Bubba Watson: On Being Scared

Bubba Watson had the low round of the day at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans shooting a 7-under 65. That was fortunate because when I tuned in, he was in jeopardy of missing the cut; he shot 73 on Thursday. But not on Friday. On Friday, he had 8 birdies against just one bogey.

Bubba’s great in the interview room because he sometimes becomes completely engaged in moments of candor that basically come out as a stream of consciousness. Friday was one of those days.

It began with a confession that he had “played scared” all day Thursday: 

Yeah, it was good.  You know, yesterday I played really scared.

I’m trying to play good.  When you do that you don’t hit quality shots and you just struggle [because you can get yourself bound up with the “trying”].

So today I just went out there, and I’m still scared, but just freed it up a little bit and I made some putts.  I made some great up-and-downs when I had to, and I just made my putt to keep my momentum going all day.

So one person didn’t understand what he meant by “playing scared” and, lucky for us, was smart enough to say so:

When you’re over the ball you don’t want to hit a bad shot so you pull it, you push it, and try to stay away from trouble.  So you never get comfortable over the ball.  That’s what happens is the game will drive you to it.

You’ve got water on the left so you pull it right [he’s a left-hander], or you’ve got water on the right so you push it left.  That’s pretty much how I played yesterday.

Today I still didn’t hit it as well as I wanted to, but I putted really well today.  I’m really pleased with my putting.

So here’s a guy with 4 PGA Tour victories including the 2012 Masters. Surely it’s a rarity for this to happen to him:

No, I do it all the time.  We all do it.  We’re human.  We want to make every shot perfect. So if you’re saying you’re not nervous or not scared on some shots, you’re lying.

But yesterday it seemed like every shot I was nervous on.  I was always trying to hit the best shot and always worrying about the results not worried about the execution.

So today I just came out and had a sit‑down with my caddy and I talked about it.  Hit some good shots on the range, and I made the putts though.  The round today was not much better than yesterday.  It’s just I made putts.

Three key ideas came out of this passage: (1.) Everybody gets scared because it’s part of being a human being, (2.) He shot 73 because he was worried about results rather than paying attention to the execution of the shot [pick a target, imagine a shot to that target, and then let your body hit that shot], and, (3.) The difference in most rounds is going to be putting, so putting practice is time well spent.

As to this last item, both Lucas Glover, who leads the tournament by a shot, and D.A. Points, who just won Houston and is two back in 3rd, said the same thing.

Glover said, “I’ve been hitting it good for a couple months and finally started making some putts.”

And Points famously won in Houston with his mother’s putter, “Well, if you make putts, the game of golf is so much easier.  I’m making putts and I’m very confident over my shorter putts.  When you feel like you’re going to make everything inside of 5 feet, that makes the rest of your life a lot easier.”

Bubba was asked if it was somewhat of a relief to have his year-long reign as Masters champion over? Would it be good to get all the distractions behind him?

No.  I mean would you always want to be called The Masters champion, you know, the year before Masters champion?  But, no, I hear what you’re saying.  It wasn’t a big deal to me.  Golf, no matter if you’re playing here in New Orleans, playing The Masters, the U.S. Open, playing at John Deere, you’re always going to want to play good golf.

Like I said, if anybody’s telling you they’re not nervous, they’re not scared at some point during the round, then they’re lying to you and they’re trying to be tougher.  Their mental coach told them to be tougher than me, I guess. [Self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing humor is part of his charm.]

For the most part that is the key.  You’re always going to be scared.  You just have to be committed to your shots, and today I was a lot more committed than I was yesterday.  Every shot I wasn’t committed.

Finally, in responding to a question about the amazing performance of 14-year-old Chinese player, Tianlang Guan, who not only made the cut at the Masters, he made it again this week in New Orleans, Bubba reiterated his fear meme:

At 14, he’s not trying to pay his house off, you know?  He’s living on his parents.  It’s one of those things where he doesn’t understand what’s going on right now.  I mean, he does understand, but what I’m saying is he doesn’t have the bad thoughts.

You know, at 34 years old, I’ve hit enough bad shots where now I get to worry about them.  But he doesn’t see that yet.  Right now this is the first time in the tournament, and he’s enjoying every minute of it.  I am too, but I worry.  He’s 14, he doesn’t worry yet.

In time, perhaps Bubba will come to see that with his accomplishments and talent, he can began to get on the other side of the curve where he doesn’t worry either.

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