WHY WE LOVE HIM AND WHY WE DON’T
BBringing down a drone was Bubba Watson’s idea. ▶ On the vast grounds of The Greenbrier, where he has a home with his family, there were several possibilities our video team suggested to capture Bubba at his leisure, including riding a horse, skeet shooting, bowling, shooting a basketball (his wife, Angie, is a former player in the WNBA) or even throwing a football at the New Orleans Saints’ on-site practice facility. But Watson was excited by another option: whistling full shots at a distant (and unarmed) drone, with intent to destroy. ▶ “Dude, what would people rather see, me shooting baskets or obliterating a ying saucer out of the sky?” he asked, knowing his long list ofYouTube hits (remember the hovercraft?) gave him tacit authority. “C’mon.”
The idea blended golf virtuosity with a Lettermanesque wackiness, including a subtle nod to the military and the memory of his Green Beret father. Plus, Bubba would have something good to put up for his 1.4 million Twitter followers.All an example ofWatson’s 36-year-young multitasking synapses.
Armed with his new toy, a 21-degree 7-wood he began using this year,Watson takes to the Old White’s 17th fairway and begins shooting tracers at the buzzing device about 50 metres and varying heights away (see video.golfdigest.com). As he continues to narrowly miss, he unconsciously puts on a clinic in Bubba Golf, hitting various trajectories and even slices and hooks, all the balls ending in a tight circle just short of the green. Even at rapid- re frequency, there are no fats, no thins, no sprays. Hitting a golf ball absolutely square with incredible force is easy for Bubba Watson, and in this bucolic WestVirginia valley where the supernal Sam Snead played so much golf, the self-taught lefty seems a natural successor.
With the drone still airborne after a couple of dozen shots, Watson gets more immersed in the challenge, showing none of the exasperation he might during a tournament. He’s in a sweet spot, checking all his comfort-zone boxes: a scheduled event he could prepare for; home ground that reminds him of his mother’s family farm near Tupelo, Mississippi; two members of his management team and Greenbrier pros making up a familiar group; and a novel, stimulating activity.
Finally,Watson wings one of the propellers, which rather than blowing up the drone, sends it crazily upward and then into a long dive onto the lush fairway, bouncing instead of breaking.
“Man, that was bad,”Watson jokes to Burt Baine,The Greenbrier’s golf club general manager.“You guys still want me as an endorser?”Then aware that onlookers are awaiting his next move, he plays the part by announcing the Bubba Double Wink, closing both eyes and quickly opening them in unison, then deadpanning his practised exit line,“You’re welcome.”
Alas,Watson is not always this loose. In competition, he’s often high-strung and irritable. Slow play drives him crazy, as do wet conditions, bad bounces and miscalculated distances.
Foreign venues, too, which is why at No 3 in the world, Watson was not even among the top-10 favourites going into the Open Championship at St Andrews, where his length and shotmaking should be ideal. His 2011 description of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – “an arch; whatever; I rode around in a circle.”
Insiders are amused by other Bubbaisms that possess a kind of exasperation-skewed logic.With Bubba it’s “There’s no reason for me to show up” (Hartford, 2011);“Water on the clubface, bro” (PGA Championship, 2014); and the original, referring to tour players :“Veterans can kiss my ass” (New Orleans, 2008). All are on call to leaven temper tantrums with humour.
A standard Watson line is a variation of “I have issues.”Though never diagnosed, he is sure he suffers from ADHD (attention de cit hyperactivity disorder).An expert in the condition, and a huge Watson fan, Dr Edward Hallowell, longs for Bubba to let him help, likening Watson’s high creativity and low emotional control to a “Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes.”
True,Watson has twice kept it together at the Masters, but his careening at major courses where his all-around skills would seem to give him an advantage vexes those who admire his talent. Most notably at Pinehurst last year, he talked himself out of the US Open, calling the area outside of the fairways “weeds.”At Chambers Bay,Watson rationalised his missed cut by exaggerating the challenge:“Two guys can hit from the fairway, and the ball marks can be a foot apart. One guy is 60 yards o the green, and one guy is 20 feet from the hole.”
And sometimes his behaviour seems irrational, as when he refused to take part in a casual long-drive contest before the 2014 PGA in part because he hadn’t been informed, hitting a 3-iron before stomping o .“I don’t like change,” Watson o ered in partial explanation. “I’m terrible on change.”
And, apparently, on locker-room protocol. In a recent ESPN poll of 103 tour players,Watson received the most votes (23, to second-place Patrick Reed’s 11) to a question that asked “------ is in a ght in the parking lot.You’re not helping him.”
Davis Love, captain of the 2016 Ryder Cup team, will have Watson in his locker room.“There are some norms out here that Bubba doesn’t do that well,” Love says. “He doesn’t always say ‘Hi.’And he doesn’t remember names.To some guys, that stu matters a lot.” Says Ben Crane, a Watson condant and fellow member of the tour’s Bible-study group:“Bubba’s not intentionally out to blow people o , but very often he’s not