There is a starchy convention within golf that says that to be successful, there is a right and correct way to behave, to dress, to act and even swing a golf club. Traditionalists will state that there is such a thing as a perfect golf swing and that any deviation from this is likely to result in less than satisfactory results.
There is, it seems, a stereotypical ‘perfect’ golfer who swings the club in an aesthetically pleasing way, who stays well within the conventions of the game and who embodies an idealised form of golfing perfection.
Fortunately for us all, the new Masters Champion Bubba Watson isn’t that golfer.
It wasn’t so long ago that if you asked a typical American to name someone famous from “Bagdad”, then they probably would have had Saddam Hussein atop a list of precisely one. So how has this god-fearing citizen of Bagdad, Florida become not only the newest Major champion, but also the fourth best golfer in the world and the darling of the American media?
The answer is quite simply that Bubba Watson doesn’t just break the mould of what should be a good golfer, he smashes it. Utterly and completely.
Bubba’s swing has been lampooned by many commentators for its lack of aesthetics and adherance to the accepted forms of a ‘proper’ swing, but then it is not difficult to see why Bubba’s swing is so rough and ready, when you understand that he has never had a golfing lesson in his life and is entirely self taught. Nor has he ever felt inclined to ‘review’ his swing using video. The truth is, Bubba is the perfect example of the belief that the the aesthetics of a swing matter less than its effectiveness.
And Bubba’s swing is mightily effective.
Few fans of the game will have seen a golfer drive the ball so far, so powerfully and so consistently as Bubba Watson. One eminent golfing commentator remarked at the weekend after Watson had hit another scorching 330+ yard drive, that if golf course designers took note of how far Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were hitting the ball in the mid-to-late 90’s and made adjustments accordingly, watching Watson may make them tear up their design manual and start all over again.
Yet for all the bluster over his garish pink Ping driver and his massive distance from the tee, in truth if there was one aspect of Watson’s game that won him the Masters title, it was his play on and around the green. You don’t win any major putting poorly, as Lee Westwood is finding to his cost, and Watson was as immaculate on the greens as he was from the tee. His putting and chipping was simply first rate.
What won Watson the title however was not just his consistency when in position, but his imagination when out of it. Like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Watson produced a shot of such ingenious complexity and difficulty at a time when it really mattered. With Louis Oosthuizen short of the green with his second shot in the second play off hole, Watson found his ball deep in the rough short of the green and way off to the right. Yet he took a sand wedge and attempted the most audacious fade around the trees, landing the ball on the green, finishing 15-feet from the hole.
That’s not just immense golfing ability, that is bravery on an epic scale and it is perhaps that attitude which has elevated Watson into the popular psyche of the American public.
There’s also a quirkier side to Watson, as his involvement with the mock-boy band the Golf Boys, alongside Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Ben Crane, proves. There’s also the fact that Watson spent $110,000 on his dream car. Not a Ferrari, Rolls Royce or American supercharged beast, but instead the original General Lee 1 vehicle from the Dukes of Hazzard TV series, that needed completely repairing after being damaged almost beyond repair following a stunt for the famous TV series. Watson spent 16 months and more of his hard earned cash rebuilding the car back to pristine condition.
His TV star car is perhaps the second ‘drive’ that he is most famous for!
Bubba has also courted controversy, he’s been labelled as moody and emotional by some and he upset his French hosts at the 2011 French Open by being less than complimentary about some of France’s major landmarks and people taking pictures while he played in the competition. Watson did apologise, putting it down to his inexperience abroad but stated in his defence that he was just “a golfer, not a history major”.
His tearful victory at Augusta may well have moved him into the World’s top five and elevated him to a new level in American sports, but it is heartening for so many golfers who perhaps cannot afford top coaching from a young age, who struggle with their own less than perfect swing and who may not adhere to the strict conventions of golf that there is more than one way to win a Major.
Bubba did it his way, and for that he deserves every credit and ounce of respect he is currently receiving.
Images by Bubba Watson Facebook Page