HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – “Freak show.”
That’s how Bubba Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott, described Bubba Golf, the two-time Masters champion’s unique way of playing the game, on Sunday at Augusta National.
The bending drives, the low-sweeping recovery shots, the utter distain for everything conventional. In the often-vanilla world of professional golf, Bubba is rocky road topped with syrup and a jalapeno.
Less than 24 hours after Watson’s Masters masterpiece, his contemporaries, gathered at Harbour Town Golf Links for this week’s RBC Heritage, were still marveling at his ability to make the unorthodox look so extraordinary.
What is Bubba Golf?
“Entertaining,” John Peterson said. “Man, his drive on (No.) 13 yesterday. I played the Masters last year, and I had like 210 (yards) into the green for my best yardage. What did he have, 144? I’m sitting on my couch going, ‘Oh my God.’”
As electrifying as Watson is for the average player to watch, it is a testament to how truly gifted – or maybe “different” would be a more apt description – he is that his Tour frat brothers are just as blown away.
For example, Watson’s drive on No. 13 that Peterson found so entertaining is the status quo in the world of Bubba Golf.
“We don't do yardage on that hole,” Scott said on Sunday. “If it's into the wind, he slices it. If it's not, he hammers it. It's Bubba Golf. He doesn't need me on that hole. I just spectate like you. Carry the bag like you and just stand there, yes, sir, and move on.”
Carl Pettersson, who has played numerous rounds with Watson, was equally impressed with Watson’s bomb on No. 13. “I don’t think anyone else can do that. When he drives it good he can destroy a golf course,” he said.
It won’t go down in Bubba lore as a seminal moment – that honor belongs to Watson’s gap wedge approach on the second playoff hole in 2012 that had more movement than a Justin Verlander curveball – but his second shot at the par-5 15th was just as entertaining.
After his drive found the first cut left of the 15th fairway, Watson weaved a “punch” 6-iron through the pines that flew the water hazard in front of the green and rolled through the putting surface.
“That was so nasty,” Peterson said of Watson’s second at No. 15. “For a guy with a three-stroke lead to go for that green from that spot. He had to be feeling awesome at that time.”
But Bubba Golf goes well beyond the prodigious distances Watson is able to hit the golf ball. It is a philosophy, a way of life that permeates into everything he does.
“He plays the way we all want to play. Not from the length standpoint. Obviously, I’d like to hit it 360 (yards),” Paul Goydos said. “To me it looks like he plays with as much freedom as any player on Tour. He doesn’t look overly concerned. Like he’s actually having fun and hitting the shots he wants to hit.”
If Watson is a once-in-a-generation ball-striker, there are parallels to another multiple Masters champion who eschewed the path well-traveled and blazed his own trail, be it through pine trees or down fairways.
“Bubba Golf is the new age Arnold Palmer,” Jason Bohn said. “He’s very aggressive and visual. I never played with Arnold Palmer, but that’s what I heard about him – aggressive, visual, could hit all kinds of golf shots. Bubba works his golf ball more than anyone out here, and you have to be a very visual player to do that.”
Like Palmer, Watson’s swing is unorthodox in all the right ways. No one would teach someone to swing like him, but then not even the most accomplished swing gurus would consider changing Watson’s whirlwind action.
“It’s controlled chaos,” said Mike Taylor, the Sea Island (Ga.) based swing coach whose players include Harris English and Kyle Stanley. “He may be the only person who can hit it like that. For him to attempt those shots, he has to have great feel for what the club is doing.”
In a contrived way, Watson’s unique brand of caveman golf – see ball, hit ball – is the ideal blueprint for how to play the game if not in style than at least in substance.
“That is the way everyone should strive to play because he looks like a child. He looks like he did when he was 10 and having fun out there,” Goydos said. “He just kept being Bubba.”
And he kept playing Bubba Golf.