News & Opinion

Like him or not, Watson stands out

The plain and simple truth is that Bubba Watson is not like anyone else on the PGA Tour, which is why people have such a hard time giving him his due.

He won two Masters, one more than Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed and two more than Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day.

Watson has won 12 times on the PGA Tour since 2010, only two fewer than McIlroy, one more than Spieth and the same number as Jason Day. Dustin Johnson has 18 victories during that time span.

6a42f07f-1785-4506-94eb-e19db4165c8b_600x400.jpg
Accented in pink, Bubba Watson colors the PGA Tour in his own style.

© GOLFFILE/BRIAN SPURLOCK
Accented in pink, Bubba Watson colors the PGA Tour in his own style.

After winning the Travelers Championship on Sunday for the third time, Watson is the only player on the PGA Tour in the 2017-18 season with three victories.

But if you were to ask 100 people on the street to list the 10 best players in the world, Bubba likely wouldn’t make anyone’s list. He’s No. 13 on the Official World Golf Ranking, which owes to his lackluster season a year ago, not the way he’s playing this year.

The problem with Watson is that he’s more complicated than anyone on Tour, even Bryson DeChambeau. It was funny that Watson and DeChambeau were paired together on Sunday at the Travelers and Watson shot 63 to win the tournament, while DeChambeau shot 68 and tied for ninth. You can’t help but wonder whether DeChambeau learned anything from Watson. You can be assured that nothing was learned the other way around.

No matter how many tournaments Watson wins, he always will be looked at as a freak show, a high-wire act. He hits the ball insane distances with his driver, and all that TV announcers want to talk about when covering Watson is how much he curves the ball, 30 or 40 yards at a clip. His swing defies convention, present or past. He does things no one would teach. In that regard, he claims never to have taken a lesson. To a person, everyone says Watson has the best hands in golf.

Speaking of which, the grips on Watson’s clubs are extraordinary. On his driver and irons, technicians pile on 12 wraps of tape under the grip under his bottom hand and 10 wraps under his top hand. On his lob wedge, it’s 13 wraps under the bottom hand and 11 wraps under his top hand. His putter has “only” seven wraps of tape under the grip. The grips on his clubs look like Little League bat handles.

He’s quirky, cranky and seen as a complainer. His longtime caddie, Ted Scott, catches the brunt of Watson’s moods during a tournament when he appears to blame poor Scott for a bad read on a putt or the wrong calculation of the wind direction.

In an ESPN anonymous-player poll, Watson was voted as least likely for players to defend in a fight. You can question the validity of such a poll, but it remains that the perception is out there that Watson is one of the least-liked players among his peers.

In the 2014 Ryder Cup, it was said that Webb Simpson, one of the kindest souls on Tour, was selected as a captain’s pick so that Watson would have a partner. No one else wanted to play with him. Watson and Simpson teamed in the first four-ball match and were dusted by Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, 5 and 4, mostly because Simpson wasn’t playing very well. Captain Tom Watson assigned Watson to pair with Matt Kuchar in the second-day four-balls and they, too, were kicked by Rose and Stenson.

Last season, Watson lost more than 20 pounds, telling the media that he was on a strict diet. But early this season, he revealed that he suffered from a mysterious, undisclosed illness in 2017 and that he’s back on the road to good health.

Equally as mysterious was his change to the Volvik golf ball – a brand that no one else on Tour plays – which came in bright pink, a favorite color of Watson’s. He’s back with Titleist, his longtime ball manufacturer, and some say that his success this year can be tied to that decision.

But there’s another side to Bubba Watson. When he didn’t make the 2016 Ryder Cup squad, he wanted to be part of the team so badly that he practically begged captain Davis Love III to be an assistant and volunteered to do anything that the captain wanted him to do.

That’s part of Watson’s other side. He is a prolific giver to charity. After winning the Travelers, he donated $200,000 of his $1.26 million winner’s check to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a place where seriously ill children can go to camp and leave their illnesses behind, being just regular kids for a week.

In 2012, he started a Drive to a Million campaign that raised $1.3 million through the end of 2013. In 2015, a custom car that he owned was sold at auction for $410,000, and he donated the proceeds to Birdies for the Brave, a charity for military veterans. Last year, he received a $1 million prize from MetLife Matchup, a season-long contest in which viewers voted for the best shot of the year. Watson donated $500,000 from that prize to the Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Fla., near his hometown.

Whether you love Watson or don’t, whether you think he’s genuine or not, whether you believe he’s underrated, he’s still one of the best players in the world. No matter what else you might think about Watson, that’s something absolutely no one should deny.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter:@mikepurkeygolf