Editor’s note: The Press Gazette is counting down the top sports stories of 2012. Here is No. 9, Bubba Watson’s win at the 2012 Master’s.
“I had no doubt he could hit that shot. I’ve seen him hit it a hundred times at Tanglewood and the hardpan pine needles didn’t affect him one bit.” said Murray Rutledge, Bubba Watson’s Milton High golf coach.
Rutledge’s words came after watching Watson’s second shot at Augusta National.
“I thought it was going to be really bad. I sat there shielding my eyes, hooping that (Louis) Oosthuizen did not do so good,” said Milton resident Becky Paul after she and her daughter Leacy stopped to get a picture by the Bubba Watson sign in Bagdad.
People who were in Bagdad were stopping at one of the signs erected outside of the community announcing the town as the home of Watson.
Now following Sunday’s win Bagdad could be looking to erect yet another sign.
“This is the best news I’ve heard,” said David Bailly. Bailly says he was one of many who worked with Watson’s father, Gerry, to get the existing signs erected. “I think we should get to work on (another) sign.
“This is a good thing and he is a good guy. I am so happy for him.”
Bailly, who lives across the street from where Watson grew up, remembers when they first bought the home in 1987. “There were golf balls in all over the front yard,” Bailly recalls. “I am sure he is the one who hit them there.
“I think (if I were to start digging) I might find that there are still some buried there.”
Legend has it that Watson, a University of Georgia graduate, has never had a swing coach or watched video of his swing.
“When I was Bubba’s head coach his senior year, my job was to, basically, get him to the match on time. He took care of the rest,” said Rutledge. “He knew golf and I tried to talk to him more about how to treat people and how to be humble.
“Golf swing wise, I didn’t give him any advice. He was hitting it pretty far even back then.”
Even coaches who were preparing teams to face Watson saw the talent evident in the Bagdad native’s game.
“I remember when I was coaching golf at Gulf Breeze, it was already apparent he had the ability to work the ball,” said Bill Emerson, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in Santa Rosa County. “He basically plays golf like the high school kids do today.
“They see it and try to do it, but Bubba is pretty good at making the shot he sees in his mind.”
Santa Rosa County is abuzz with excitement since the final putt on Sunday night that earned Watson the Master’s trademark Green Jacket.
“As soon as I saw it, I had to call my son (Trent Stewart), “ said Vicki Wolfe. “(My son said ) he couldn’t believe it. I feel just like Bubba when he said ‘it’s beyond what I allowed myself to dream.’”
While Milton is happy, Watson isn’t the only famous person to walk the hallways of Milton High.
“This is totally amazing. Little old Milton High School has produced so many pro athletes,” said Milton Mayor Guy Thompson. “For a small community to have the number of champions we have had is amazing.
In addition to Watson, fellow PGA golfers Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum come from Milton. The small municipality also has three former football players in the National Football League including kicker Lawrence Tynes, who won his second Super Bowl Ring when the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
Another Milton standout was former Olympian Mark Everett. He appeared in three Olympics – Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta – while winning 13 track titles in SEC champions from 1986 to 1990.
Milton is searching for a way to honor Watson.
“Right now, it’s just so new,” Thompson said. “I am sure we will do something to recognize this accomplishment.”