WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Greenbrier owner Jim Justice was glued to the television a week ago today, watching Bubba Watson try to chase down his second green jacket at Augusta National Golf Club.
Justice viewed the action on the front nine in awe as 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who had played in The Greenbrier Classic nine months earlier, put pressure on Watson, threatening to become the youngest golfer to ever win the Masters.
“I was a nervous wreck,” said Justice. “I was probably more nervous than (Bubba) was. He’s just such a great person. I’ve never heard him say a cuss word, he’s deeply religious and he’s committed to his family. He has a great son (2-year-old Caleb, whom he and wife Angie adopted shortly before Bubba won his first Masters title in 2012) and a beautiful wife that played in the WNBA. He has every shot in the world, as far as golf ability. He’s just the real deal.”
Justice was able to relax a little on the back nine as Watson took control. He let his emotions loose after Watson recorded par on the 18th to capture the tournament just as Caleb, with hands in pockets, waddled toward his sobbing father.
Justice had a personal connection to Watson, whom he had met last June when Watson visited The Greenbrier prior to The Greenbrier Classic, but West Virginians across the state, many of whom have never put eyes on the 35-year-old Watson, were also in his corner.
That’s the loyalty of folks in the Mountain State. Watson may have grown up in Bagdad, Fla., went to school at The University of Georgia and purchased a mansion in Windermere, Fla. But the second he began building a getaway at The Greenbrier, he immediately became an honorary West Virginian.
“I was looking for a mountain home, kind of a cottage getaway,” said Watson when asked why he chose to build a home on the property of the historic resort. “I met Jim (Justice) before the tournament and talked to him and some of the players. We came a week early and fell in love with it.
“It has a great family feel, but it also has four golf courses. For me, it’s the perfect place. So it was a no-brainer. By the end of the week, I already had a lot.”
Watson returned in August for a press conference, during which he was announced as a new ambassador for The Greenbrier, and he’s displayed the resort’s logo on his golf bag during every tournament since. But he’d had this week circled on his calendar for months as a chance to take a vacation and get a first-hand look at his home, which he said is about six weeks from completion.
“I had to come see my house,” he said Saturday while on hand to celebrate The Old White TPC’s 100th anniversary. “We planned this a month ago. You don’t expect to win the Masters or play great rounds, so to actually win it at the same time I was planning this vacation worked out great.
“We’ve been here since Tuesday hanging low and taking it all in. I wanted to get some rest, so I could go out and play some good golf.”
Watson said he’ll be in the field The Players Championship May 8-11 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and he’ll definitely return to West Virginia for The Greenbrier Classic July 3-6, hoping to finish a little closer to the top. He completed the four rounds 5-under-par last year, tying for 30th, eight shots behind champion Jonas Blixt.
“When you’ve never seen a place, you have to learn details,” said Watson. “It’s always a learning process. Just like any golf course, it takes a couple years to learn it.”
The galleries following him, large last year, could be even bigger this summer, as West Virginians show support for their newest neighbor.
“Obviously, I feel great about anybody that supports me,” said Watson, who admitted he’s also thrilled that the New Orleans Saints, his favorite NFL team, will be spending part of their training camp at The Greenbrier this summer. “Hopefully the people from West Virginia love me, and hopefully I treat them well. Hopefully they respect my golf, win or lose.”
— E-mail: chuffman