BUBBA

WHY WE LOVE HIM AND WHY WE DON’T

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Front Page - BY JAIME DIAZ PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY JOHN LOOMIS

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

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