THE WORLD OF BUBBA WATSON IS ABOUT PLAYING IT RIGHT, ALL THE TIME
HEREâ??S THAT KID AGAIN. Hacking little plastic golf balls around the front yard.
All. Day. Long. If you were Bubba Watsonâ??s neighbor in tiny Bagdad, Fla., in the late 1980s, you likely picked up your share of those plastic balls from around your house. You might have thought the kid nuts for spending so much time on a game like golf.
Fast forward to April 2014. You may still think Bubbaâ??s a little crazy if you watch him, overall-clad and rapping in a YouTube video with three other young golf stars, or arriving at a tournament in the General Lee, the famous Dodge Charger from the Dukes of Hazard television series.
But thereâ??s one thing you wonâ??t do: You wonâ??t ever deny
Last month when Watson rolled in a short putt to capture his second Masters championship in three years, it marked his sixth win in five PGA seasons. With a win at the Northern Trust Open and the Masters victory, the 2014 season is off to a rollicking start. With less than half of the season gone, Bubba has already earned $4.5 million and been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world. Contrast that with 2012, when he won his first Masters and finished fifth in the points standings, earning $4.6 million.
Pretty amazing for a guy who taught himself the game. This son of the South is not the product of some rigid coach at a youth academy or country club. He learned the game by picking up a club at age 6, on his own. But unlike your everyday driving-range duffer, Bubba was not content to just whack the balls. The more he hit, the more he started experimenting, trying to bend the ball around trees or fade it past a mailbox.
â??I drew in the dirt driveway. Iâ??d draw a big circle, and that would be my hole, a 5-foot circle. Iâ??d go around it to the left and then Iâ??d go around it to the right. So I learned to cut it,â? Watson said. â??If you know about wiffle balls or plastic balls, itâ??s hard to cut. Then I learned to hook it the other way, hit it high over limbs, hit it low under limbs. Iâ??d say non-stop every day from 6 to 12 years old. Instead of playing with trucks out in the yard, Iâ??d play with a ball and a club.â?
He shined at Milton High in Florida and eventually at the University of Georgia, where he helped the Bulldogs win an SEC title. Thatâ??s also why youâ??ll frequently hear barking following Bubba around PGA courses. The Dawg Nation follows him everywhere.
Despite his ease picking up the game, building his winning career took time. After making his way onto the Nationwide Tour â?? the PGA equivalent of the minor leagues â?? in 2003, he finally earned his first PGA Tour card in 2002. From the 2006-2009 seasons, he missed 42 cuts. Yet, there were signs of promise. During that same period, he finished second twice and third in another event. Bigger things were just around the corner.
The 2006 season was the beginning of the Bubba breakout. He won his first PGA event and finished 8th in the world rankings-amazing for a guy who had not even made the top 50 the year before.
â??The team I have around me, we have always thought that Iâ??ve had the talent,â? he said. â??We always felt like I could play golf at a high level. But then to actually do it is the hard part.â?
Bubba found that out again in 2013, when he finished without a Tour victory. Prior to that season, he had won at least one PGA Tour event every year since 2010. But it wasnâ??t all about golf. Thatâ??s a common theme when it comes to Bubba.
â??I was learning to be a dad and a husband,â? he said of 2013. â??Golf wasnâ??t the first thing on my mind.â?
This year, he is back with a vengeance, showcasing a unique combination of huge power and a solid putting game. Long off the tee, Bubba leads the PGA Tour in driving distance, averaging better than 315 yards a drive. He once hit a 442 yard drive, among the longest ever recorded on the Tour. Those youthful, front yard swings are indeed paying off.
The length also helps set him up for some low score opportunities that Bubba is converting. Heâ??s second on the Tour in eagles. His short game has also strengthened. Inside five feet, Bubba is almost a given, hitting 98 percent of his putts from that distance. With tournaments coming down to a single stroke, misses can be costly. Bubba isnâ??t missing.
But Bubbaâ??s appeal goes far beyond the driving power, prize money and green jackets. He has a humble, everyman quality that hasnâ??t dissipated with the rush of success. Heâ??s a dedicated family man and husband. He eschews the lavish lifestyle of many star athletes, evidenced most recently by his choice of celebratory venue after his Masters win: Waffle House.
It showed again during the public ceremony on the 18th green at Augusta National, where Bubba received his second green jacket. He started talking about what made him most proud over the past week. It wasnâ??t the win or a specific drive or putt. It was coming out the weekend before the Masters to watch kids compete in the PGAâ??s Drive, Chip and Putt competition. Bubba wasnâ??t scheduled to be part of the event. He saw it on TV from his hotel room in Augusta and made his way to the course. He simply wanted to see kids playing and loving the game.
â??What a dream, what an honor, what a privilege to be here,â? he told the Golf Channel. â??I was looking at my son, thinking what a dream if he could eventually do something like this. So I had to be here to support them.â?
In a sport with more than its share of stoic figures, Bubba wears his emotions on his sleeve. Youâ??ll frequently see tears in his eyes after a tournament win. It all began with his first Tour victory, at the Travelers Championship in 2010, which he won in a playoff. He dedicated the win to his father, who was battling cancer and would pass away later that year.
â??Seeing the family members with their kids. I mean, what a joyous occasion that is, having the ability to do that,â? he said of his most recent Masters experience. â??So thatâ??s really what I play the game for, because I love it. It brought me so much closer to my mom and dad.â?
He punctuated his 2014 Masters win by walking through the crowd, giving as many high-fives as he could, all while carrying son Caleb. He and his wife, former University of Georgia and WNBA player Angie Ball Watson, adopted Caleb in March 2012, and Bubba, even as a busy professional golfer, seems well-suited to the role of doting dad.
â??We worked out schedules, how I can practice, practice at a high level,â? he explained following the Masters. â??If itâ??s 30 minutes, if itâ??s an hour, just get a quick practice in and then come back and be a dad and be a husband. So we figured out our schedule and how to travel better and everything, and here we are today.â?
Add time management to the list of things Bubba is good at. He finds time to be pro golfer, husband, family man and, donâ??t forget, budding music sensation. He, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Ben Crane dubbed themselves the Golf Boys and produced a music video that has been viewed more than 7 million times on YouTube.
Everything Bubba does seems to come up golden. Yet, amazingly, he continues to keep it all in perspective.
â??I just got lucky enough to have two green jackets. Iâ??m just trying to keep my Tour card every year, and if people say that Iâ??m a good player, thatâ??s great,â? he said. â??But Iâ??m not trying to play golf for a living. Iâ??m not trying to play golf for everybody to tell me how great I am or Iâ??m one of the greats of the game. I play golf because I love it, I love the game, I want to grow the game. The game has brought me everything that Iâ??ve ever owned in my life.â?