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Smashed veg and Santa Claus: Bubba Watson appeals to YouTube gen

By Sheena McKenzie, for CNN
April 10, 2012 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Masters champ Bubba Watson's wacky YouTube videos are internet sensation
  • Social media expert says Bubba's online antics will open golf to young generation
  • Watson attracts more than 480,000 Twitter followers, replying to every single post

(CNN) -- If you thought golf was the stuffy reserve of mild-mannered gentlemen in polo shirts, think again. From Santa Claus outfits to leaping into jacuzzis and even smashing lettuce heads to smithereens, there's no antic too crazy for new Masters champion Bubba Watson.

The 33-year-old born-again Christian's bizarre internet home videos have attracted a cult following that could change the face of golf forever.

"Wacky Watson," as he's come to be known, has harnessed social media in a way no golf pro has done before. The American's slapstick-style YouTube clips see him using wooden clubs to pound pumpkins and eggplants, drawing more than a million hits as of Tuesday.

Similarly, Bubba's Facebook page has more than 65,000 likes, while his Twitter followers number almost half a million -- ballooning by more than 150,000 since Sunday's miraculous win at Augusta.

He still has some way to go to catch Tiger Woods, who has more than two million followers on both networking websites, but it could herald a brave new social media era for golf stars -- one which experts say may open the sport's doors to a previously ignored younger generation.

"Golf has always been seen as a safe game. It's not overly flamboyant and I think it's still largely viewed as an elitist sport," Christian d'Ippolito, group head of international sales at UK-based social video advertising company Unruly Media, told CNN.

"The fact that there is this guy who is quite an eccentric individual -- everything from his name, his dress sense, his pink driver -- certainly sets him apart from the crowd.

"It's great because much like snooker, golf desperately needs that attention from a younger audience. And social media is an effective way of getting it. Every sport should have its personality, and football has been very good at that. I think Bubba is golf's answer to that personality."

There's no denying Bubba's intriguing character. The devout Christian tweeted "To God be the Glory!" in response to his Masters win and bawled on his mother's shoulder after hitting an astonishing shot from the woods onto the green to take the title. Watson, who with wife Angie adopted a son, Caleb, two weeks ago, also boasts of never having a golf lesson.

Last year he left more people scratching their heads when he and fellow PGA Tour players Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan launched boy band Golf Boys. Kitted out in nothing but a pair of overalls, Watson recorded the song "Oh Oh Oh" to help raise money for charity.

But it's Bubba's dedication to social media which has given fans a special insight into his unconventional life.

Incredibly, he replies to every single tweet, which no doubt helped to swell his legion of followers from 306,000 after his win on Sunday to more than 460,000 less than a day later.

His Facebook page features albums of family vacations and home videos from fans' children practicing their best Bubba-style shots. Watson is quick to comment on every post from the public.

"He's very engaged with social media. His music video had four million views and all these things help make Bubba a likeable character," d'Ippolito said.

"They give him mass appeal, not like the seriousness you have with a traditional golfer."

It also helps raise his profile among sponsors. Though as d'Ippolito admitted: "On the flipside, it does potentially make things difficult if things go wrong, as we saw with Tiger's romantic profile recently. Five years ago it was inconceivable that a sporting personality would have an entire global audience at his fingertips. It opens up a whole new debate on how much sponsors can control their stars.

"It could work both ways -- some sponsors might be put off by his level of eccentricity."

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