Bubba’s big win lights up switchboard for Carmel event

Last week, Tiger Woods’ victory was creating the buzz in the golf world and driving ticket sales for the BMW Championship to be held at Crooked Stick this September.

This week, it’s a relative unknown, Bubba Watson. Of course players on the PGA Tour and avid golf fans knew Watson before he won The Masters last weekend, but most U.S. sports fans couldn’t have picked the shaggy-haired golfer out of a three-person line-up before his triumph at Augusta.

It’s just like the granddaddy of all golf tournaments to deliver a surprise.

“The Masters never disappoints,” said Vince Pellegrino, vice president of tournaments for the Western Golf Association, which operates the BMW Championship.

Even before The Masters tickets and hospitality inventory for the BMW Championship was selling fast. Pellegrino said it kicked into overdrive Monday after Watson’s dramatic playoff victory at The Masters.

“The phones have definitely been lighting up this week,” Pellegrino said. “The mix of players that have surfaced to the top of the leader board has been good for the sport and our tournament.”

Already, organizers for the BMW Championship have sold more tickets for the 2012 event than they did for the 2011 event held in Chicago. Pellegrino expects at least 150,000 spectators to descend on Crooked Stick for this year’s BMW Championship.

In addition, there will be about 400 media members at Crooked Stick to cover the event, with about 20 percent of those coming from overseas. The international media contingent could grow significantly if golfers like South African Louis Oosthuizen, who was second at The Masters, have strong seasons.

“There’s no doubt, Crooked Stick will be on a world stage,” Pellegrino said. “The international players really drive global interest in these events, especially those from Europe and Asia.”

The BMW Championship is a part of a four-tournament season ending FedEx Cup championship. Crooked Stick is the third leg and the top 70 in the FedEx standings will qualify to play here.

After his Masters triumph, Watson has catapulted to second in the FedEx Cup standings. The four majors are weighted so winners of one of those events get more points toward the championship than for other tournaments. Despite his poor showing at Augusta, Woods only dropped from No. 8 to No. 9 in the FedEx Cup standings. Woods earned some headlines for a couple tirades he had during The Masters, including kicking one of his clubs about 10 yards.

Even in defeat, the sport’s biggest names are still a major draw to the event at Crooked Stick, Pellegrino said.

“People are seeing these big names and seeing the drama of big-time golf and are starting to realize you can see that right here at Crooked Stick in a few months,” Pellegrino said.

Watson, at least for a week, has stolen the spotlight from the bigger stars.

“Bubba is an up-and-coming player and very well respected on the tour,” Pellegrino said. “The outpouring from PGA players after Bubba’s victory was pretty telling. You don’t see that every week, and that’s a testament to the type of guy Bubba is.”

So what should golf fans know about Watson? For one, he's never had a single golf lesson. But there's more to this story.

“He’s known for being very down-to-earth and for having a very genuine nature,” Pellegrino said. “That came out in how emotional he was afterward.”

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