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Bend It Like Bubba

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Bubba Watson plays golf like an artist – freeform and interpretive with a dollop of avant-garde. He doesn’t plot his way around golf courses so much as he slashes with broad strokes.

“Bubba ball” is, by design or DNA, the least efficient way to get from A to B. It is, however, proving to be highly effective, as evidenced by his three PGA Tour victories in the last 10 months.

That’s two more victories than Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els have combined over the same period with a whiplash action that is equal parts timing and talent.

Last week the boy from Bagdad, Fla., ran afoul the circuit’s political correctness police when he put to words what many of his Tour frat brothers have been thinking for some time.

Bubba Watson
Watson is known for constantly curving the ball in one direction or the other. (Getty Images)

“Tiger is going the wrong way,” Watson said on Wednesday at Quail Hollow. “I think he's so mental right now with his swing. Just go out there and play golf.

“When you start talking about other people trying to help you with your swing, look at this, look at that, I think they take a step back. So I'm hoping they all get coaches. Come on, Rickie (Fowler), get you a coach.”

Full disclosure dictates that Watson has never been mistaken for Dr. Bob Rotella on the golf course. This is, after all, the same man who self-diagnosed himself with attention deficit disorder and openly admits that his mind has a tendency to wander when he’s on the job.

Still, Watson will never be accused of playing “swing.” “Bubba ball” is pure caveman golf – see ball, hit ball – swing thoughts are limited to just two – is it a cut or draw? – and his next straight shot will be his first.

“I want to hit it straight, but I don’t know how to do that,” he admits.

Watson is a one-off, a throwback to another time and older technology and, regardless of the criticism, was simply giving Woods the only advice he can. Just play golf.

In this age of “team,” when swing coach, trainer, mental coach and nutritionist are among a modern pro’s 14 clubs, Watson defies conventional wisdom and probably the ability to even be coached.

On Wednesday at TPC Sawgrass we asked a half dozen Tour teachers how they would coach Watson and the answers were telling and virtually identical.

“If you tried to change him you’d ruin him,” said Mike Taylor, the Sea Island (Ga.) Resort-based swing coach whose students include last week’s winner Lucas Glover. “He’s all feel and just sees the shot.”

Dallas-based Randy Smith, whose students include Justin Leonard and Gary Woodland, concurred: “He’s the ultimate feel player.”

Yes, but would you teach him?

“I would love it but it wouldn’t be teaching,” Smith said. “I would just want to hear him talk about golf. Nobody feels the club head better than him. But it wouldn’t be teaching, it would be to learn from him.”

Although Watson may technically be the golf swing equivalent of a broken windmill, the way in which he ropes his way from tee to green is, according to the experts, nearly un-teachable.

Teaching Watson would be akin to tuning up a 1957 Ford . . . while it’s moving. Towering hooks and draws with equipment that is designed to reduce such movement is a Bubba staple – the product of a whirlwind action that is critically dependent on timing and the 32-year-old’s athletic ability.

“He’s playing wiffle ball out there,” said Pat O’Brien, Stewart Cink’s swing coach. “The beauty of Bubba is that he doesn’t have swing thoughts.”

Thirty-yard cuts may not be the textbook way of the modern pro, but Watson has a burgeoning trophy case that is a testament to the power of outside-the-box thinking.

If alignment is the foundation of a solid, and repeatable, golf swing, Watson is so far off line that he’s frightened more than one member of his gallery. But to square Watson up with his target would almost certainly be grounds for malpractice.

“You could try to shorten up his swing, but it has a rhythm to it and a sequence that would be altered,” Taylor said. “Suddenly his hips or shoulders would be moving too fast. The ball doesn’t know where your body is aiming.”

That’s not to say that Watson’s game couldn’t use some fine-tuning and most of those asked agreed that as long as his timing and confidence remain anything is possible. But if something happens to either element, like an injury, he would likely struggle.

“You wouldn’t,” said Geoff Ogilvy’s swing coach Dale Lynch when asked if he would try to “fix” Watson’s action. “If his game were to go off the rails and say he couldn’t cut it anymore you’d look at that and just try to go back to what worked.”

Whatever fundamental differences Tour swing coaches may have in philosophy and technique, nearly all subscribe to the same central truth that when a player moves from the practice tee to the course he only has one option – to play golf, not swing.

When Bubba was a boy in Bagdad he learned to play the game chasing wiffle balls around and over his house.

“There were no straight holes when I was imaging holes when I was growing up,” he said. “So I always learned how to curve it that way.”

In many ways Watson is still plotting his way around that house in Bagdad, one roping hook or cut at a time.


Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggardGC