When he won the Masters for the first time in 2012, he went to New York the next day for a media tour. He wore his green jacket walking the streets of Manhattan while going from one interview to the next one, and he was amazed by the attention it brought. No other piece of clothing in golf gets that kind of reaction.
But that was the extent of it.
Watson spoke about his year with the green jacket a week before returning to Augusta National to claim another one.
“I left it in the closet,” he said. “Right or wrong, out of respect for the tournament and what it means, I didn’t take it out too much. Didn’t let my friends see it. Didn’t let them touch it. It’s a coveted trophy. It’s a big deal. And I know what kind of hard work it takes to get it.”
Watson was reminded of that hard work when he won the Masters on Sunday by three shots over 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt of Sweden.
Even in perfect weather — four days of sunshine, wind no more vexing than usual — only seven players broke par. And while Watson didn’t have to go extra holes and hit a wild hook out of the trees that “made me famous” as it did in 2012, just walking up the 18th fairway with a three-shot lead was no less exhausting.
“The first one for me, it’s almost like I lucked into it,” he said. “This one was a lot of hard work, dedication, and I got back here.”
He understands now that the hard work is just starting.
For a guy who says he has never been drunk, Watson knows all about hangovers. Majors can be a life-changing moment, and it was more than he could handle two years ago when he first won the Masters. He signed more yellow pin flags than he cares to remember. There were obligations to his sponsors.
And there was a new son at home.
Along with the typical distractions of celebrity, Watson and his wife, Angie, adopted a boy just weeks before the 2012 Masters.
“We got him a month old,” he said of his son, Caleb. “So getting used to smell, touch, feel, sound, everything ... I had to be there for my son. Golf was the farthest thing from my mind. I took off some tournaments. Trying to be a good husband, a good dad, at that moment was the most important thing.”
“This one,” he added, “is a little different.”
Much is expected of major champions. Win two of them and the expectations get even higher. The question is whether Watson can develop some staying power.
His ability to make the golf ball do things few others can — like travel extraordinary distances — makes him one of the most exciting players in golf. The Masters was his sixth career win and took him to No. 4 in the world for the second time in his career.
How much higher can he go? How much better can he get?
If three rounds in the 60s at Augusta National — no one else broke 70 more than once all week — were not enough evidence of his skill set, consider a couple of shots on the back nine. One was a driver with a big fade around the corner on the 13th hole that clipped a tree and still went 366 yards, leaving him a sand wedge into a par 5.
“His drive on 13, I’ll never forget,” Spieth said. “I thought it was out of bounds, 70 yards left. And it’s perfect.”
The other was a 6-iron through the pines and over the water for his second shot on the par-5 15th, which led to par but eliminated bogey. Watson and caddie Ted Scott said it wasn’t as hard as it looked. Watson can make it look that way.
“He can pull those shots off,” Scott. “I was personally not even worried about it.”
So what’s next for Bubba?
The road should now look more like a wide-open interstate than a winding country lane.
Watson joined an exclusive list with his second Masters titles, one of only 17 players to win a green jacket more than once. Fifteen of the other multiple Masters champions are in the Hall of Fame. The other is Tiger Woods.
The next measure is to win multiple majors. Watson lost the PGA Championship in a playoff on the last hole in 2010 at Whistling Straits. He started the final round of the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont three shots off the lead.
Augusta National suits him perfectly, better than any course except the one he grew up playing in the Florida Panhandle.
That doesn’t mean his game is limited only to the Masters. And that’s the next step for Watson.