Love him or loathe him, Watson is good for golf

By Jason SobelFebruary 17, 2014, 3:40 pm

Golf needs more players like Bubba Watson.

The idea hit me harder than Watson hits a golf ball about halfway through his final-round 64 that netted him the Northern Trust Open victory. Like most Sunday afternoons when I’m not on site at a tournament, I spent this one watching the telecast while simultaneously keeping an eye on Twitter. What I found, not surprisingly, was a wealth of fans cheering lustily for Watson – and maybe just as many cheering against him.

He is the rare professional golfer who elicits passion and emotion, both positive and negative. Tiger Woods is the longtime leader in the PGA Tour’s unofficial category of Most Polarizing, but the list extends past just him. Phil Mickelson is almost universally liked, but has his detractors, too. And a few others – Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter among them – inspire 19th-hole debates about their likeability.

All of which should be viewed through a prism of positivity for those who want the game to grow.

Stay with me here. Each of the three previous winners – and I mean no offense to Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler and Scott Stallings – collectively provoked a massive shrug from the masses, with some fans going as far as saying, “They seem like nice guys.” That would be a correct assumption, but hardly a passionate one.

Think of it this way: Even the NFL would be all sorts of boring if every fan mildly liked every team. That’s not to say the gentlemen’s game of golf needs to borrow from pro wrestling with heroes and villains, but the more players who evoke emotion, the better.

Photos: Bubba Watson through the years

I tweeted as much, in a 140-character burst and related to Watson, during the final round at Riviera. What followed was a series of fitting responses that only helped prove my point.

I refuse to believe that people hate Bubba.. nobody can hate Bubba!!

Hate is a strong word but, yea, I'd say that's about right

Why do people not like him? What's not to like from his nonchalant attitude on the course and off it.

Such a classless baby. Hope he blows it and we can hear him blame Ted and the cell phones.

The reasons for such venomous reactions largely stem from his on-course eruptions over the years. The most notable came during the final round of last year’s Travelers Championship, when live microphones caught Watson berating – some would say blaming - caddie Ted Scott for club selection at the 16th hole. Never mind the fact that he apologized soon afterward, nor that Scott himself never took issue with the outburst.

Just two weeks ago, Watson missed a putt to force a playoff at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, then instantly turned toward Scott. Again, some would contend he was blaming the caddie; again, that idea would be incorrect.

On Sunday afternoon at Riviera, there were multiple occasions of Watson having rabbit ears, overly worried about a cellphone camera or some other nearby noise emanating from the gallery.

It all gave those with preconceived notions about Watson greater ammunition for their argument. And unlike about 97 percent of his peers, Watson does have fans who actually root against him.

To counterbalance that, though, he also has more people supporting him than most other touring pros.

He didn’t surpass 1 million Twitter followers because he is disliked. His brand of what he’s termed Bubba Golf is enormously popular, with many fans enamored of his ability to not only hit the ball a long way, but work it in every direction, as evidenced by his Masters-winning bender of two years ago.

Watson wears his emotions on his sleeve to the point where he often looks on the verge of tears during competition. He is honest to a fault in interview settings and works on the front lines for various charities, not just donating money, but offering his time and effort.

He can be plenty goofy, too, whether it’s tooling around in the General Lee or rocking overalls and chest hair in Golf Boys music videos.

I’m not here to sway your opinion of Watson in either direction, though. And I’m certainly not here to judge you.

In fact, this really isn’t about him.

This is about the benefits of having players who elicit more than a shrug when they’re shown on the nearest television screen. It’s about the importance of fan integration in the form of raw emotion in a game that is too often devoid of any.

Watson is good for golf in the same way only a few others are. The mere presence of any of these names on a leaderboard is enough to prompt debate and discussion. It’s enough to get people talking, which in today’s sporting landscape isn’t easy.

That was evident once again on Sunday afternoon when Watson won the Northern Trust Open title. Those who love him celebrated the victory; those who love to hate him denounced it. Either way, though, he had everybody talking.

Getty Images

Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members on Wednesday morning.

Born on Aug, 23, 1929, Thomson was two months short of his 89th birthday.

The first Australian to win The Open Championship, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by Tom Watson.

On the American senior circuit he won nine times in 1985.

Thomson also served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years, designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.

In 1979 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were to be announced over the next few days.

Getty Images

Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

Getty Images

Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

Getty Images

Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.