THE SPIN

Why the un­ex­pected resur­gence of Bubba Wat­son has been one of the sto­ries of the sea­son.

Golf World (UK) - - CONTENTS -

How Bubba bounced back, links un­der wa­ter and the birth of ‘Kalei­do­scope Golf’ – all you need to know for the month ahead.

For most golfers, a sea­son that fea­tured four top 10s, earned $1.2 mil­lion and ended with you be­ing ranked 89th in the world would be deemed a pro­duc­tive year. For Bubba Wat­son, it was a mas­sive step back­wards.

“Last year, was one of the low­est points in my life,” says the double Mas­ters win­ner. “It was a scary time, when I asked my­self whether I wanted to be a fam­ily man or some­one who was bat­tling to make cuts on the PGA Tour.” Bubba, it seems, was a man at a cross­roads. “I have a lot go­ing on out­side of golf,” he ex­plained. “I have a base­ball team. I have a car deal­er­ship. I have a candy shop. I could spend a lot of time im­prov­ing those busi­nesses or I could

strug­gle to make cuts on the PGA Tour. Those were my op­tions and I was close to re­tir­ing.”

So what went so wrong for the left-han­der in 2017 that re­tire­ment was a gen­uine op­tion? Opin­ions dif­fer. If you ask equip­ment ex­perts, Bubba’s is­sues stemmed from him sign­ing a spon­sor­ship deal with a lesser-known golf ball man­u­fac­turer – swap­ping Titleist for Volvik. If you ask golf statis­ti­cians, Bubba’s prob­lems were down to his poor iron play (his Strokes Gained Ap­proach the Green rank­ing dropped from 40th in 2016 to 145th in 2017).

And if you ask Bubba, his trou­bles were down to an ill­ness that saw him lose a sig­nif­i­cant amount of weight. “I didn’t have the strength that I needed to play my best, so I lost con­fi­dence in my abil­i­ties,” he says. Bubba was out of form, dis­il­lu­sioned and des­per­ately in need of a break. So when his 2016/17 cam­paign ended in early Septem­ber, he packed his trunk and waved good­bye to the PGA Tour cir­cus. Ini­tially, the plan was for him to spend four months at home, mix­ing work­ing on his game with look­ing af­ter his kids and help­ing his wife Angie re­cover from knee surgery. But then the for­mer World No.2 got bored.

“Some parts of be­ing at home were a blast,” he ex­plained af­ter en­ter­ing the Shriners Hos­pi­tals for Chil­dren Open in late Oc­to­ber. “I en­joyed vol­un­teer­ing at my son’s school and see­ing how well my daugh­ter has been do­ing at pre-school, but I have also been sit­ting at home think­ing, ‘Man, this sucks, I want to play golf’.”

New sea­son, new at­ti­tude

Bubba fin­ished tied 51st at the Shriners, but he wasn’t go­ing to let that get him down, partly be­cause he had seen what a life with­out golf would look like and partly be­cause his wife had given him a no-holds-barred pep talk.

“She ba­si­cally told me to quit whin­ing and play golf,” re­veals Bubba.

With his part­ner’s words ring­ing in his ears, the two-time ma­jor win­ner en­deav­oured to draw the pos­i­tives from ev­ery round he played. “My ball­strik­ing is where I want it to be, but my putts are just not go­ing in,” he said dur­ing Fe­bru­ary’s Waste Man­age­ment Phoenix Open. “I am stroking them well, but right now the ball is just laugh­ing at me.”

A fort­night later, the ball stopped laugh­ing and Bubba started cry­ing. But they were tears of joy, the Florid­ian hav­ing won the 10th PGA Tour ti­tle of his ca­reer at the Gen­e­sis Open. “No­body thought Bubba Wat­son from Bag­dad, Florida – with­out lessons, head case, hook­ing the ball, slic­ing the ball, can’t putt – would ever get to 10 wins,” he sobbed.

Eyes wiped, the 39-year-old added an 11th PGA Tour vic­tory at March’s WGC-Dell World Match Play Cham­pi­onship (above). “Be­ing healthy and stronger just helps me phys­i­cally and men­tally,” he smiled af­ter that vic­tory. “I have the strength back to hit the hard bomb or the big slice off the tee, so it is work­ing out.”

‘I have a base­ball team, a candy store, a car deal­er­ship. PGA Tour, I started to think I should re­tire and con­cen­trate

Work­ing out is some­thing of an un­der­state­ment. Six months af­ter be­ing in the depths of despair, Bubba is back in the world’s top 20 and back among the favourites to win ma­jors.

“Bubba’s re­nais­sance is one of the most in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ments of this year,” be­lieves BBC Ra­dio 5 Live golf cor­re­spon­dent and BBC Golf podcast host Iain Carter. “Last year felt like the be­gin­ning of the end of a fine ca­reer. It was very hard to see him bounc­ing back, but he has done this em­phat­i­cally.”

So what does Carter put this resur­gence down to? “Bubba is an emo­tional char­ac­ter and his re­sults tend to fol­low an emo­tional curve,” he says. “When he feels fit, healthy and con­fi­dent in what he is do­ing, he is ca­pa­ble of play­ing some of the great­est golf any­one will play. But he is also equally ca­pa­ble of dis­ap­pear­ing off the scene de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances of a tour­na­ment, how he is feel­ing and where his mind is.”

A unique tal­ent

This un­pre­dictabil­ity is what makes the left-han­der so in­ter­est­ing to write about and re­fresh­ing to watch. “Bubba is one of the joys of the mod­ern golf scene,” agrees Carter. “He plays his own brand of golf and moves the ball un­like any other player. He is unique. And whether you are a fan of his or not, the fact he is back play­ing such high qual­ity, imag­i­na­tive golf is a mas­sive bonus for the game.”

But now he is back, what does the man him­self want to achieve over the rest of the sea­son. “I’m try­ing to get Jim Furyk to no­tice me, be­cause I re­ally want to play in France,” says the man who was a non­play­ing vice-cap­tain at the 2016 Ry­der Cup. “Vice-cap­tain or play­ing, I want to be there. But I would rather play.” It’s a sen­ti­ment shared by ev­ery­one, even us Euro­peans.

Strug­gling to make cuts on the on those other things in my life’

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