SAN DIEGO – As Bubba Watson was walking to the 10th tee Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open he heard someone in the crowd whisper, “Can you believe it?”
On the next hole he heard a fan say something about Kobe Bryant. “I looked at my caddie and was like what is going on?” Watson said.
Watson was one of the few players who learned during the final round of Bryant’s passing in a helicopter accident early Sunday. Most, like Tiger Woods, were told the news after they’d finished the final round.
“I didn't understand why they were yelling, ‘Do it for Mamba’ on the back nine. People yell things all the time, so I was just, you know, plodding along, doing my own thing,” Woods said. “When [caddie Joe LaCava] told me [Bryant had died], it's unbelievable, the reality that he's no longer here.”
Although Bryant wasn’t an avid golfer, players had an appreciation for what he accomplished in his career as well as his fierce competitiveness.
“His dedication, his drive, the fact that he would make his teammates wait on the bus for two hours while he set an example and worked hard and mastered his craft, and that's what he did, he was a pure master of what he did,” said Rory McIlroy, who wore a pair of tribute Nike shoes during the 2016 Masters to honor Bryant’s last NBA game. “That's just so sad.”
The news hit Tony Finau particularly hard.
“My mom passed away in a tragic car accident in 2011. It's crazy that some of those feelings that I had at that time are back,” Finau said. “That's how much Kobe meant to me at a different magnitude. The love of a mother is one that I think you can't replace, but to have some of those feelings come back when I heard the news makes me quite sad and I'll be mourning.”
Max Homa, a life-long Laker fan who is one of 13 Tour players who list Bryant as their favorite athlete, was also stunned by the news and told a story of being inspired by a letter that Bryant kept in his locker.
“It was a story about someone with a pick axe who is hitting a boulder, he takes 100 blows and it doesn’t even crack and on the 101st blow it splits apart. The wise man knows it wasn’t the 101st blow that broke it, but instead the 100 [blows] that came before it,” Homa said. “That meant a lot to me to be able to take things day by day and shot by shot and know that all those things will add up at some point to success. Kobe was Superman.”
In addition to Homa, other players who listed Bryant as their favorite athlete were: Dominic Bozzelli, Bud Cauley, Roberto Diaz, Tony Finau, Emiliano Grillo, Brandon Hagy, Mark Hubbard, Sung Kang, Michael Kim, Luke List, Kyle Stanley and Justin Thomas.