2014 Newsmaker No. 9: Bubba Watson

By Jason SobelDecember 12, 2014, 1:40 pm

Before he ever hit a single competitive shot this year, Bubba Watson had a plan. Before he reached golf’s pinnacle for the second time in three years, before he chose to alienate himself with a few curious decisions, before he fueled a growing reputation for his ever-vacillating mood swings, before all of the beaming smiles and frustrated frowns and exuberant fist-pumps and mindless temper tantrums, he knew what 2014 would represent. He knew what it would mean to him on a personal level.

“This whole year is about rejoicing,” he said back in January. “When I look back, I have to rejoice on what I have done - what I have done off the course and what I have done on the course. I have been blessed. I've gotten to play the PGA Tour for many years, gotten to win on the PGA Tour. That's what I've got to look at. I can't look at what people say. I can't look at stuff like that. … I just have to rejoice.”

He explained that too often in previous years he’d allowed himself to grow angry on the golf course. He called himself “disgruntled” in clear moments of inward reflection. Whereas the priorities of his peers were largely centered on becoming better golfers, Watson’s list was topped with the goal of becoming a better person. If nothing else, it was an admirable objective.

2014 Newsmakers: 6. Wie7. Reed8. R&A9. Bubba | 10. DJ | Honorable mentions

As the year comes to a close with the man formally known as Gerry Lester Watson, Jr. earning Golf Channel’s No. 9 Newsmaker of 2014, we can point to his three victories – including a second career Masters title – and proclaim the year an unqualified success. Based, though, on his original ambition, this year was never going to be judged solely on wins over losses and birdies over bogeys. This was a year for introspection, a year for personal growth.

And so while most elite players would consider a year that included claiming another green jacket to be the ultimate triumph, Watson assessed himself on less tangible achievements.

“When I look at it in review,” he said during a candid interview last week, “yeah, I had ups and downs – a lot more ups than downs – but I think it was a great year, from a rejoicing standpoint of looking at the positives. Hopefully the positives outweighed the negatives this year. Some years it might be the other way around.”

The highs were extraordinarily high. His Masters win was punctuated by a smile that could have lit up Augusta. Later in the year, a holed bunker shot in Shanghai led to unbridled joy and a WGC victory. In between, his time away from the spotlight was filled with enough charitable efforts to help fulfill that goal of rejoicing.

The lows, though, were particularly low. At the Open Championship, in the midst of missing the cut, he conspicuously took dead aim at the media, insisting that nothing positive was ever said or written about him publicly. The next month, he was outwardly demonstrative during the PGA Championship, refusing to take part in a spirited pre-tournament long-drive competition, then sulking throughout his second round, blaming heavy rain for his poor play.

“My language, my attitude, was going the wrong way,” he admitted months later. “I’m not trying to make excuses. I was terrible at these tournaments. … At the PGA, my ball, because of how hard I hit it – and this isn’t an excuse – but when there’s water on the clubface, it changes the spin. When I’m trying to hit a cut, it doesn’t cut. A lot of people thought I was yelling at [caddie] Teddy [Scott], but I was just yelling to him, telling him I couldn’t hit it.”

There are those who admire Watson not just for his long-hitting prowess, but for his ability to wear this emotion like a battle scar. In the stoic world of golf, where so many other competitors treat their jobs with more precision than passion, he is a welcomed diversion. Like him or dislike him – and yes, there are many who dislike him, ironically, for the very same reason – his polarizing effect is unquestioned.

Not that he cares. Watson insists he no longer keeps tabs on social media and isn’t trying to win friends and influence people. For him, this year was built on a journey of self-discovery – before he ever struck his first shot.

“How did I improve as a person? How did I improve as a golfer?” he asks himself. “Mentally, I think I’ve gotten better. … But I still have to keep going.”

In a game that too often reeks of infallibility, Watson remains a perpetual newsmaker for being its perfect imperfection.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.