Enter Bubba, tweeting about his Master (updated)

One of the defining rituals of my young life was watching the Masters with my father, who was almost as good a golfer as he was a Baptist pastor and hospital chaplain. I drove home from college several times to keep that ritual intact.

So, of course, I watched the Masters this weekend. It’s a tradition or even a Tradition.

Like many other viewers, I had no idea who to cheer for down the stretch — the man who made the double eagle (video) or the man who took that historic punch and kept fighting back to win the tournament (video).

The winner, of course, was Bubba Watson, a young man who is a sportswriter’s dream — if the sportswriter is open to writing about a free-swinging Southern family man who has his wife and Tim Tebow on speed-dial instead of super models and world-famous swing coaches.

In the wake of Bubba’s stunning win, oceans of ink have been spilled about his tendency to shed an ocean of tears when the spirit moves him, which is early and often. Nevertheless, some journalists have had trouble trying to describe what this man cries about, to describe the thread that connects the elements of his life that keep inspiring all of those tears.

One of the best attempts was over as ESPN, where Gene Wojciechowski came just this close to knocking his Bubba commentary into the hole — but lipped out.

How best to describe this unique athlete?

Watson refers to his playing style as “Bubba Golf.” Bubba Golf doesn’t have a conscience. It never plays it safe. It’s high risk, high reward, high drama.

That’s Bubba’s life too. He was a gifted slacker, a golf savant who didn’t work hard enough, didn’t care hard enough and nearly alienated those closest to him. His caddie and friend, Ted Scott, threatened to walk out on him if Watson didn’t clean up his golf act. Watson got the message.

He dedicated his first PGA Tour victory to his father Gerry, who died of throat cancer not long after the 2010 win at The Travelers. If you don’t get misty watching Bubba’s post-round speech that day, then your tear ducts were removed at birth.

He married the lovely Angie, who told him on their first date that she would never be able to conceive a child. They’ve spent the past four years working their way through the adoption process, suffering through red tape and heartache.

Of course the adoption came through, shortly before the Masters. Of course Bubba cries just thinking about it.

This leads us to the key passage in the ESPN feature.

He has a twang, a born-again story and the Dukes of Hazzard car, General Lee. He hits the ball farther in one shot than you and me hit it in two. He doesn’t know a thing about changing a diaper, which is why he was hoping the green jacket might buy him some time with Angie.

He is unlike anybody else.

“He’s just a big kid,” said buddy Rickie Fowler. “He’s a goofball who likes to have fun. … But he’s a big family man. If you needed something, he’d be there in a drop of a hat.”

You got it. That vague “born-again story” reference is as close as this ESPN story came to discussing the factor that Watson describes as the key to his life, his family and his career.

Perhaps the quickest, most concise way to describe this man is the ready-made soundbite he posted as his bio on his Twitter page. That would be this:

“@bubbawatson: Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer. Owner of General Lee 1.”

If you want to know more about Bubba’s brand of Twitter evangelism — which has been the subject of some controversy online — you’ll need to head over, logically enough, to Baptist Press, which filed its own news story on the Masters.

In April 2011, just before teeing off on the final round of the Masters, Watson took advantage of his social media platform to Tweet out two Bible verses on Sunday morning. He followed that up talking about his faith, his relationship with God, Tweeting out more verses and the impact of Christian artists on his iPod.

Some started complaining about his 140-character witnessing tactics, but Watson’s response was simple: Feel free to unfollow, but the talk about God wasn’t going away.

Some 100 people quit following him and in true Bubba style, he reached out and wished them well with goodbye notes. …

When someone tells him “Your God Tweets are lame,” Watson responds with, “I will pray for u and ur family.”

Once again we see a basic issue in mainstream news coverage of religious believers in public life: When describing what makes these people tick, isn’t a good thing for journalists to include their own voices as part of the coverage?

Now hear me say this: Their words are not the whole story, of course. However, it’s hard to make a case for ignoring their voices, the voices of the ultimate stakeholders in news stories about their lives.

UPDATE: The usually faith-sensitive Rick Reilly also manages to paint a vivid picture of Bubba — without any Godtalk. Amazing.

IMAGE: Bubba Watson/Twitter

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • ceemac

    OK this is not a journalism question.

    I read the link to your column. Very nice.

    But the question I have is how did your father manage to watch golf on Sunday?

    I am about your age grew up Baptist (Western NC not Texas and not FBC Asheville). We weren’t a “sweat the details” Baptist family. But I know that back then every Baptist church had Sunday night services. Plus Training Union.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    ceemac:

    Oh, we would have never missed Sunday night services. No way.

    It helped to be in Central Time there in Texas. Also, the Masters used to end a bit earlier. The CBS gods were not as powerful and worried about West Coast ratings. Things ran on Georgia time, period.

  • Jerry

    Watson refers to his playing style as “Bubba Golf.” Bubba Golf doesn’t have a conscience. It never plays it safe. It’s high risk, high reward, high drama.

    If the sentence with the world conscience in it is accurate, then Bubba Golf is utterly immoral and there is no thought given to right and wrong while playing gold including cheating to win. Or perhaps the writer and editor do not know what the word conscience means?

  • blestou

    I also thought ‘conscience’ was a strange word choice.

  • Maureen

    It sounds like Bubba Golf isn’t “self-conscious”.

    Sheesh, it’s one of those eggcorns taking over….

  • http://www.vivacristorey.blogspot.com Donna

    I rejoice in Bubba’s faith and his win. We need more brave Christians like him in the public spotlight. At the same time, I have a few misgivings. You see, while The Masters is the most anticipated tournament for my husband and I who are avid golfers, we flinch when we note it iplayed on Easter weekend. As much as we would have loved to watch Bubba win, we boycotted the TV coverage of the Masters, as we did the last time it occurred on Easter weekend. These players should be with their families, and Christian golfers should be able to attend Easter services with their families in their local churches. Remember athlete Eric Liddell whose story was the subject of the movie ” Chariots of Fire.”

  • http://Faith&Reason Cathy Grossman