Bubba Watson: Tips From a Self-Aware Leader

Bubba Watson came off the front side at Augusta National at even par; one birdie and one bogey. He parred 10 and 11 and then unleashed his natural talent to make five birdies in a row: 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. That got him to 8-under for the tournament. But he wasn’t paying any attention to that.

What he was doing was just paying attention to keeping himself on a level emotional keel.

Yeah, that five hole stretch was good.  It’s one of those where you’re not focused on what you’re doing, you don’t know that you’re making all these birdies, you’re focused on one shot at a time.

At Augusta that’s what you have to do.  We were guessing [what the wind was doing on every one of those holes]. 

So you’re so focused on what you’re doing and making sure you’re guessing the wind right that you don’t really think about anything else.  You’re not thinking you just made a birdie or your second birdie or your third birdie, you’re just trying to make the cut somehow.

It’s hard to believe that such an accomplished player, including winning the 2011 Masters, is really playing that scared. Because if he was [having been there personally], he would be too distracted from what he was trying to do. I think for Bubba, playing to “make the cut somehow” is just a way to create a little drama to get himself up on the edge of his seat without getting himself too jacked up. It’s the same with the roars from the crowd:

The roars are good.  But when you’re focused, like I said, if you watch me throughout the last two holes, I keep my head down, just so I don’t get energized, just so I don’t get pumped up, just to stay focused on what I’m doing and committed to what I’m doing.

You might think that having once won this prestigious tournament, he would be a little more at ease with himself. And he is…just not that much:

We’re still professional golfers, so we’re still nervous.  It doesn’t matter if you won it 42 times in a row, you’re still nervous about it.  You’re still wanting the best.

So for me, yeah, you’re nervous and that’s why I’m keeping my head down, just to stay focused on what I’m doing, not look at leaderboards, just play golf.  That’s really what you’re trying to do and what I’m going to try to do the next two days.  It might turn out to be horrific, but at least I have that shot at it.

One of the things that helps to press through these butterflies is to play as if you are confident. And one of the things that engenders confidence is to be completely committed, right or wrong, to each and every shot. A committed swing is a swing that goes to the top and then finishes at the top, accelerating the whole way through:

So, yeah, you’re always unsettled, you’re always worried about what’s going on.  You’re always trying to be, like you said, committed to your shots.  Even if it’s the wrong club, you still commit to it, so a good swing is going to be better than a real bad swing.

And it also helps to narrow things down a bit by having specific goals. Bubba has one that is at the head of the food chain because it brings all the others along:

I felt really good.  You know, you start off hitting a tee shot in the fairway on the first hole, hit a good iron shot, so that gets the confidence going and gets everything going, your juices flowing.

It’s not science here.  It’s try to hit the greens, and if you’re hitting the greens that means you’re obviously hitting your tee shots well.  So that’s all I’m trying to do is just hit the greens. That means my tee shots are good and two putts, maybe throw in a birdie here or there.

So that’s really all I was doing and that’s what I’ve done the last two days and it’s worked out so far.

So what happens when you launch off the first tee and into oblivion? Most people, depending on how bad oblivion is, begin to worry about what that portends; just how bad is it going to get today? That is not Bubba’s problem. As he sees it now, he doesn’t have any problems.

When you look back at my short career or my life, as a kid, I think we all do the same thing, as a kid you have that chance to win, you always dream about making a putt or chipping in to win or something like that, from 10, 12, 13 years old.  So as a kid, your whole goal in life to is to make the PGA Tour, and when you make the PGA Tour, then you think you should be the best.  And so your goals change.

So what I’m trying to do is go back to being a kid again and just rejoicing.  I’ve said this whole year is about rejoicing and thinking about, as a kid, you’ll be so excited to play on the PGA Tour for nine years.  So when you hang your head because you shot 77 in the last round or an 80 in the last round, it really doesn’t mean anything. As a kid, you don’t think about the bad days.  You always think about the great days.

So playing here at Augusta, there’s a lot of people that wished they could play this tournament and a lot of people that wish they could play this tournament more than once.  So for me, that’s what I have to look at, where I’m at in my life, where I’m at in my career.  I’ve just got to keep grinding.

It’s all about not focusing on the bad stuff.  It’s about how lucky I am to be able to play golf for a living and just keep going from there.

He had mentioned playing in gratitude and thankfulness before. And to listen to him today, you really get the true measure of the man. He’s all in.

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