SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Bubba Watson couldn’t believe all the toys he discovered at the house he’s renting near Whistling Straits.
Just ask his new pal Rickie Fowler.
Watson invited Fowler over Tuesday night to check out all the cool stuff he found in the garage.
“There are three kids that live there,” Watson told Fowler.
There were Razor scooters, skateboards and road bikes.
Watson said he and Fowler were trying out the scooters when five kids came riding by.
“Are you the neighborhood gang?” Watson asked the kids. “Can we join you?”
They did. Watson said they cruised the neighborhood as the two newest and biggest members of the gang.
Watson, 31, took the fun inside the ropes jumping into contention in Thursday’s start of the PGA Championship. He says it’s probably the reason he broke through to win his first PGA Tour event this year and why he’s playing better. He’s playing the game instead of working it.
Six weeks ago, on the Tuesday before the Travelers Championship, Watson said he hit about 10 balls at the start of a practice session when he turned to Teddy Scott, his regular caddie.
“You want to go to the water park?” he asked Scott.
So Watson and Scott made like kids playing hookie and bolted to the park.
“The win just showed me that we're onto something, the right thing,” Watson said. “Let's have fun with our lives, and let's have fun with golf. And that whole week I just never thought about winning.”
Anyone who’s followed Watson knows how quirky he can be, how he can run with a new idea. They know the highs and lows he navigates his life and his game through. He can laugh and cry in the same sentence, just as he did after running atop the leaderboard with a 4-under-par 68 in the first round.
Watson wept in front of media explaining why he was so emotional winning the Travelers. He could barely get out the story, choking back tears as he explained the scare his wife, Angie, went through last winter. He told how he was visiting his father, who’s battling throat cancer, when a doctor told his wife that she may have a brain tumor.
Angie, it turns out, was incorrectly diagnosed. Watson said doctors at Duke University determined she merely had an enlarged pituitary gland, but the memory of the scare Thursday brought back the emotions.
“Hopefully, you don’t all think I’m a sissy,” Watson said as he wiped his eyes. “I do hit the ball a long way.”
Watson, one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, laughed at the crack with everyone else.
The highs and lows Watson took the media through telling that story sums up the emotional nature of the man himself, but Watson says he’s working to change that.
Watson’s regular caddie, Teddy Scott, threatened to quit if Watson didn’t get better control of the anger in his game.
“My mental game just went away, went somewhere,” Watson said. “I don't know where it went. Luckily, I found it. But I was mad at every shot. I wasn't happy.
“My big sin in life is that on the golf course I was miserable. My wife was telling me this all the time, but my caddie, my good friend, came to me and said, `You're miserable, you need to find something else to do, or caddie for a little bit and see how hard it really is when your player is this mad.’
“And so it was a slap in the face. When one of your best friends tells that you you're going at life all wrong, it's obvious that you're doing something wrong.”
Watson had fun making six birdies and two bogeys in Thursday’s first round.
Not bad considering he barely got any sleep the night before. His inner child kept him up playing the Angry Birds video games on his iPhone. He said he was too excited about Thursday's start of the PGA Championship to sleep.
“My wife was yelling at me to go to bed,” Watson said. “This morning she knew I was tired. She knew I was, what's the nice word to say? Angry. I wasn't myself this morning when I woke up. So she told me just to eat something and make sure you have enough energy.”
Energy? Ask Spaniard Alvaro Quiros about Watson’s energy.
Paired with Quiros, Watson put on a show. At the 15th, Quiros hit one of those rockets that make him the longest hitter on the European Tour. Watson, though, bombed his drive 5 yards past Quiros.
'At the fifth hole, Bubba hit a sand wedge 135 yards,” said Mark Carens, who stepped in to caddie for Watson this week. “A sand wedge.”
Carens, like everyone else in golf, knew Watson was long, but he marveled seeing it close up. Carens, who regularly caddies for James Driscoll, stepped in this week to replace Scott with Scott taking time off to be with his wife and their newborn baby boy.
At 11th hole, Carens said Watson hit a 380-yard drive that would have gone farther if it hadn’t run into a bunker. Still, Watson, a man of many conflicting qualities, takes pride in that he can play with so much finesse. He loves to shape shots as much as he loves to bomb drives.
At the 16th hole, standing on a downhill lie in stamped down fescue, hit a delicate flop shot from 40 yards to 2 feet to set up his last birdie. It elicited howls from the gallery as loud as any accompanying his monster drives.
At the 17th, Watson hacked out of a gnarly lie on the cliff above Lake Michigan to save par.
Watson’s finesse was there, too, in the nine one-putts that distinguished this round more than any of his big drives.
“This job is fun to me,” Watson said. “If I would have shot 82 today, I wouldn’t have gone home to pout.”
Reporters who have seen Watson wave off interview requests while stomping away after a bad round will wonder about that, but Watson says he’s more determined to leave his bad shots behind.
Why go home and brood when there’s a neighborhood gang waiting for you with scooters, skateboards or bikes.
Major championships aren't supposed to be fun, but Watson will be aiming to change that this week.