SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – What a difference a year - and an A-list Hollywood actor - makes.
During his stop at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last year, Bubba Watson bashed TPC Scottsdale. He apologized for it, but the words hung over his head all week as he struggled, at times, to a T-14 finish at a place where he has twice finished runner-up.
"I don't like it," he said at the time. "I'm not going to PC it. I don't like it at all. I just mentioned why I'm here. I've got three beautiful sponsors that love it here."
This time around, with pro-am partner Mark Wahlberg seated next to him, Watson couldn’t have been more upbeat, no matter what question was thrown his way. The duo, who have been friends for years, yucked it up like a couple of old college buddies meeting for happy hour and reminiscing about old times.
After brushing aside a question about the golf course (which he went out of his way last year to criticize) with typical golf clichés – “the course is in the best shape I’ve ever seen” … “the forecast looks amazing” – Watson and Wahlberg touched on everything from a shirtless Marky Mark to the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl and recruiting Arizona Cardinals all-pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald for next year.
They talked about Wahlberg’s mulligan on the famed 16th hole after hitting his first shot over the stands and how the “Patriots Day” actor nearly beaned a woman earlier in the day.
“She was excited about it,” Watson cracked.
Bubba did give his buddy’s game some credit, letting him know he definitely played better than Michael Phelps when they played together in this same pro-am years ago.
“You have that going for you," Watson said, channeling his inner Carl Spackler. “The best Olympian - you beat him.”
(For what it’s worth, Phelps actually did nail someone in the crowd in the face on Wednesday while playing a few groups behind Watson.)
When asked about “wearables” as they relate to golf technology, Wahlberg quipped, “Wearable? Is that like an edible? … Are we in Colorado or Arizona?”
“Is that back to your underwear days?” chided Watson.
Those “underwear days,” of course, were the beginning of Wahlberg’s entertainment career, with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. And don’t worry, they were more than happy to dive deeper on that subject as well, even leaving the door open for a return to music, kind of.
“No, my kids would be mortified. I embarrass them enough already as it is,” said Wahlberg. “Although, you know, a duet with Bubba? Then maybe.”
Which prompted the former Golf Boy to exclaim, “I’ll take my shirt off.”
And of course, no chat with Boston native Wahlberg, would be complete without talking New England Patriots football, especially on the week they’re playing in the Super Bowl.
Wahlberg will be at the big game with his family in Houston on Sunday,
“I’m a die-hard Patriots fan, obviously” … “I go crazy. I lose it. I’ve got this whole system. I don’t want anybody talking at me, looking to me,' Wahlberg said, before guaranteeing victory over the Atlanta Falcons and setting his sights on recruiting Arizona Cardinals all-pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald for next year.
“Here’s the thing. When they win the Super Bowl, [Bill] Belichick will be playing at the AT&T, so we’ll recruit him. I have [Patriots owner] Mr. Kraft, and give [Fitzgerald] a big check and go get that ring and go out in style,” he said.
“Yeah, but can they throw it to him?” Bubba retorted with a smile, happy to get one last jab in.
In short, Bubba was very comfortable talking about all things not Bubba.
At one point, Wahlberg said his arrangement with Watson to play pro-am events like these is as simple as, “If he asks me, I show up. That’s pretty much mandatory.”
Considering how much more smoothly this press conference went than the one a year ago, Watson may think about adding an amendment to that agreement to include future talks with the media.