Rarely has there been a more eccentric major champion than Bubba Watson – the floppy-haired, 34-year-old left-hander who swings a pink driver, smashes produce on late-night TV, sobs when he wins, posts trick-shot clips on his Twitter, drives the General Lee and stars in music videos in which he unfortunately wears only a pair of overalls.
The phenomenon is known as Bubba Golf.
And the PGA Tour has never witnessed anything like it.
“He is who he is,” close friend Rickie Fowler said earlier this year. “He doesn’t try to be someone else. He doesn’t put an act on. He’s just him. You either like him or you don’t.”
Indeed, there is no player in the game quite like Watson, what with his bubble-gum pink driver, homemade swing and on-course antics. On the first tee Friday morning at the Ryder Cup, in one of the most pressurized scenes in sports, Bubba implored spectators to scream, wave flags and stomp on the bleachers as he teed off, results be damned. After his tee ball sailed some 320 yards, he simply returned both hands into his pockets and sauntered off the tee.
That same machismo was on display at The Masters, in his signature moment of 2012. Locked in a taut playoff with Louis Oosthuizen, Watson corkscrewed a gap wedge from 155 yards out of the pine straw on the 10th hole to set up the winning par. So incredible was the shot, it almost made observers forget about the double-eagle 2 that King Louie had recorded only hours earlier. When he knocked in the short putt to win, Watson collapsed into his mother’s arms and bawled.
“I’ve never had a dream go this far,” he would say afterward, “so I can’t say it’s a dream come true.”
Back in Florida, his wife, Angie, tended to their newly adopted son Caleb. The couple had endured a long and frustrating adoption process, one that lasted more than four years. After they were turned away “a couple of times,” Watson said, the call came in late March that they would become parents. Throughout Masters week, Angie texted cellphone photos and videos of the then-six-week-old boy, and in his winner’s press conference Bubba remarked that his greatest task moving forward was not living up to the expectations of being a major champion, but rather changing a dirty diaper for the first time.
“I can’t wait to get back,” he said then, beaming.
Shortly after being fitted for the green jacket, Watson headed to New York City for an appearance with David Letterman. Asked by the funnyman to describe his personal style of play, Bubba quipped: “Pfft – awesome,” which elicited a hearty chuckle from the king of late night. Twice he joined NBC’s Jay Leno for a segment, most famously in October, when Bubba unsheathed his pink driver and began bashing away on fresh produce to the delight of the in-studio audience.
And, yes, we would be remiss if we failed to mention his other viral videos, such as when he and Fowler plunged into a pool in Kiawah Island, or when he set up a mini-golf course on the seats in a private jet, or when he video-bombed reporter Alex Miceli on Golf Channel, or when he ripped full shots out of his rental house on Long Island. Bubba Golf. Embrace the phenomenon.
More so than any silly clip he posts on social-media sites, though, Watson is attractive to the casual fan because of the panache in his homespun game, the myriad shots you see Thursday through Sunday. Despite the recent fervor over the anchored putter, spectators still dig the long ball, and Bubba’s prodigious smashes (average drive: 315.5 yards) remain the longest on Tour. That was one boldfaced reason why Watson enjoyed his most profitable year on Tour in 2012, with more than $4.6 million in earnings, while seeing his profile seemingly expand by the round.
Yes, Bubba Golf appears to have some staying power in this crowded golf landscape.
As he might reply: #urwelcome.
Newsmaker of the Year schedule
No. 5: Dec. 21
No. 4: Dec. 23
No. 3: Dec. 26
No. 2: Dec. 28
No. 1: Dec. 31