JOHNS CREEK, Georgia – Bubba Watson says a runner-up finish in last year’s PGA Championship helped him understand how difficult it is to win on the Tour.
Even a career-best two wins this year have only reaffirmed Watson’s appreciation of the grind he must endure.
“I’ve learned that it’s hard work,” Watson said Tuesday before his first practice round for this week’s PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
“To win golf tournaments, to focus on the golf course, to do the things I want to do in my career, it’s going to take a lot of sweat and tears and a lot of energy, and that’s what I’m learning this year, and it was overwhelming at times,” he said.
Watson lost to Martin Kaymer in last year’s PGA Championship playoff at Whistling Straits.
His wins this year came at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January and the Zurich Classic in New Orleans in May.
Watson, 32, hasn’t played well in majors since last year’s PGA. He tied for 38th in the Masters, tied for 63rd in the U.S. Open after leading late in the first round and tied for 30th in the British Open.
He is sixth on the tour in earnings with $3.15 million and also sixth in the FedEx Cup standings.
He said he sometimes “feels like I’m sick” as he battles through tournaments.
“It feels like I don’t want to get out of bed, because I’ve grinded so much,” he said.
He said he’s made progress by learning to keep his focus, especially when he faces adversity.
“At New Orleans, I hit it in the water on No. 9, but for some reason, I was 3-down after that hole, but not one time did I pout,” he said.
He said he reassured himself by realizing “I’m three back with nine holes to go.”
“If every week I was three back with nine holes to go, that means I was playing pretty good all year,” he said. “And I somehow forced a playoff and won.
“So it just showed me how much hard work this is, really, to lift the trophy. It takes a lot out of you.”
The long-hitting left-hander played at the University of Georgia, about an hour away, but he said he has never played at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
He’ll play in the first round on Thursday about one week after the death of the unlikely source of his nickname.
Watson said he was “real chubby in the face” when he was born, so his late dad, Gerry, said he looked like a football player.
Like Bubba Smith, in fact.
“My dad wanted a baseball player and I came out chubby in the face and looked like a big football player, and he said I’m a Bubba. I’m a football player, not a baseball player. So ten seconds after I was born, he just called me Bubba.”
Smith died last week at 66.
The nickname stuck, but young Watson, whose first name also is Gerry, turned to golf, not football.
Watson wore camouflage trousers and a military shirt at the British Open to draw attention to Birdies for the Brave, a military outreach program supported by the PGA Tour.
He says he won’t be wearing special clothes this week but plans to wear something pink at every major next year.
“Everything we sell is going to go to charity for breast cancer, because my dad had cancer,” he said.
His father died from lung cancer last year.
Watson caused a stir this year by saying Tiger Woods was “going the wrong way” by tinkering with his swing and changing coaches.
Watson said Tuesday “people ran with” the comments “and said I said stuff; they said I said stuff about Tiger, which I love Tiger. I think he’s the best player ever. Media just runs with stuff.”