The “Bubba Show” rolled into the TPC at River Highlands this week as Bubba Watson charmed the press at Media Day for The Travelers Championship (June 20-26), for which he is defending champion.
The big-swinging lefty’s first win came at the Cromwell, Ct. course last summer and it apparently inspired him to play some of the best golf anyone has played on the PGA Tour since. After winning The Travelers, Bubba won two other tournaments, lost in a playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship, gotten to the semifinals of the Accenture Match Play, and is currently atop the Fed Ex Cup point standings, which, if he holds on, will earn him a cool $10 million at season’s end.
Asked what he would do if he indeed did win the 10 million, Watson said in his shoot-from-the-hip, good ol’ boy style, “Probably retire.” He added, as we all laughed, “When the money ran out I would come back and play the Tour again.
While it was funny line I’m not going to dismiss totally Bubba’s promise. That’s the kind of guy he is. He self-taught and as a youngster hit whiffle balls around his parents’ home and chipped real golf balls inside the house (“Never once broke a window”). He has no swing coach or mental guru at his side on Tour. No, Bubba Watson does things his way. Hair long and somewhat unkempt, he walked into the media tent wearing a pair of blue jeans and a sweater, looking like he was ready to kick back at a football game or spend the day fishing with some of his buddies on Tour.
Bubba also said that if won $10 million that he would help a friend who wants to build a church in his home state of North Carolina. That’s also the kind of guy Bubba is; deeply religious and family-oriented despite his aw shucks attitude and boyish good looks that could turn many a young woman’s head in bars from Connecticut to California. Actually, he looks like he would make a great surfer dude.
But his laid back style belies the talent that the 32-year-old possesses. He made the Ryder Cup last year and is ranked 11th in the world in addition to being the leader in the FedEx Cup points.
Asked about winning at The Travelers, one of the oldest stops on the PGA Tour, Watson said, “You know, it’s amazing for a young kid to dream about making putts to win a golf tournament. So for me to make it to the PGA Tour and then come to play in great tournaments like the Travelers Championship and have a putt to win, it’s amazing. When you start looking at all of these great champions that are in the Hall of Fame and all of the tournaments they have won, to know that my name is going to be etched on the trophy here is great.”
Watson said winning is first Tour event was a major breakthrough, more because of mental reasons than anything else.
“It was my mind. My mind got where I needed to be. My dad’s situation has passed now (his father, Gerry, died last October after a bout with cancer), but this tournament, him battling cancer, inside the ropes was my point of peace. My mind got where it needed to be. I was still focused on golf once I was in the ropes and I got to block all the bad stuff or the tough situations out. I’ve learned how to focus a little bit more on the golf course. It’s helped out right now and everything just seems like it’s steamrolling in the right direction.”
He talked about his father.
“It is God’s way of helping me get to this point. We don’t want it, we don’t pray for that, we pray for help but he’s not suffering anymore. He suffered for a year, he suffered for 20 years with rheumatoid arthritis, and he’s not suffering anymore. He’s up in heaven watching his son play golf and I know he’s enjoying it.”
Watson also talked about his Ryder Cup experience.
“It was not that good because we lost but it was a fun time. Major Dan Rooney came in and gave us bomber jackets with logos and our names on them just like a pilot would have. I’m not smart enough to be a pilot, so I play golf. My dad was drafted into the military. I will hopefully never be in the military. Hopefully I won’t get drafted. Hopefully I can keep playing golf for a living. So for us to have the United States flag on our shoulders, on our back, proudly representing the U.S. the best way we know how was an honor. It was the closest thing I’ll get to being a military guy, having that flag, representing that flag, and the country behind us all the way.”
On his solo approach to the game, Watson explained, “It’s just the way I go about it, the way I approach it. I let the game just happen. It’s all feel for me. I learned around my house. I don’t like taking instruction from anybody. I want to be the boss. My dad always taught me that there are two options; you can either be a follower or a leader, and he said you don’t want to be a follower you want to be a leader. For some reason it just stuck with me and I’ve always wanted to do it my way. That’s where I sort of coined the phrase ‘Bubba Golf,’ doing it my way and making it more fun.”
Nope, no great swing thoughts for Bubba.
“If my mind is going right, if I’m in the right spot, I’m thinking about my target and that’s it. I think target and it means I’m going to move it one way or the other. The first tee here, there’s that cart path, and whatever, a board there, I take it right at that. So that’s all I’m thinking about, aiming it over there and then cutting it, real simple. I’m not thinking about how my swing is going to look. I’m thinking about the target and I know I want the ball to cut or fade or slice sometimes.”
Watson said one player he looked up to was the late Payne Stewart, not so much for his golf but the way he carried himself later in his career.
“A few years ago, inside the ropes, I was very angry, immature, just inside the ropes, though. Outside the ropes I was the fun-loving Bubba that my wife (Angie, a former collegiate and WNBA basketball player) married. But inside the ropes I was just really immature, thinking that golf owed me something. I thought I was better than I was, thought I should be winning. My dad’s situation really helped me, showed me that golf means nothing. I never got to meet Payne, I just watched him on TV. I heard stories that in the 1980’s he was angry, not as friendly. But he changed his life around, became a man of faith, a Christian man. He changed his life around and I got to see that. That’s who I looked up to, and I like that he stood out because of his clothes. My dad always said if you’re not going to be the best in the world you have to stand out somehow, so we decided to do the pink shaft.”
Watson is known for the prodigious drives he hits with that pink shaft, something he says, that comes quite naturally.
“It just happens. I don’t try to do it. It’s something I naturally do. My dad taught me a basic swing. As a kid to hit the whiffle ball farther with a big jump, at six-years-old, on my imaginary holes, that was a big hit. As a kid I learned how to hit it harder, take it past parallel. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time but I was basically building myself to be a long hitter. And my height helped. I’m learning how to harness it and get it more into play so I can win golf tournaments. It’s easy to play from the short grass, I’ve learned.”
If Bubba Watson starts playing more from the short grass who knows how many more tournaments he can win. One thing we do know, it will be fun watching him and that is something the PGA Tour needs more of these days.