Bubba Watson is an emotional guy, but he's not the first to weep on the revered grounds of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the annual Masters Tournament. Since 1934, the greatest names in the sport have stepped onto Augusta's flowering landscape to compete for the green jacket awarded to the winner of, arguably, golf's most prestigious tournament.
When Bubba Watson sank his victorious short putt on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff in the 2012 Masters, the tears that instantly flowed weren't only a result of the biggest moment of his career to that point. Bubba embraced his caddie and then his mother, but his tears flowed for his wife, Angie, and his newly adopted son, Caleb, back home in Florida. The adoption process was so fresh that Caleb wasn't yet allowed to leave his home state.
Fast forward to 2014. After Bubba's final putt secured his second Masters victory, tears flowed once again as he embraced his wife and son. Then he carried Caleb on a victory lap around the green, high-fiving fans. "All my interviews after the first [Masters victory] were talking about him," Bubba says. "To win the second with him there and him able to walk on the green, it was very special for our family. Around the same time, we started the process to adopt our second child, so it was big for our family."
While Bubba is passionate about golf, family is the legacy he cares about most. And adoption has made that family possible. That's why Bubba and Angie serve as spokespeople for the National Council for Adoption and use their platform to encourage others to consider adoption.
"Adoption is the best part of my career," Bubba says. "I've always said my trophies will rot away. God gave me golf so we could try to change two beautiful kids' lives."
Adoption from the start
Bubba and Angie talked about adoption on their first dinner date at the University of Georgia. He was a senior on the golf team. She had just graduated after playing basketball for the Lady Bulldogs and was preparing to head overseas to play professionally. If they were going to date, it wouldn't be casually. So as they talked about goals and dreams for the future, Angie told him she was unable to have children naturally. "Fine, there are other ways to have kids," Bubba said.
The couple married in 2004 and waited several years before beginning the adoption process. From the start, it was important to Bubba to adopt domestically. His inspiration came from playing in the Wendy's 3Tour Challenge, a tournament benefit for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. "Six or seven years ago, they said there were about 150,000 kids in the U.S. looking for homes," Bubba says. "We felt like we should adopt an American child because there are so many kids looking in our own country."
The process of becoming parents was long and difficult; it took four years and included three near misses when biological mothers chose other couples instead of the Watsons. "It was heartbreaking," Bubba says.
The couple kept praying and trusting God for the right timing. That timing arrived in a whirlwind that took the couple from one of their lowest points to their highest. The Watsons had been turned down for a child on a Monday. On Tuesday night they received a call about a 1-month-old baby boy who needed a home: Caleb. And on Wednesday, they were accepted. They picked him up the following Monday after quickly renting a home so they had a place to live in Florida until the legal proceedings would allow Caleb to leave the state. It all took place in the two weeks leading up to that first Masters win.
In 2014, Bubba and Angie added a daughter, Dakota, to the family by adoption.
Gerry Lester Watson Jr. got the nickname Bubba from his father, who thought his chubby baby resembled Bubba Smith, the former NFL player and actor best known for his role in the 1980s Police Academy movies. Bubba and his father were close, and the son now uses a hot pink driver as a tribute to his father, who died of cancer in 2010.
The colorful driver also matches Bubba's electric personality. On the course, his fun, fearless style is known as "Bubba Golf." There's seemingly no shot he won't try or can't pull off. Forget the safe lines; Bubba feels his way through a course with monster drives. After all, he is the Masters champion who has never taken a single golf lesson.
Bubba also wears his heart on his sleeve, and his often-lighthearted Twitter feed and frequently goofy YouTube videos have endeared fans to him. Fun loving is just his way; and now he gets to share the fun with his kids. He loves to golf and fish with Caleb, and the boy has become a regular co-star in his dad's comedic videos. Caleb's sister gets her share of appearances, as well.
"Our family life is about having fun and letting [the kids] experience life," Bubba says. Some days that includes playing Buzz Lightyear, Batman or hours of Hungry Hungry Hippos.
"I get to be a kid again, so it's really fun for me," Bubba says.
But becoming a father has naturally brought deeper lessons, too. It has reminded Bubba what truly matters in life. "You realize faith should be first, then family, and your job should be way down the list," Bubba says. He has also learned the importance of a father's example. "My little boy is always watching — Dakota's not old enough yet — but I need to be mindful that I want him to learn from me. I need to be a better person, a better husband, a better dad, because he's watching all the time."
To those who may be considering adoption, Bubba says, "Adoption is a beautiful thing, especially for [those of] us who couldn't have kids. These kids want to be loved; they want to be helped. They did not ask to be put in their situations; they were born into them. So why not help and watch a kid blossom and develop into a great person?"Jeremy V. Jones is a freelance writer. His books include Toward the Goal: The Kaká story and Triple Dog Dare.