It’s safe to say that, from a distance at least, not many people in golf are quite sure what to make of Bubba Watson.
He certainly has a “love him or hate him” sort of image, which is something I have always found both understandable and unfair. I know Bubba better than most guys on Tour – we share the same management – so I am pretty well qualified to analyse his quirky personality. I’ve spent a lot of time with him and played many practice rounds in his company.
At first, I must admit, he was a little strange to deal with. Bubba tends to hold himself back until he knows you are genuine. But once he makes that realisation, he is fantastic to be around. He’s witty and quick with the banter. And he loves playing golf more than he loves doing anything else.
Still, you have to take the time to get to know him. There is some effort involved. I took that time and made that effort, to the point where I realised that I really liked him. I defend him to anyone who doesn’t feel that way and I really enjoy playing with him, whether in practice or competition. The joy he exhibits playing golf is part of his genius. He has so much fun, even when it might not look as if that is the case.
When I first played with him, I thought he was having a laugh. I couldn’t see how anyone could play the way he does. I mean, he hits 30-40-yard slices off the tee. Even now, after playing with him maybe 100 times, it still surprises me how far he can hit that slice. He plays the game like no one else does today. It’s incredible. Yet he knows exactly what he is doing. He seems to have that huge right-to-left ball flight under control. And he never hits a “normal” shot. That would be boring for him.
Maybe the most remarkable thing about Bubba is that he plays the way he does with equipment that is designed to hit high draws. Ask just about anyone on tour and they will tell you how hard it is to shape shots with the modern ball. But Bubba does it anyway. I think that is why his swing appears so extreme. He is really trying to move the ball as far as he can. He’s a long-hitting Corey Pavin, who was maybe the best shot-maker on Tour 20 years ago.
Bubba’s golf is pretty much “idiot proof.” He doesn’t try to hit draws off the tee. He just goes ahead and hits his big fade – the shot pretty much anyone can hit.
I must admit that, when I play with Bubba now, I never watch his swing. I only watch the ball. His iron play – which is relatively “normal” compared with his driving – is as good as anyone’s. He hits fades into left-hand pins and draws into right hand pins. Which is how Ben Hogan used to do it: aim for the middle of the green and work the ball to the pins. I think I’m safe saying Bubba doesn’t do that because he read about it in a book though. He does it instinctively.
Bubba is a master scorer too. He is a long way from your typical Tour player, the guy who spends a lot of time in the gym and on the range with his Trackman focusing on technique. Bubba doesn’t do anything like that. He plays golf and that is it, to the point where he will play in a Tour event in the morning then go find somewhere else to play in the afternoon. Rather than hit balls, he’ll play nine holes with his caddie. They do that all the time.
So, as much as the sports science and coaching world might prosper with a book on how to prepare a golfer, nothing that Bubba does would be in there. But it works for him, as his 10 PGA Tour wins and two victories at Augusta National shows only too clearly.
He’s a good bet to pick up a third green jacket too. When he is playing well, the Masters is “made” for his game. Bubba wins on courses that are very testing around the greens. But the key on those is having your first two shots finish under the hole, which is why the best ball-strikers tend to win when the greens are that severe. Bubba might miss the odd green, but he always misses on the “good” side, the one that gives him the best chance to save par.
Augusta – and Riviera – is all about creating the best angles for your next shot. And that is Bubba’s way of playing – “how good an angle can I get for my next shot?”
Think about this too. Bubba’s golf is pretty much “idiot proof.” He doesn’t try to hit draws off the tee. He just goes ahead and hits his big fade – the shot pretty much anyone can hit. Okay, it is difficult to hit that shot as hard and consistently as he does, but the point is he makes things easy for himself. He doesn’t fight anything. He just goes with it. There is a real logic to his way of playing.
All of which is not to say he can’t hit a draw off the tee. He can. And when he does, he hits the ball un-Godly distances, something he does maybe once or twice a round. All of the above gives him a massive advantage over most other players. While they are doing everything they can to hit 310-yard drives, he does that routinely with what is – to him at least – a little “bump” fade.
Bubba shows incredible patience. He could hit a 350-yard drive on every hole. But he hardly ever does. He focuses on keeping the ball in play and making a good score.
Maybe the only question mark I ever have about Bubba is on the greens. He is a bit streaky with the putter. But, then again, I shake my head watching him. He holes a lot of putts even when he doesn’t look very convincing doing it. His ball seems to “die” into the hole rather than rolling in with a bit of conviction. The key though, is that they finish at the bottom of the cup.
All in all then, I love the way Bubba goes about things on the golf course. I aspire to play the way he does, in that he never wastes time with insignificant little things on the range. He isn’t interested in being “perfect.” He just goes out to play and score well. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. And he doesn’t care what anyone says. All that counts is the score.
One last thing about Bubba. While most of his fellow long-hitters tend to be a little obsessed with the length of their drives and how to squeeze every last drop of yardage from their shots, he never tries to. In that sense, Bubba shows incredible patience. He could hit a 350-yard drive on every hole. But he hardly ever does. He focuses on keeping the ball in play and making a good score. That is a great lesson for all of us. Watch and learn.