“Life changing,” they say in virtual harmony.
“More media attention. More sponsors wanting more of your time. More fans,” said reigning Masters Tournament champion Bubba Watson of the obligations that come with a signature major victory. “Everything’s just more, I guess you would say. You have to learn to deal with that and deal with the stresses.”
Winning a Masters not only changes your schedule every April for the rest of your life, it alters your legacy. For some certifiable legends, it merely solidifies their established place in golf’s hierarchy. But for others, a promising first draft to history doesn’t always translate into a fulfilling manuscript.
Living up to the label of Masters champion can be tougher than getting through Augusta National’s back nine on Sunday. Check out the recent rash of lingering Masters hangovers.
Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 winner, needed 47 starts over 20 months before finally winning again in back-to-back events in Asia and South Africa last month.
Angel Cabrera, the 2009 champion, went nearly four years without winning anywhere in the world until December’s Argentine Open.
Trevor Immelman is still seeking his first victory in the injury-infused void since his breakthrough 2008 win at Augusta.
Among the previous five winners, only Phil Mickelson – a Hall of Famer who collected his third green jacket in 2010 – managed to notch a single victory in the immediate year after his Augusta win. Yet even Mickelson – dogged by an arthritis outbreak – waited until the eve of his Masters defense to win again in Houston and remains the only winner since Zach Johnson in 2007 to have won a tournament on U.S. soil.
Now comes Watson, who seems primed to end the trend of post-green jacket stress disorder if he can ever get himself up to full strength. Already with a fourth-place finish to start the season in wind-torn Kapalua despite dealing with strep throat, Watson was a late withdrawal on Thursday morning at Torrey Pines where he won in 2011.
“Don’t have energy for golf,” Watson tweeted, saying both he and his wife, Angie, are dealing with sickness relapses they first suffered in Hawaii.
Watson hopes to resume playing next week in Phoenix with one simple goal that has eluded most of his recent predecessors.
“For me it’s about winning a golf tournament,” Watson said.
Perhaps no Masters champion in history underwent more of an abrupt “life change” than Watson. It was a transformation that started 13 days before his defining hook from the trees in the playoff. It started when he and Angie picked up their new baby boy, Caleb, after a whirlwind conclusion to their adoption quest.
Bubba’s world would never be the same.
“My situation in having adopted a child the week before the Masters, when you look at it from that point of view it’s made it tougher,” he said of the transition into his post-Masters lifestyle. “Because now you have to learn how to schedule practice and golf around your child and being a dad, being a husband. Being a Masters champion plus a new dad, you’re learning that same schedule but at a different magnitude, I’d say.”
The magnitude was a little overwhelming at first. Watson did the expected media blitz and even followed up with a title defense in New Orleans before realizing he needed to shut things down for six weeks and establish a new baseline as a father and a player.
“Winning a major, winning the Masters – the biggest tournament in golf – is life changing,” he said. “Then throwing a new child that you couldn’t prepare for ... he was already a month old and doing different things in his routine and we needed to make the routine fit us. Throw the Masters on right after that, it overwhelms you. Your popularity, your focus grows to more people around you. You’ve got things going on that comes with it. All great things, but you’ve got to learn to deal with it.”
After his initial reboot followed immediately by consecutive missed cuts at the Memorial and U.S. Open, Watson acquitted himself in the manner befitting a Masters champion for the rest of 2012. Other than one additional missed cut in Boston, Watson’s worst finish the rest of the PGA Tour season was tied for 23rd in the British Open. He had six top-20 finishes, including runner-up in Hartford and a tie for fifth in the Tour Championship at East Lake.
“Somehow golf has to get back in the picture,” Watson said of his escalating workload. “Doing that in a short period of time is hard. I missed the first two cuts. I wasn’t sure how to practice or my time schedule at tournaments. I finished second my third tournament out. So I was getting a little better and think I’m getting a little better now.”
Perhaps Watson and his fellow green-cloaked brethren are emerging from the doldrums. Tiger Woods started winning again in 2012. Mickelson is still Mickelson. Schwartzel is back on track. Cabrera found a spark in his homeland.
Once Watson’s family can shake the flu and start pointing toward a return to Augusta, maybe he can build on the foundation of his life-changing two weeks last spring.
“I’m finally in a routine and we have it situated the right way,” he said. “If I won the Masters again, it would probably mess the whole routine up. But it would be a good thing to have to always deal with that every year.”