Golf needs more players like Bubba Watson.
The idea hit me harder than Watson hits a golf ball about halfway through his final-round 64 that netted him the Northern Trust Open victory. Like most Sunday afternoons when I’m not on site at a tournament, I spent this one watching the telecast while simultaneously keeping an eye on Twitter. What I found, not surprisingly, was a wealth of fans cheering lustily for Watson – and maybe just as many cheering against him.
He is the rare professional golfer who elicits passion and emotion, both positive and negative. Tiger Woods is the longtime leader in the PGA Tour’s unofficial category of Most Polarizing, but the list extends past just him. Phil Mickelson is almost universally liked, but has his detractors, too. And a few others – Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter among them – inspire 19th-hole debates about their likeability.
All of which should be viewed through a prism of positivity for those who want the game to grow.
Stay with me here. Each of the three previous winners – and I mean no offense to Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler and Scott Stallings – collectively provoked a massive shrug from the masses, with some fans going as far as saying, “They seem like nice guys.” That would be a correct assumption, but hardly a passionate one.
Think of it this way: Even the NFL would be all sorts of boring if every fan mildly liked every team. That’s not to say the gentlemen’s game of golf needs to borrow from pro wrestling with heroes and villains, but the more players who evoke emotion, the better.
I tweeted as much, in a 140-character burst and related to Watson, during the final round at Riviera. What followed was a series of fitting responses that only helped prove my point.
I refuse to believe that people hate Bubba.. nobody can hate Bubba!!
Hate is a strong word but, yea, I'd say that's about right
Why do people not like him? What's not to like from his nonchalant attitude on the course and off it.
Such a classless baby. Hope he blows it and we can hear him blame Ted and the cell phones.
The reasons for such venomous reactions largely stem from his on-course eruptions over the years. The most notable came during the final round of last year’s Travelers Championship, when live microphones caught Watson berating – some would say blaming - caddie Ted Scott for club selection at the 16th hole. Never mind the fact that he apologized soon afterward, nor that Scott himself never took issue with the outburst.
Just two weeks ago, Watson missed a putt to force a playoff at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, then instantly turned toward Scott. Again, some would contend he was blaming the caddie; again, that idea would be incorrect.
On Sunday afternoon at Riviera, there were multiple occasions of Watson having rabbit ears, overly worried about a cellphone camera or some other nearby noise emanating from the gallery.
It all gave those with preconceived notions about Watson greater ammunition for their argument. And unlike about 97 percent of his peers, Watson does have fans who actually root against him.
To counterbalance that, though, he also has more people supporting him than most other touring pros.
He didn’t surpass 1 million Twitter followers because he is disliked. His brand of what he’s termed Bubba Golf is enormously popular, with many fans enamored of his ability to not only hit the ball a long way, but work it in every direction, as evidenced by his Masters-winning bender of two years ago.
Watson wears his emotions on his sleeve to the point where he often looks on the verge of tears during competition. He is honest to a fault in interview settings and works on the front lines for various charities, not just donating money, but offering his time and effort.
He can be plenty goofy, too, whether it’s tooling around in the General Lee or rocking overalls and chest hair in Golf Boys music videos.
I’m not here to sway your opinion of Watson in either direction, though. And I’m certainly not here to judge you.
In fact, this really isn’t about him.
This is about the benefits of having players who elicit more than a shrug when they’re shown on the nearest television screen. It’s about the importance of fan integration in the form of raw emotion in a game that is too often devoid of any.
Watson is good for golf in the same way only a few others are. The mere presence of any of these names on a leaderboard is enough to prompt debate and discussion. It’s enough to get people talking, which in today’s sporting landscape isn’t easy.
That was evident once again on Sunday afternoon when Watson won the Northern Trust Open title. Those who love him celebrated the victory; those who love to hate him denounced it. Either way, though, he had everybody talking.