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Barber, Jacobson wowed by 'Bubba Golf' in early years

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The nation's hottest and freshest sports property this spring is a young man called Bubba. His father, a Green Beret during Vietnam, nicknamed his little boy after Bubba Smith, the All-America end at Michigan State University in the mid-1960s. The boy's given name is Gerry Lester.

Bubba Watson pasted his name into our collective scrapbook with a mind-bending golf shot on the second playoff hole of the Masters Tournament. What the left-hander did with a gap wedge from a piney woods was execute a virtual right-angle shot with such uncanny precision from 164 yards it seemed the work of a contortionist.

The run-up put him 40 feet from the No. 10 pin. He two-putted for his first major championship and became an instant Augusta legend.

Both Andy Jacobson, an insurance man and reigning Eagle Creek champion, and Aaron Barber, the New London native and former PGA pro, knew Bubba before he was somebody. Even then, if anyone in the world could pull off that shot, it would have been the 6-foot-3 Florida native.

Jacobson played against Watson in junior college. Watson was at Faulkner State CC in Alabama; Jacobson, whose father Joel was a golf pro in Mississippi, was at Wallace JC in Dothan, Ala. It was the 1997 or 1998 season, Jacobson recalled this week.

"You knew who he was; I'd heard about him in junior PGA though I never played him at that level," said Andy. "He had a reputation for hitting the ball so far. I never beat him, I know." Jacobson described Bubba as "unique and entertaining." He glued sparkles on his putter shaft and improvised shots whether needed or not.

"He seemed to figure out the game on his own without lessons," said Andy. "Even then, he could work the ball like no one else out there with hooks and cuts."

Both men are fathers now; Watson and his wife, Angie, a former basketball player at the University of Georgia where Bubba enrolled after junior college, adopted a son last month. Andy has his son, age 4, ball striking.

Barber and his wife, the former Leah Hjelle of New London, have three boys. The oldest two are in youth hockey in Maple Grove. Aaron is spending more time in ice arenas than on the fairways these days (with no regrets, he emphasizes).

Aaron and Andy, the past two Lakeland champs, were partners in a best-ball at Monticello on Saturday, Aaron's first round of the season.

Aaron competed head-to-head with Watson on the Nationwide Tour in '04 and 05.

"There was never anything like him," said the former PGA Touring pro who is now a financial advisor with Wells Fargo. "He made golf fun out there. He'd use a driver everywhere; he'd drive 350 yards or use it to "chip" from 250 yards." Watson was a refreshing personality on the minor-league tour but Barber doubted his unconventional style would lead to lasting success.

"He had more raw talent than anyone I'd ever played with, but I didn't figure it would lead to much. Now he's the Master's champion and the leader in Ryder Cup points. Shows what I know."

Watson is no overnight sensation on the big Tour. He now has four Tour wins, a second-place in the PGA Tournament and a tie for fifth at the U.S. Open.

Whatever, Bubba is just what golf needed in the greasy wake of Tiger Golf. Sadly Bubba's father wasn't around to see his latest feat. Gerry Lester, Sr., died in October, 2010, from throat cancer.

Kath leaves tennis post

Erika Kath, girls tennis coach at Willmar since 2004, has resigned. She said with her sons ages 5 and 3 she feels she no longer has the time in fall to comfortably coach the varsity team. The middle-school special education teacher was state tournament entrant multiple times at New London-Spicer High School. Her 2004 team finished 9-2, second to St. Cloud Tech.

Activities director Jamie Thompson must also fill head-coach openings in volleyball and girls basketball.

Krause leads South

Ridgewater College sophomore pitcher Andrea Krause leads the MCAC Southern Division in ERA (1.60). The Bloomington Kennedy graduate has a 10-3 record and has fanned 59 and walked 19 in 77.1 innings. The Lady Warriors are 11-3 in the South and 18-9 overall.

Ibrahim Mohamud to state speech

Willmar has one qualifier for the Class AA state speech tournament on Saturday at Chanhassen High School. Senior Ibrahim Mohamud placed third at the 2AA meet in the Oratory category. His piece is titled "Take a Leap."

Ibrahim has been a member of the Cardinals cross-country team since he was a freshman.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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