AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tears flow at the Masters like cheap wine at an Olive Garden. That's what this place, this tournament, does to people. After Tiger Woods ran away with the 1997 Masters, he wept in his father Earl's arms. When Phil Mickelson won in 2010, soon after his wife Amy had been diagnosed with breast cancer, misty-eyed patrons looked on as the couple embraced behind the 18th green. A despondent Brandt Snedeker sobbed after he let the 2008 Masters slip away.
What's not so common at Augusta is tears at a pre-tournament press conference. And yet there was defending champion Bubba Watson welling up and rubbing his eyes Tuesday morning, searching for words as he described wrapping his infant son Caleb in the green jacket days after the 2012 Masters.
"That's the only thing I did with it. Out of respect, out of honor…"
Here Watson paused for a beat … two beats … three … must have been 10 beats in all before the green-jacketed Q&A moderator, Claude Nielsen, finally, mercifully, intervened.
"Let's go to the next question."
When you see Bubba Watson prancing around in denim overalls or splattering cakes on The Tonight Show, it's easy to forget that the man has great reverence for the game and his unique place in it. And of particular importance to him is the site of his first major win.
"You know, this is the mecca," Watson said Tuesday. "This is the ultimate as a golfer, the Masters. We see the beauty every year. We see heroic shots every year, because it's the same venue every year, so it's easy to compare and see other things that happen throughout the history of the game."
Few of those moments match Watson's mind-bending recovery shot from the trees that carried him to a playoff win over Louis Oosthuizen a year ago. A plaque has not yet been installed on the spot of Watson's heroics (and there's no sign of a Bubba Bridge either), but during this week's practice rounds, it has proven to be a popular destination for camera-toting patrons. At least one three-time major champion has also paid a visit.
"Sunday when me and my wife [Angie] were playing, we were coming down off of 18 tee, there was a group of guys over there, three guys over there," Watson said. "Couldn't see who it was, and I yelled at them and I said, 'No, that's not the spot, it's a little over.'
Moments later Watson identified one of the gawkers: 1970 Masters champion Billy Casper.
Watson himself revisited the spot two weeks ago when he played the course with his manager, Jens Beck, and a childhood friend. They reminisced about the shot and snapped a few pictures but didn't loiter for long — and, no, Watson didn't try to recreate the shot, either. On Sunday, Watson took his wife Angie to the spot, but they decided against a photo-op.
In the year since Watson's surprise win, his life has sometimes seemed like one big photo-op. He bought the original General Lee, the Dodge Charger from the Dukes of Hazzard; taped his second Golf Boys video; signed a splashy endorsement deal with Oakley; and made two whirlwind media tours of New York City, the last coming just last week. Watson says his newfound fame and the attention that comes with it haven't affected his on-course performance, but the numbers suggest otherwise. In 18 starts since the 2013 Masters, Watson is winless. He has four top 10s, but also four missed-cuts. Still, in his typical Bubba way, he sounds unconcerned.
"I think it's just golf," Watson said. "It goes a few years this way, a few years that way."
Watson's caddie, Ted Scott, is less dismissive.
"I think when he won the Masters, it became overwhelming," Scott says. "It's a real adjustment for a guy like Bubba. Bubba plays golf because he loves the game and it's fun. He's not saying, 'Hey, I can't wait to sign autographs and do all that other stuff.' He does it out of the kindness of his heart, but it's not something he looks forward to. I think some guys are better prepared to deal with the extra stuff that comes with success, but maybe the game of golf is harder for them."
Bubba's not alone, of course. Plenty of guys have struggled in the wake of winning a major. (When's the last time you heard from Trevor Immelman?) But the idea that fun-loving, hovercraft-riding Bubba Watson might be struggling with the spotlight is at odds with his public persona.
"Before he was a winner," Scott continues, "Bubba had a fan base because of his pink-shaftin', curvin', left-handed, kind-of-a-wild-type play. Make him a Masters champ and there was kind of a frenzy. And then he goes and does goofy videos — a lot of things he does attracts people. It just added to the pressure, and made it a lot more to deal with. So it really didn't surprise me that he wasn't out there competing to win every week. In the back of his mind, even though he's very tough mentally now, I think he was thinking, 'Gosh, how am I going to deal with this?' "
So far this week Watson appears to be dealing with the attention just fine. He'll host the Champions Dinner Tuesday evening (he still hasn't released his menu), and on Wednesday he'll play in the Par 3 Contest, with Angie and Caleb on his bag. On Monday, he had lunch with another famous Watson: eight-time major winner Tom Watson. With any other player Tom Watson may have rapped about the weather or course strategy or Masters glories past. But with Bubba, perhaps not surprisingly, the conversation revolved around a more exotic topic.
"He wanted to talk about the hovercraft," Bubba said.