Phenomenon of Bubba Golf


“Bubba Golf” seems destined to become part of the game’s lexicon now.

Bubba Watson officially dropped the term on the golf world Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I’m still a kid,” Watson, 32, said at Quail Hollow Club. “I’m hitting shots that I want to hit. I’m doing things I want to do. I play it my way. People started coining the phrase 'Bubba Golf,’ whatever you want to call it, I like that. Let’s use it.”

“Bubba Golf” may sound like a game played through clowns’ mouths and windmills, but it’s not. It’s played through a more colorful venue than that. It’s played through one of the most vivid golf imaginations in the world.

With Watson’s Zurich Classic victory last week, his third PGA Tour title in 10 months, “Bubba Golf” sounds like something that will catch on. Watson’s star is rising with his near victory at the PGA Championship late last summer, with his Ryder Cup debut last fall and with his cracking the top 10 in the world rankings this week.

“Bubba Golf” is working.

So what is it, exactly?

Watson didn’t lay out the definition, but that’s an integral element of “Bubba Golf.” It’s beyond words, beyond truly understanding.

Bobby Jones once said Jack Nicklaus played a game with which he wasn’t familiar. Watson plays a game with which nobody is familiar, except Bubba himself.

“Bubba Golf” is more a phenomenon than a skill. It’s a peculiar combination of physical prowess, intuition and contradictory philosophies and attitudes.

Explaining how Watson’s swing repeats is like trying to explain why the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano at nearly the same time every spring. It’s partly cosmic programming. Watson, after all, doesn’t have a swing coach, says he’s never taken a lesson, doesn’t like hitting a lot of balls on a range and doesn’t worry about alignment, or nearly anything technical or mechanical in his swing.

Don’t expect Watson to publish an instruction book anytime soon.

He plays by “natural feel” and doesn’t like analyzing his swing.

That Watson is rising to prominence now is intriguing.

That Bubba’s style of play makes him the hottest American in the game as Tiger Woods’ slumps is interesting because Bubba is the anti-Tiger.

Now that’s not to suggest that Watson is better than Woods, or his approach is preferable. How could it be? Woods has won 14 major championships, Watson none. It’s just that Watson’s approach appears to be the antithesis of the way Woods is honing a new swing.

That isn’t lost on Watson.

“Yeah, I'll just go ahead and say it,” Watson said. “I think Tiger is going the wrong way. I think he's so mental right now with his swing. Just go out there and play golf. He used to hit shots, used to bomb it, used to do all that stuff. In 2000 and '97, I think he did pretty good. He won the Masters by 48 shots, or whatever he won it by. But, I think, sometimes, he gets carried away on that. A lot of guys do.”

Actually, trying to play the way Watson plays seems crazy.

Watson’s like a savant, a quirky genius. He’s long suspected he suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder. Somehow, some way, that must factor into the “Bubba Golf” phenomenon. As much as Watson can spray his driver, tough courses can bring out the best in him. As much as he seems to struggle with emotions off the course, he’s mastering them on the course.

'Bubba Golf' was also once a clothing line, defunct since the company behind it went bankrupt. 'Bubba Golf,' obviously, was too big to be defined by tailors.

Nobody will ever play quite like Watson. He owns that swing, the Elvis Presley footwork, the imagination that triggers all those giant fades and draws and low stingers.

“The lines and shapes Bubba takes, sometimes I can’t see them myself, until he hits them,” Woods once told Golf Digest.

That’s “Bubba Golf,” enjoy it. Nobody’s sure if he’s riding a hot streak or riding a long arc to the top of the game, but it promises to be an entertaining ride, either way.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMellGC