Cohen/Getty ImagesBubba Watson’s emotional win at last year’s Travelers Championship (with wife Angie) turned out to be the first of several big moments.Jun. 20, 2011
By Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
In the last 12 months, Bubba Watson‘s career has come farther than one of his mammoth drives.
Entering last year’s Travelers Championship, Watson had yet to win in more than 120 starts on the PGA TOUR, had contended in a major just once and never had represented the U.S. since turning professional in 2001.
Nor had he been in an all-boys musical band or to the White House, for that matter, but more on that later.
When Watson shows up at TPC River Highlands to defend this week’s title, it’s amazing, almost incredible, to think of the transformation Watson’s career and life have undergone in the past year.
“It’s going to be different,” Watson said. “Something new, something I’ve never experienced before. It will be neat to get back and remember some of the good shots, remember being six back starting Sunday. It’s going to be a learning experience. Hopefully, I can calm down and play some good golf.”
Watson has plenty to be excited about. His emotional playoff victory over Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin at TPC River Highlands — Watson broke down in tears afterward because his father, Gerry, was battling lung cancer — elevated Watson’s game to a new level. Six weeks later, he almost won his first major, losing to Martin Kaymer in a playoff at the PGA Championship.
That near-miss earned Watson a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, where he got his first taste of international competition at the highest level, and helped him finish a career-best 15th in the FedExCup. It also set the stage for a brilliant 2011 season.
Watson is one of only two players on the PGA TOUR with multiple victories this year (he won the Farmers Insurance Open and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans), and he also made it to the semifinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Watson is second in the FedExCup standings, 38 points behind leader Luke Donald.
So much of this progress can be traced to that magical Sunday afternoon a year ago. The joy of finally winning. The emotion of realizing he had accomplished his goal while his dad was still alive (Gerry died in October). And the realization the one person who had been holding Bubba Watson back was, well, Bubba Watson.
“Outside the ropes I was the fun-loving Bubba that my wife married,” he said. “But inside the ropes I was just really immature, really thinking that golf owed me something. I thought I was better than I was. Thought I should be winning. My dad’s situation really helped me, really showed me that golf means nothing.”
Watson confided at last month’s Media Day the person he used to idolize growing up was the late Payne Stewart. Not just because they liked to stand out on the course (Stewart with his knickers and Watson with his pink shaft on his driver), but because they both had to go through an attitude adjustment during their careers.
“I heard stories … I heard he was bad in the ’80s, I guess angry, not as friendly,” Watson said. “(He) changed his life around, though — became a man of faith, Christian man. He changed his life around and I got to see that. That’s who I looked up to. I really didn’t care what his record was, how many times he won, lost, what he won, I was just looking at him as a man and that’s who I followed.”
To show you how far Watson has grown as an individual, we should point out he’s actually won three times this year. You probably didn’t hear about his third title. It came in the men’s club championship of the Old North State Club in New London, N.C. When Watson and his wife, Angie, joined the club a few months ago, he had just one request: He wanted to play in the men’s club championship.
Not because he wanted to beat up on a bunch of high-handicappers. But because he thought it would be a perfect way to meet his new club members. No shock that Watson won with rounds of 66 and a club-record 63 (that included a 28 on the back nine). But he won more than a trophy — he also won over a bunch of new friends.
“I thought it was great that he played,” Ron Swanner, a local bank chairman and the club’s defending champion, told the Charlotte Observer. “Some people felt it wasn’t fair, but if he wants to take a weekend away from the glamour of the PGA TOUR and do this, well, it shows what a real person he is.”
Watson also showed a far different side of him with last week’s release of the Golf Boys video of “Oh, Oh, Oh,” a musical, uh, number performed by Watson and fellow PGA TOUR pros Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan. (Some may say a “no” needs to be placed in the middle of the name of the song.) In the video, Watson is dressed in overalls, looking very much like a Bubba.
It’s probably no coincidence that Stewart was also in a band comprised of pro golfers, Jake Trout and the Flounders, which also included Peter Jacobsen, Mark Lye and Larry Rinker. The good news is every time someone watches the Golf Boys video, money is raised for Crane’s foundation.
Watson’s penchant for giving back also explains why he wore the camouflage pants at last week’s U.S. Open. He participates in the TOUR’s “Birdies for the Brave” program, because his dad was a lieutenant in the Green Berets’ Special Forces during the Vietnam War. No doubt this was one of the talking points when Watson, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III got to visit with President Obama last week.
Yes, life has changed plenty for Watson since he left TPC River Highlands last year. Lucky us.