Masters win puts Watson under a brighter spotlight

Posted: June 14, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — This week's U.S. Open will be the 17th major for Gerry Lester Watson Jr., otherwise known as Bubba. Yet it's the first time he's playing in one as the guy who just won the last one.

There must be a country song in there somewhere.

"It's been fun," said the man who won the Masters in April, not long after he and his wife adopted their first child, a son. "It's been life-changing. But golf has been like the last thing. Everybody starts asking questions, and my manager is, like, golf needs to be the first thing when I come back, and not about the media and doing all these fun things. It's been a tough road trying to get back to focusing on golf. Now after missing a cut a couple of weeks ago [including at the Memorial], I got mad enough and started practicing."

Putting family first can never be a bad thing. Still, he's played only once since the end of April. And Thursday morning he'll be teeing off in the marquee pairing with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Welcome to the heavyweight division. It's all a part of his new territory. And even if he is a fan fave, it's sort of like playing the role of Fredo in that Corleone threesome.

"It's going to be like Sunday at the Masters, huge galleries," Watson said. "We've played with each other before. They're not going to be focused on what I'm doing; hopefully, I'm not going to be focused on what they're doing. We're all going to try to be hitting these little fairways and these little greens and somehow two-putt?…?We need to be on top of our game for 18 holes. But it will be fun, though. It's two legends."

And perhaps, as some have dared to project, one of the next ones in the making.

His best finish in five previous Opens is a tie for fifth in 2007 at Oakmont. Last June, he tied for 63rd at Congressional. A lot of things are obviously way different since then.

"It's part of your dreams to be [in this position]," Watson said. "It's a difficult situation for me, having a son the same time I won the Masters. There's more important things in my life. I needed to be there for my son, who'd never had a man's voice, never had a man around. And hopefully later on he understands that I won the Masters, but I was there for him and I talked about him a lot.

“I missed [being around golf], for sure. I didn't even touch a club for a few weeks. Just trying to be a dad and a husband. It was something I needed, though. It got me away. It got me ready to play golf again. It got me missing it. You set your goal to play good in the majors. Now we're challenged. We're hopefully going to play good in the rest of the majors and hopefully make the [U.S.] Ryder Cup team.

“There's other goals that I want to do now. But after winning that first one, it's kind of like, whoa, we played good in the majors already, so we have to reset and pick other goals."

Starting with being the other one under the ultimate opening spotlight. Or maybe even, at least for the time being, the best part. n

Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.

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