Bubba Watson a breath of fresh air on US tour
Boy from Bagdad is a genuine people’s champion after second Masters green jacket
With his long-time caddie, Ted Scott, looking on, Bubba Watson secures his par on the 18th green for a three-shot victory in Sunday’s Masters and a second green jacket and Major. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images
When Rory McIlroy walked away from Oakley, the sunglasses and leisure accessory company venturing into golf fashion wear needed a new poster boy: Bubba Watson became their man.
In their marketing campaign, they sought to pitch him as someone different: “Unorthodox” – tick. “Untamed” – tick. “Unimaginable” – tick. Their words. In ticking all those boxes, and more, they got the player, someone unconventional, who would stand out from the crowd.
On Sunday evening, as he moved on from the putting green behind the first tee where the champion’s ceremonial speeches had been conducted to a golf cart that would ferry him down the hill to the media centre, the acclaim afforded on Watson from those spectators who had stayed back was genuine. The boy from little, old Bagdad, Florida was their man.
In truth, there was nothing unconventional about the manner of Watson’s win. He did it by playing the best golf, with the only whiff of something supernatural being that booming 366 yards drive – dangerously clipping trees after being propelled on its way by his pink-shafted Ping driver – on the 13th hole, as he waved goodbye to Amen Corner and moved to a second green jacket in three years.
Watson’s unconventionality is a breath of fresh air on tour. Like the song, and quite differently to Nick Faldo’s rendition, he does it his way: he owns one of the most iconic cars in television history, an orange 1969 Dodge Charger – known as The General Lee – which featured in the Dukes of Hazzard series; he recently added a bullet-proofed Ford Raptor wrapped in digital camouflage to his collection of cars; and, of course, he and his family now own Tiger Woods’s old lakefront house in Isleworth.
He is also a member of a group known as the Golf Boys, that also features Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan – although their recordings are only occasional and done to raise money for charity rather than any artistic merit.
His taste buds are just a little different too. In the run-up to the Masters, Watson posted a photo of burritos, claiming they would be his food of choice for the week at Augusta, and – on Sunday night – tweeted a photo of himself and entourage enjoying a champion’s feast in a Waffle House. Different, to be sure; but – on the course, especially at Augusta National – he allows his golf to do the talking.
Watson’s elevation to being a multiple career Major winner – a two-time Masters champion – takes him up a level but also raises expectations that he can do it at the other Majors. He has knocked on the door a couple of times in the other Majors: he was tied-fifth in the US Open in 2007, and lost in a play-off to Martin Kaymer in the 2010 US PGA. The one which has caused him most problems is the British Open where he has a best finish of tied-23rd (in 2012) in five appearances.
Does this win validate his credentials as an elite player? “No. No. I just got lucky to have two green jackets. I’m just trying to keep my tour card every year and, if people say that I’m a good player, that’s great.
‘Grow the game’
“I’m not trying to play golf for everybody to tell me how great I am or I’m one of the greats of the game . . . I play golf because I live it, want to grow the game. The game has brought me everything that I’ve ever owned in my life.”
The route wasn’t easy. Watson turned pro in 2003 played on the Nationwide Tour – now the web.com tour – and moved on to the full PGA Tour when he claimed the last available card to the main tour by finishing 21st on the money list. That is history now, but serves – constantly – as a reminder of the thin line and the need to continue working.
On Sunday night Watson was asked about his poor 2013 season and how difficult it had been for him to move on from his breakthrough Masters win of 2012. He talked of juggling time with his newly adopted son. Finally, he answered: “Learning to be a dad and then learning to have a green jacket with you is two big things to adjust to . . . It took me a year or so to get adjusted that I’m not really that good, I’ve got to keep practising. Finally I got adjusted to it and here we are another green jacket after a year, two years.”
His long-time caddie Ted Scott has likened what he calls “Bubba golf” to being “from Mars.” In the aftermath of this latest win, Scott remarked: “I can tell you, last year was a rough year with the pressure of trying to prove yourself, but this year his attitude’s been great. It’s been a lot of fun to work for him this year. I really enjoyed the good and bad.”
If the back nine of the final nine fell flat with Watson in control of his own destiny, the fact is that he played the fewest number of shots of anyone and that is all that matters.
His win in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in Los Angeles earlier in the season – a week after he finished runner-up to Kevin Stadler in Phoenix – and a second-place finish in the WGC-Cadillac championship had marked him down as one to watch.