NASSAU, Bahamas – The misnomer is that there is a specific lineup of courses where “Bubba Golf” plays: Augusta National, Torrey Pines, Trump National Doral.
Bubba Watson can add a new stop to that rotation following this week’s event at Albany Golf Club, where the free-swinging southpaw carved and cajoled his way to a three-stroke victory on Sunday at the Hero World Challenge, which will be played, at least for the near future, at the big Bahamian ballpark.
Albany checks all the right boxes for Watson - long for a course at sea level (7,267 yards), with five par 5s, and not a magnolia tree in sight that must be weaved around, over or through (even though he's proven pretty adept at that, too).
Even before the first tee shot this week, Jordan Spieth pegged Watson as the man to beat.
“Bubba will like it, there's nothing blocking the tee shots,” the defending champion said on Wednesday.
Like nearly everything else Spieth has done this season, he called this week’s outcome perfectly.
Watson took a two-stroke lead into a rainy and windy final round, birdied four of his first seven holes and didn’t allow anyone to get closer than two strokes thanks to a closing 66 and a 25-under total.
Not bad for a guy who committed to the tournament, then withdrew when his family had trouble completing the travel paperwork for his son, and finally stepped back in when Jason Day decided to spend some extra time at home with his newborn daughter.
Had Watson known the Ernie Els-designed Albany course was going to be so much to his liking and suited to his brand of uniquely creative golf, he probably would have never considered missing the event.
On Saturday, Watson was asked for his definition of “Bubba Golf” and the answer was telling: “It’s having fun, right? And that’s what we should be doing, having fun and hitting shots,” he said.
Watson’s totals for the week scream “fun,” which is slightly ironic considering the two-time major champion didn’t immediately take to Albany.
“This course is better than I am,” he said following an opening 67 on Thursday. “But today I showed how I can beat it.”
Specifically, Watson explained that Albany’s greens were too small for his liking, comparing them to those at RBC Heritage at Harbour Town on Hilton Head, where he hasn’t played since 2007.
It’s those modest putting surfaces, however, that may have given Watson his advantage this week.
“Every year he's in the top 5, top 10 in tee-to-green strokes gained,” said Rickie Fowler, who finished third after a final-round 64. “That's big when you start getting small greens, just because he may have shorter clubs in, but he's hitting as many or more greens than people and has more looks [at birdie].”
There is also something to be said for Watson’s creativity from tight spots, like when he scrambled from what he called a “wasteland” on the 18th hole to salvage a par on Day. 2.
“I don’t know what Bubba would say, but for me I’d call that [shot] 1-in-50 to pull that off,” Spieth said.
While Albany certainly qualifies as a Bubba-approved venue, it would be a disservice to the quirky 37-year-old to label him a big ballpark specialist.
He’s won the Travelers Championship twice – which is played at TPC River Highlands, one of the circuit’s shortest layouts (6,841 yards) – and the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, widely considered a ball-striker’s paradise.
“I get nervous just like anybody else, and I just try to find a way to get the ball in play,” said Watson, who set the stage for his Sunday romp with a then-course record 63 on Saturday. “I hit some big slices today, hit some big hooks today, just [trying] to get the ball in play. I’m just trying to look for a score. I’m not looking for perfection.”
Although generally speaking, Watson certainly favors open fairways with straightforward visuals - or, put another way, a layout that offers a right-brainer like Bubba immediate and unimpeded feedback - but there is more to his magic than that.
Courses like Plainfield (N.J.) Country Club, host of this year’s Barclays, have far too much subterfuge and, ultimately, doubt for a player like Watson.
“I’m not making excuses about how I play golf,” Watson said at The Barclays, where he took a one-stroke lead into the third round before finishing alone in third place. “But you look at the golf course, it’s [a lot] of blind shots. ... For me, being a visual player, I can’t see my landing and how I want to shape the balls.”
It’s the kind of thought process that at least partially explains Watson’s record at the Open Championship, where his best finish is a tie for 23rd.
It also offers a glimpse into why his competitive tastes when it comes to golf courses seem so eclectic. Length would appear to be the common thread, but for an artist like Watson that would be a wild generalization and an unfair assessment when it comes to his unique brand of golf.
There are a handful of places where “Bubba Golf” is the perfect mix of power and originality. After his show this week at the Hero World Challenge, he can add Albany to that list, but Watson is much more than simply a horse for a specific course.