.
What you could say about Tebow is that no golfer looks more athletic wearing two gloves. He’s a lefty, so he wears one on the right hand just like Mike Weir and Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson do, to name the three southpaw Masters winners. He wears the golf glove on his left hand “so I don’t get blisters” on his throwing hand, he said Saturday.
The rounds took more than six hours. Each group had one celeb and four ams playing a best-shot better ball all the way to the hole. Through the day, only one person gave Tebow, a beloved Gator and a Sunshine State resident, a hard time for failing to sign with a team that desperately wanted him, the Jacksonville Jaguars: Bubba Watson his own self.
Of course, Bubba grew up in Florida, too, on the Panhandle, although he left Florida to play golf at the University of Georgia. There’s a big ole G right on the ball pocket of his Ping bag.
The skier Lindsey Vonn was in the field, as was Artis Gilmore. His ABA 'Fro was long-gone, but the man is still loaded with grace. Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts and Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit did not break into song, and they did not go super-low, either. Really, with Watson and no other Tour players in the field, none of the other 17 teams had a chance. But that didn’t stop Tebow from trying.
Late in his round, upon learning that his team trailed Watson’s by two, he said, “Now we start the fourth-quarter charge.” It seems to work well in his day job, but not on Watson’s playing field. Team Tebow finished three back of Watson’s team, which finished 15 under par.
Even in this friendly little charity event, the intense competitiveness of the two headliners was on full display. When one of the amateurs in Bubba’s group holed out a bunker shot, Watson, playing in shorts and in a cart, raised both his hands in celebration. On the 10th tee, there was a free-throw competition. The first guy in Watson’s group tossed up an airball. The next guy clanked. Watson said, “Least ya hit something.” Then came Watson, all net. He’s got a flying right elbow on his left-handed shot. Not a shocker.
Tebow arrived on the 10th tee some minutes later. He learned that Bubba had holed his, and when the quarterback missed he grabbed his own rebound and slapped the ball. He was truly annoyed. When Tebow’s brother, Robby, ripped a drive, Tebow said, “That’s what I’m talking about.” He only plays for keeps.
Both Watson and Tebow are talkers. When Watson and his four ams posed for a group shot. Watson said, “Suck it in, boys.” He’s got a lot of showman in him, he’s loaded with zingers and he’s always taking things in. When long-drive champ Gerry James uncorked a 380-yard downwind drive on 18, Watson watched in awe. He’s the longest hitter on Tour, and his drive was at about 45 yards shorter.
But the most moving part of the day came when Watson arrived on the secluded, roped-off fifth tee. There were no spectators around. Waiting on the tee was a retired Army staff sergeant, Dan Nevins, who works now for a veterans group called the Wounded Warrior Project. Nevins was hitting a tee shot with each group that came through.
As they stood on the tee, Watson asked, “Do you mind if we ask you your story?” He could not have worded his question with more graciousness. Nevins was wearing shorts and he wore golf shoes on prosthetic feet that were attached to his thighs by, essentially, two rods. In other words, he’s a double amputee from the knees down. Nevins, who was awarded a Purple Heart, was injured in Iraq in 2004. Since then, he’s had more than 30 surgeries.
Watson listened to Nevins’ story with abiding interest. When he was done, Watson told Nevins about his late father, a Green Beret in Vietnam who lived his post-war life with shrapnel in his body. The golfer watched the wounded warrior make a powerful swing.
“I’m playing Augusta next week,” Nevins told Watson. He’ll be walking the hilly course. It won’t be a problem for him. He’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
Watson said, “Are you really?”
Nevins could hear Watson’s real message: I’m happy for you, man, and good luck.
Nevins then watched Watson smash a drive into the wind, with his pink-shafted club, his feet dancing all over the place, his 43L green jacket safe-and-sound in the truck. It was all good.