Bubba style just fine by me

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Years ago, Charles Barkley, he of the irrepressible humor and irritable sound-bite, said "Athletes are not role models."

His comments drew a firestorm but, in essence he was telling parents it was their job to mold their children, in their image, rather than in that of a man or woman paid to be good at a sport.

It's a lesson we sometimes forget, in our enthusiasm for the next great sports star. It's a place that, for many years, Tiger Woods held for golf fans.

We all know how that turned out.

We saw his fall from grace, walk through the valley, and struggle toward redemption. We've seen flashes of brilliance and reminders of the flawed man behind the brand.

Two weeks ago, at Bay Hill, we saw the brilliance, as Woods got his first official PGA win since that fateful Thanksgiving weekend. The whispers turned into a roar "Tiger's back."

On Friday at the Masters, we saw that wasn't the case. He looked more like a petulant child and less like a grown man, a top-flight athlete, as he swore, kicked his clubs and behaved like a brat.

Will he return to his former brilliance? Who knows. Will this golf fan look to him for anything more than flashes of technical prowess? No.

The days of Robogolfer as a role model have passed for me.

Sometimes, we want to see our professional athletes look less professional and more human.

Sometimes, what we need is a man who admits to his flaws, is unabashedly normal, loves his family, loves the game, and can overwhelm us with shot-making virtuosity - someone like Bubba Watson.

If your eyes didn't well up watching Watson sobbing on his mother's shoulder following his thrilling win, you need a tear duct transplant.

If you weren't touched to hear him describe his win in the context of the day - Easter - then you missed a man's testament to his faith in the face of the most important professional event of his life.

His big plans for the evening of his win? A flight back to Florida, as quickly as possible, to spend time with his wife and the newborn son they had just adopted.

And, if you didn't gasp watching that unbelievable hook out of the trees on the second playoff hole, then you just don't know that none of us could ever recreate the shot - at least not on purpose. Bubba, as he told the press after the win, had it pictured in his mind before he took the shot.

What he didn't picture was the green jacket.

When asked if he ever imagined sitting where he was, a Masters champion, Watson answered "No. I imagined playing here. In my dreams I never made that putt."

Watson struggled through the years to reach the success he had on Sunday. Many had given up on him and his devil-may-care attitude. While no one could deny the gift he had with a club, they wondered if he had the head for success, and the willingness to work hard to make it happen.

I think he proved the nay-sayers wrong with his win. And, I think the golf world is ready for a pink driver-wielding, shaggy-haired, General Lee-driving champion.

He's not your typical golfing "role model."

And that's a good thing.

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