Bubba Watson is one of golf’s biggest ambassadors.
Twice a winner of the Masters, he has proven that home-grown swings, when combined with tireless effort, can produce big results.
He is one of the most popular figures on the PGA Tour, a player amateurs can relate to.
All of this makes his stubborn opposition to the long-drive competition at the PGA Championship that much more frustrating.
Since winning the first of his two titles at Augusta in 2012, Watson has championed what he calls “Bubba Golf.” Shape the ball like Clayton Kershaw, and hit it like Albert Pujols. Watson's driver has a flashy pink shaft and a fuzzy caricature of its owner's face as a headcover.
He’s hardly shy about his prowess off the tee, and the stats back it up: Watson leads the Tour in driving distance, averaging 314.8 yards per pop. Last week, he uncorked a 424-yard bomb at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the longest drive on Tour this year.
So the resurrection of the long-drive competition at the season’s final major, with the endorsement of Jack Nicklaus, seemed to play right into his hands.
Except that Watson, when offered a chance to wow the fans at Valhalla and potentially win a contribution to the charity of his choice, opted not to play ball.
Remember, this wasn’t an extra obligation. PGA of America officials set up shop Tuesday on the tee at the par-5, 595-yard 10th hole and simply measured the first drive by each player during his practice round.
Seems easy enough, but not so, Watson says.
“I want to practice the game of golf; I want to learn this golf course,” Watson said during his news conference Tuesday. “I haven’t seen the 10th hole.”
Ok, fair point. If he hasn’t seen the hole, maybe he needs to make the most of his practice time. Except – he didn’t. He pulled a 3-iron, hitting his shot before the PA announcer could even get Watson’s name off his tongue. Later he strode into the media center and proudly announced that he would be hitting driver all four days at No. 10.
So if you’re scoring at home, Watson went out of his way to avoid the contest and hit a club that will not help him prepare for this week’s event, all while proclaiming his heartfelt devotion to “learning the course.”
Before we jump to conclusions, though, maybe his second reason had more merit.
“We’re trying to win a great championship. There’s no reason to make something up in the middle of a practice round like that,” he said. “This is just right there in the middle of your practice round while you’re trying to see the course. Just kind of weird to me.”
Perhaps he failed to notice, but Ted Bishop did not install a windmill in the middle of the 10th fairway. There weren’t fireworks, or cheerleaders, or artificial, crowd-pumping noise.
There was a man on the tee announcing each player’s name, and a scoreboard displaying each player’s distance. Pretty much as low key as you can get.
Make no mistake, plenty of players accurately viewed this as a chance to have a little fun and interact with the fans before things get serious. Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler all hammed it up for the crowd, and Mickelson admitted that the trio had a little side bet going on who would hit the longest drive.
Miguel Angel Jimenez coyly told fans that his shot, though not the longest, was the “best” drive they would see all day. Padraig Harrington stole the show when he channeled Happy Gilmore and took a running start before hitting his drive.
Watson, though, used it as a chance to take a stand against – something. Fun? Shotlink data? The advancement of driver technology?
Whatever the reason, his argument fell on deaf ears.
Watson said he doesn’t read stories written about him – “I deleted the Internet off my phone,” he said – so I suppose this won’t reach his radar. But it certainly seemed curious that he would choose to dig in his heels over this idea, which otherwise appears to have been universally embraced.
“I’m here to win a championship,” he said. “I’m not here to goof around.”
Whew, glad we cleared that up. For a minute there I thought we were talking about the guy who posted this video at the PGA Championship a year ago:
Watson’s news conference included many comments that induced some serious head-scratching, but one stuck out as having far more truth and insight than anything else he said.
“I was trying to prove a point that nobody cared about.”
Congrats, Bubba. Mission accomplished.