Monday, April 16, 2012

The Bubba-ization of America in Full Swing

(Reprinted from Sunday's Times and News-Star)

It's a trend we can no longer ignore.

In a world where redneck reality shows are as popular as the drive-thru lane, it's only fitting that a guy named Bubba would win The Masters in Augusta last Sunday.
We're taking over! The stars have lined up just right or something. Soon kudzu will eat Idaho.

Bubba's don't win golf tournaments at Augusta, as former University of Georgia golfer Bubba Watson did on Easter. Bubba's win the city am in Laurel, Miss., or Smackover, Ark., but not at Augusta National, which is just another golf course like Chicago's just another town.

''Bubba Wins In Georgia'' is the next-day headline after they run the Atlanta Firecracker 500, not after they play The Masters. But, it's been that kind of year in America, and it was a Bubba kind of Easter afternoon that had everything Augusta advertises. He even beat a Bubba sort of South African, the likeable Louis Oosthuizen, who is as nice as his name is hard to spell.

Bubba Watson reminds us that it's OK for Bubbas to cry, which he did with no reservation after winning last week on the second hole of a playoff. He hugged his mom, his friends, his caddie, and would have hugged you if you'd been standing there. I mean he cried and then re-cried. Usually you don't see a Bubba cry in Georgia unless his momma passed, somebody stole his boat, or the Bulldogs lost to Georgia Tech.

I decided at that moment that he is now my second favorite Bubba, right behind Bubba Smith, the late NFL-player-turned-actor, and Pvt. Benjamin Bubba Blue of Forrest Gump fame. (''Shrimp's the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, bake it, sauté it...)

This week's tour stop is the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head Island, which is no slouchy joint, let me tell you. Still, how do you follow this act from Easter Sunday? How would YOU like to be the tournament that comes the weekend right after The Masters, a tradition like no other and all that?

''Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you enjoyed Elvis Presley. Now make welcome Herman's Hermits!''

Incidentally, The Masters has always had a genuine politeness about it, something I hadn't experienced firsthand until this year's tournament. My phone was accidentally picked up with some trash early Sunday morning in Augusta National's press room. (It's not a very good phone, so I guess that's appropriate. Cost ten bucks. I'm a holdout.) Anyway, Monday a friend called me and a lady answered. It was the cleaning lady who found my phone, which was on its way back to me in the mail. That's a sure 'nuff Bubba trait right there, like giving back the lost wallet while it's still got the money in it.

But that’s one of the things about Augusta. Even though its exclusive membership has more money than it can count, that doesn’t count during Masters week. During the year, those grandstands and scoreboards aren’t up; they’re stored in a warehouse.

All this is staged for golf and its fans, and the members say, “Come right on it.” The only thing that matters during tournament week is whether or not you have a badge or ticket to get in with. It’s all level ground for princes and paupers during Masters Week. Nobody cares if you’re worth $6 thousand or $6 million.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Anyway, if even the golf world is getting more Bubba-fied, then we've conquered one of the last genre holdouts. I don't think you'll see a lot of Tour players firing at pins while wearing tank tops with beer and power tool advertisements embroidered on them, but Bubba's victory is a step in the direction of making golf OK for the average good ol' boy. Tiger's popularity boosted the appeal of the sport for young people everywhere, kids of all races and nationalities. Bubba Watson's dramatic coming-out party might get the more rural contingent fully involved in swinging the sticks.

And from there, we have only one world left to conquer: a Bubba for president. Think it'll ever happen? Hide and watch.