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The No. 1 player at Milton High, Watson was a far better golfer than student. "School was very hard," he says. "I don't like to sit still for that long." (Although Watson has never been diagnosed, he and his wife, Angie, believe he has attention deficit disorder.) After two years at Faulkner State Community College in Alabama, Watson accepted a scholarship to Georgia.
Between games of pickup hoops at the university's Ramsey Center, he overheard a tall blonde talking about how much she enjoyed golf. Angie Ball stands 6'2" and played for the Lady Bulldogs as well as the WNBA's Charlotte Sting.
"Hey, if you want to play golf," he told her, "I'm a player here at Georgia. I can get us on the course."
Early in their courtship Watson suggested a game of Around the World, from beyond the three-point line. Angie made 10 consecutive shots, then asked her future husband, "Want to play again?"
After two seasons at Georgia, Watson left without graduating. (In 2008 he earned his degree in consumer economics.) He spent three seasons on the Nationwide tour before moving up to the Show in '06. In the third round of his first PGA Tour event, the Sony Open in Hawaii, he was paired with Mark Calcavecchia, another Ping player. That night Ping's director of tournament player relations, Chance Cozby, got a call from the older golfer.
"I played with Bubba Watson today," Cozby recalls Calcavecchia saying, "and I thought it was a joke." The rookie's profoundly unconventional game—his penchant for seeing, and executing, shots no one else could see—was distracting and unsettling to his elder, who at one point in the round pulled Watson aside and asked him, "What are you doing? Are you joking around?"
"Oh, no," replied Watson. "This is how I play golf."
Watson made more than $1 million as a rookie and led the Tour in driving distance in each of his first three seasons. From 2007 through '09 he earned another $4.6 million and a reputation as one of the game's most promising talents. He came close a handful of times, but never won. And there was this other, related problem. Bubba from Bagdad, the practical joker who delighted in posting trick shots on YouTube, had a dark side. Inside the ropes, he could be one of the most miserable SOBs on Tour.
Every mistake, every little miss, just ate at him," says Angie. "His peers knew how good he was, and he hadn't really lived up to his expectations, or anyone else's. He was really uptight and anxious."
Real life was intruding on his professional life. His father was dying. Diagnosed with throat cancer in the fall of 2009, Gerry died last October. After experiencing severe headaches, Angie was told by doctors that she might have a brain tumor. (It turned out she had a larger-than-average pituitary gland, not uncommon in tall women.) Those stresses turned the normally happy-go-lucky Watson into such a chronically cranky person that Scott came this close to firing him. After several tense weeks Scott gave his boss an ultimatum last June: Watson would change his attitude or find a new caddie.