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A bubba bonanza

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Say what you will, Gerry Lester Watson Jr. is not about to let a little fame go to his head.

After winning his second Masters tournament in three years -- a $1.62-million payday -- Gerry took his wife and closest friends out to celebrate.

They hit the Augusta Steak & Shake for shakes around midnight, then followed that up with a visit to the local Waffle House, where the Masters champ tucked into a double grilled-cheese and hash browns and posted a now legendary selfie of their low-budget bash.

It may seem like a downscale, high-carb celebration to some -- and it certainly upset self-righteous nutritionists -- but it was just what you'd expect from a down-to-earth guy known to golf fanatics around the world as Bubba Watson.

For non-golf fans, the big question is not: What makes a guy who has never taken a lesson in his life such a great golfer? For them, the question is this: Is Bubba his real name and, if so, how did he get saddled with such a cheesy moniker?

What you need to know is in the southern United States -- and the two-time Masters champ was born and raised in Bagdad, Florida -- Bubba is as common a nickname as you'll find, typically given to the eldest male sibling in a family. It's a term of endearment that can mean anything from "brother" to "good ol' boy."

There's even a national day set aside, June 2, to pay tribute to anyone lucky enough to go by the name Bubba.

How did Watson get his nickname? We'll get to that in a minute, but first let's get up close and personal with five of the most famous Bubbas of all time:

 

5) Bubba the Love Sponge -- Born Todd Alan Clem in April 1966, this is one bad Bubba. Which is not a surprise considering Florida-based Bubba the Love Sponge Clem is one of the most controversial shock jocks and radio personalities in the U.S. It seems he's been in trouble from the start of his career because of the graphic content of his show and his penchant for insulting crosstown rivals. There's literally too much to get into here, so we'll focus on two, um, issues. For starters, the Love Sponge alienated his pal, superstar wrestler Hulk Hogan, when he filmed -- and then leaked -- a tape of the Hulkster getting intimate with Bubba's wife. Then there was the 2001 on-air hog slaughtering incident wherein this barbaric Bubba slaughtered and barbecued a wild Florida boar that had been captured by a professional hunter. Sound effects of hogs feeding were reportedly broadcast to lead listeners to believe the hog was being harassed. The Federal Communications Commission was not amused by this Bubba brouhaha.

 

4) Richard "Bubba" Crosby -- If you've never heard of this Bubba, you can be forgiven. He's partly known for being a former Major League Baseball outfielder, who played mostly with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees from 1998 to 2006. In his very first at-bat for the Yankees, he smoked a home run against the Chicago White Sox. But his most infamous moment in pinstripes came in a playoff game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim when he collided with right-fielder Gary Sheffield while trying to catch the ball, allowing two runs to score and handing the game to the Angels. Truthfully, Richard is best known for being a "Bubba," a nickname handed to him when he was born and his 15-month-old sister, Charmin, could not pronounce "brother." Bubba famously told ESPN his efforts to shake the "Bubba" handle failed miserably when he was a lad in Texas. Explained Bubba: "Almost everyone in Texas is Bubba when you're growing up ... I tried to change it in school, call myself Richard, but kids would call for me and ask for Richard, and my parents would burst out laughing and say, 'You mean Bubba?' "

 

3) Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue -- Technically, this is not a real Bubba, but rather the most famous fictional Bubba of all time. Brought to life by American actor Michael T. "Mykelti" Williamson in the hit 1994 film Forrest Gump, Bubba Blue is the naive, slow-witted best friend of the even more naive and slow-witted Gump, portrayed famously by Tom Hanks. To achieve Bubba's famous protruding lip, Williamson had to wear a lip attachment throughout the movie. Comedian Dave Chappelle was offered the part but turned it down because he thought the film would be a flop. Bubba dies in the movie, but his most famous moment is the scene in which he and Forrest discuss the "shrimpin bizness" on an army bus. Here's a taste of Bubba's shrimp wisdom: "Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. Dey's, uh, shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan-fried, deep fried, stir fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That, that's about it." We get the idea, Bubba.

 

2) William Jefferson "Bubba" Clinton -- Clinton has been called a lot of things over the years, most notably 42nd president of the United States. Along with Mr. President, he has at various times been called "Slick Willie" (thanks to his sexual escapades and evasive manner); "The Comeback Kid" (thanks to his ability to rebound from adversity); "The First Black President" (kind of a tribute from famed African-American novelist Toni Morrison in a reference to his hard-scrabble upbringing); and "The Big Dog" (thanks either to his image as a lusty, drooling hound, or his post-presidential popularity). But his longest-standing nickname is "Bubba," hung on him back in his days growing up in Arkansas, where he eventually became governor. While Bubba is frequently used as a pejorative to insult someone of low economic status or limited education, this Bubba was the first president to be a Rhodes Scholar. So there's that to consider.

 

1) Charles "Bubba" Smith -- For most of us Baby Boomers, there is, and always will be, only one real Bubba, and that is Bubba Smith, a rampaging defensive end in the National Football League and an actor in awesome beer commercials and cheesy movies. Born in 1945 in Orange, Texas, the 6-foot-7, 280-pound football hero is likely best known for playing soft-spoken police officer Moses Hightower in six Police Academy movies. But to sports fans he is the fearsome lineman who spent nine years in the NFL and starred at Michigan State, where the stadium resounded with thundering chants of: "KILL, BUBBA, KILL!" He was a familiar face in TV ads for Miller Lite beer. "I also love the easy-opening cans," he chirped in one ad, ripping off the top of the can. He died in 2011 at age 66. R.I.P., Bubba.

 

Which brings us back to Bubba Watson, who has said of his nickname: "It was in 1978, Bubba Smith was playing football. So when I was born, I was real chubby in the face and my dad wanted a baseball player and I came out chubby in the face and looked like a big football player ... So 10 seconds after I was born, he just called me Bubba, and Bubba Smith was coming through. I know I missed Police Academy, but it's the same Bubba Smith, yeah."

It's the perfect name for a couple of really big hitters. Bubba, yeah!

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2014 D2

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