Trophies – of any kind – fueling Bubba’s return to form
March 25, 2018
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Highlights from Championship and Consolation at Dell Match Play
AUSTIN, Texas – Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson. Ernie Els. Rory McIlroy. Two already in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Two others who are destined to be there.
Add Bubba Watson to that list. On Sunday, thanks to his 7-and-6 rout of Kevin Kisner in the finals of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, he became just the fifth player to win multiple World Golf Championships and multiple majors.
That may seem like trivia but it’s hardly trivial. It’s a neat little list -- not that Bubba has any interest in that. “You don’t think about lists or anything,” he said an hour or so after playing his 109th hole of a long week at Austin Country Club. “You just think about trophies and trying to win.”
Still, it’s a reflection of his ongoing climb into golf’s highest stratosphere, a journey he could merely dream of back when he was just “Bubba from Bagdad,” the kid who would draw cartoons about winning the Masters. When he first started out as a pro golfer, he simply wanted to be good enough to earn a PGA TOUR card. Once that happened, he just wanted to win a tournament. And when that happened, he shifted his goal to winning 10 events -- and then raising the possibility of retirement.
Bubba Watson's interview after the Championship of Dell Match Play
When he achieved each of those goals, he was overcome with tears of joy. On Sunday, it was another emotional celebration, one that moved him into fourth in the FedExCup standings. His 11th TOUR win – and his second in his last four starts, having won the Genesis Open last month – isn’t a nice round number, but it was accomplished in front of his mother, Molly.
Just a few years ago, not too long after Watson won his second Masters title, Molly chastised her son for not smiling enough and appearing too angry in public. There were plenty of smiles to go around Sunday after Watson closed out Kisner with a birdie at the par-5 12th. Molly also gave her son a hug.
“You’re really good at this game,” she said as Bubba began sobbing.
“Without you, I’m not,” her son replied.
When Bubba relayed that story to the media a short while later, he was smiling – which no doubt would’ve made Molly very happy.
“Without her dedication to her son, to her family, who knows what I’d be doing,” Watson explained. “I’d probably be working at the candy shop and not owning it. I definitely wouldn’t have trophies.”
Ah, yes, the candy shop. It’s called Bubba’s Sweet Spot in Pensacola, Florida. It’s one of several non-golf business interests that seemed to be rapidly filling up the Watson portfolio.
He has ownership in the city’s Double-A baseball team, the Blue Wahoos. He’s a partner in a car dealership, Sandy and Bubba’s Milton Chevrolet, in Milton, Florida. He’s involved in a 256-unit apartment complex and an office building. He also has a line of clothing that will soon be unveiled.
It was not too long ago that Watson wondered if he should spend more energy on those things and take a step away from golf. His health had become an issue. He had lost weight – and lost distance off the tee, his calling card. Demands on his time were increasing, meaning less time for his family. If he couldn’t play golf at a high level, what was the point? Making cuts held no interest for him.
“A very low point in my golf career,” he acknowledged.
His golf future was at a crossroads. He gathered together his family and consulted his golf team. But the truth is, Bubba Watson just wanted to play golf. He wanted to be creative, shape shots, see things – and do things – that no one else on TOUR can do. “I want to let my mind run wild on the golf course,” he said, adding, “That was my passion. The other things are my passion, but right now I still feel like I have the ability to play golf.”
Bubba Watson's 11-foot birdie putt on No. 10 at Dell Match Play
Meanwhile, his good health returned. So did his “A” game. His win at Riviera was his first TOUR win in two years (and his third at the course). This week, he picked up his first Dell Technologies Match Play win. It’s not a format he particularly enjoys – he’s more of a stroke-play guy -- but it’s a big statement in his bid to earn a spot on this year’s Ryder Cup team. He doesn’t mind being a vice-captain, like he was two years ago, but he’d rather go to Paris as a player.
“I hope Jim Furyk is watching,” he said of the U.S. captain, “because I really want to play in France.”
This week he will be with his family on vacation, one that was supposed to start Sunday until he had to adjust travel plans because he kept winning matches. Then he’ll be at Augusta National the following week. While he downplays his role as a favorite, given his current form, it’s easy to imagine him winning a third Green Jacket.
“I never felt a coat feel so good,” he said. “… I don’t know if I can get lucky three times.”
Defining his success as lucky, however, is getting difficult to believe. Bubba from Bagdad is tapping into his full potential, understanding who he is and properly channeling his inner drive and motivation. He’s left the dark place from last year and is seeing clearly now. Trophies are his thing – and they’re not always limited to the ones he holds aloft after a tournament.
Consider the $1.6 million donation he made last September to The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart back in Pensacola.
“Me donating money to the Children’s Hospital, that’s the biggest trophy I’ve ever been a part of,” Watson said. “When I’m no longer here, there’s going to be people being helped, kids being helped, families being helped. The Ronald McDonald house that’s attached to the hospital, we’ve been a part of that, seen some amazing stuff happen there.
“So when I look back at my career, it’s the stuff outside of golf. This check this week will help me do a lot of good throughout different communities.”
Bubba from Bagdad is growing up. He wants to win trophies and make the world a better place. At age 39, he’s clear-eyed, motivated and in great form – and in a great state of mind. Those dreams as a kid keep becoming realities.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “I can’t make that into a real story. I should write a book.”
“It would be a phenomenal book.”