MEDINAH, Ill. – These Ryder Cup matches have no shortage of ready-made pairings.
Phil Mickelson seems likely to play with mentee and frequent practice-round partner Keegan Bradley, and Luke Donald can make a formidable team with Lee Westwood, and Justin Rose and Ian Poulter form another solid, all-English duo.
Yet it wouldn’t surprise if one of the most successful pairings this week at Medinah is Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson – devout Christians who first teamed at last year’s Presidents Cup, with much success – even if the two players couldn’t be any more dissimilar.
Bubba is a goofball in golf slacks, a Masters champion who buttons his shirt all the way to the top, who tries mind-bending shots and posts trick-shot videos on Twitter, who cries and scowls in equal measure, who tops the Tour in titanium-denting drives, who wears a $500,000 Richard Mille watch and donates plenty of cash to charity.
Webb, meanwhile, is straight out of a Polo ad, a good ol’ boy from North Carolina who wields a belly putter with ease, who won the U.S. Open when no one was watching, who can be painfully deliberate during rounds yet quick with a compliment, who pummels courses into submission with his ball-striking, who takes his young children to Starbucks and reads the Bible.
“We’re good friends away from golf,” Simpson said of Watson, “and I think that makes us a good team. You put him and me together, where I am a little more serious, he kind of relaxes me and I help him focus on golf and draw him back to what we need to be looking at.”
Last year at Royal Melbourne, Simpson, 27, and Watson, 33, went out first during each team session, sporting a 3-1 record en route to a U.S. victory at the Presidents Cup. They went 2-0-1 in the foursomes format (alternate shot), a trend that could continue at Medinah given the course’s forgiveness off the tee and Watson’s prodigious length.
For Watson, that partnership in Australia stood in stark contrast to what he endured in the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor. He went 1-3 in Wales, a performance more memorable for Jeff Overton’s “boom, baby!” hole-out than anything Watson accomplished on the course.
This, now, is Bubba’s first Ryder Cup on U.S. soil, an experience that is sure to stir an already emotional man. He’s playing for his father, who died in October 2010 after a lengthy battle with throat cancer. He’s playing for his country, and Watson has talked at length in the past about his passion and respect for the U.S. military.
The enormity of the moment already has hit Watson, hard. On Tuesday night, during a private team dinner at Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse, both captain Davis Love III and Watson teared up while seated at the same table.
“I’m probably going to cry at some point this week,” Watson said, “because I cry just about every week. So there’s going to be good shots I’m going to cry about, there’s going to be bad shots I cry about, and hopefully I do everything in a respectful way.”