SHEBOYGAN, WISCONSIN | For Bubba Watson, it’s all about the thrill of the ride, not necessarily the destination.
It’s why he owned that lime green Lamborghini.
“I like bright colors,“ Watson said. “When I graduated college in 2008 my wife let me buy my dream car. I kept it for about three months because it wasn‘t the image I wanted. I didn‘t want people to think the wrong things about me.
“I bought it because I loved that vehicle, not to show off. So I got rid of it.”
Watson takes the same approach with his golf. He hits it big – really, really big – because he likes to. It’s not about showing off; it’s about doing what comes naturally. That’s how Watson plays golf.
Watson is a throwback. He doesn’t have a swing guru. He has never taken a lesson. He doesn’t have a shrink. He doesn’t use video, unless it’s to play Angry Birds on his iPhone.
“I just play golf,” Watson said.
Ever been tempted to take a lesson?
“Never,” he said. “The game comes naturally to me. It’s fun. And I don’t want to make it a job. I do this because I love it. If I get a lesson, that means it’s a job and that means I think I’m not good enough anymore.”
He is a disciple of the Bomb-and-Gouge school of golf. On the 598-yard par 5 fifth at Whistling Straits in the first round, Watson smashed a driver and sand wedge. Two putts later he had another birdie in his first-round 68.
Bubba Watson, 31, is part of the new guard in America.
The question is being asked. Where are the good young Americans and why aren’t they winning more tournaments and more majors?
The answer is: They’re everywhere and, yes, they will start winning more. They‘re too good not to win.
There’s the elegance of Hunter Mahan. The flair of Anthony Kim. The athleticism of Dustin Johnson. The consistency of Nick Watney. The smile of Matt Kuchar. The innocence of Rickie Fowler. The confidence of Ryan Moore.
And the raw emotion of Bubba Watson.
It’s hard not to like Watson and pull for him. It’s hard not to rub your eyes when he crushes a golf ball over the Old Course Hotel and it lands closer to the green on the Road Hole 17th than any golf ball ever has. It’s hard not to laugh out loud when he says the club he hit for his second shot on the fifth hole, the par 5, was a 56-degree wedge, just to make sure you don’t confuse it was a pitching wedge.
Watson’s breakthrough victory came this year in Hartford but not before he needed a major attitude adjustment. This is a guy who waltzes through life, playing little kid games, eating ice cream as a post-game reward. But there was a time, not long ago, that the joy was gone.
“I never worry about anything,” said Watson, who returned to the University of Georgia to complete a degree in consumer economics two years ago.
Watson said. “I never pout. I never get mad. But on the golf course, everything changed. I was a totally different person. It wasn’t the Bubba Watson that my wife fell in love with or my friends love. That was a hard time in my life.”
The irony, of course, is that the thing he loves doing most – playing golf – was the spoiler.
“My big sin in life is that on the golf course I was miserable,“ Watson said. “Inside the ropes I let everything bother me. There’s nothing outside the ropes that bothers me. I was letting fans bother me. I was letting cameras bother me.”
He was letting other players bother him.
That’s when his wife, Angie, and his longtime caddie, Ted Scott, finally couldn’t take it anymore and set him straight. In Watson’s words, it was a “slap in the face … when one of your best friends says that you’re going at life all wrong.”
Watson is nothing if he is not emotional. He cried after winning in Hartford. Now we know why. Last year ended with his father in a hospital battling cancer. On the day before Christmas, Angie Watson, a former professional basketball player, was having headaches. The original diagnosis was a tumor in the pituitary gland. Later, at Duke University Hospital, the diagnosis was corrected to an enlarged pituitary.
Even now, when there is no danger to Angie, Watson can barely tell the story without fighting tears. “Hopefully, you all don’t think I’m a sissy,” Watson said. “You know, I do hit the ball a long way.”
No, Bubba Watson is no sissy, even if he is partial to bright colors, which is why his 4-wood has a lime green shaft and his driver has a pink shaft.
The Lamborghini is gone but there’s not much chance those shafts are going anywhere. If anybody thinks he‘s showing off, that‘s OK because the truth is, they make the game fun for Watson, and that‘s just the way he wants to keep it.