The first of the four 2014-2015 World Golf Championships is in the books and Bubba Watson could not have provided a more exciting finish.
After getting himself within shouting distance down the stretch in the WGC-HSBC Champions at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China, the wheels started to come off. He bogeyed the 16th and double-bogeyed the 17th after leaving his bunker shot in the bunker. So what was he thinking?
“When I got to the bunker on 17, there was a lot of sand there. Created a big ball mark. But it came out of the ball mark but it was on an upslope. So it was going to be real soft, and you could see that in the pitch mark in the bunker. I knew it was going to be delicate. I went with one more club; normally 60‑degree, went with 56‑degree, tried to get more bounce to fight through the sand, and obviously came out really, really soft [and stayed in the bunker].”
“And then the next one, I tried to take less sand, came out a little bit hotter. So it was just a very difficult shot, maybe not for somebody else, but for me it was. The sand was just really, really soft.”
“But then looking at the leaderboard, you have to set little goals for yourself, and obviously that putt on 16, the 4‑footer or 3‑footer, whatever it was, make that [for bogey]. And I told myself, I’m still leading. Then go to 17, 2‑putt [for double], and going to a par 5 , we can still make eagle to have a chance to win.”
All of this knocked him out of his solo lead and left him one stroke behind five players: Tim Clark, Rickie Fowler, Graham McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Hiroshi Iwata. Talk about high drama.
“Going to 18, I never gave up. I just put my head down and kept grinding out, trying to grind out and it’s not just about grinding out a win. It’s about grinding out a higher finish. If you don’t win, you want to come in second, if you don’t come in second, you want to come in third.”
He hit a perfect drive on 18 that left him with 233 to the hole into the wind.
“A little bit into the wind so tried to hit a 4‑iron and kind of fanned it out into the bunker.”
The fact that he tried to hit a 4-iron into the wind from 233 was other-worldly, even though he left himself with a downhill bunker shot some 60 feet from the hole. So I’m not sure what you would call what happened next.
“Yeah, you have to look at the positives knowing that you still have a shot. And great caddie on the bag telling you you’ve still got a shot, and I’m reminding him I’m still in it. I’m not giving up yet.”
“So, yeah, I told him walking into the bunker on 18, I said right when Rickie was chipping, I said, ‘It’s been a miserable couple holes here.’ I said, ‘But this will change everything if this goes in.'”
“He says, ‘This is how legends are made.’ And it actually went in. And I didn’t know what to do. So I just yelled. So I didn’t know what to do. And then me and Rickie gave a perfect high‑five — or low‑five; we talked about it in scoring how good it was, high five, or low five.”
You’ve surely seen the video by now; he takes a full swing with the shaft parallel at the top, whips it back down into the same soft sand, the ball floats softly out onto the green and rolls slowly but inexorably down the slope and into the hole for eagle.
That got him to 11-under. Tim Clark made a 5-footer to join him in the playoff. The three players in the last group were all unable to convert.
And then he hit it in the very same bunker again in the playoff with the very same 4-iron. It didn’t come out as cleanly this time, but it was on the same line as the one that went in in regulation. When Clark’s 25-footer for birdie missed, Watson rolled is in for the win.
One of Watson’s new-found charms is that he recognizes his failings as a person and he is diligently working on becoming a better person of faith, a better husband and a better father. That little boy that he and his wife adopted a few years ago has had a profound effect on him. You can hear it in his summation of his year:
“I think it’s been a great year. Roller coaster, not really sure if that’s how I’d put it, but the 64,64 [at Riviera to win] obviously started off pretty well [especially with his second Masters win in April]. I had some good finishes here and there.”
“It’s all about learning. It’s all about learning the process. Obviously I think the big learning curve that I had was the PGA Championship was when the media or Twitter people or whatever it is called me out on my [petulance] issues and hopefully I resolved them. I’m going to still mess up some days.”
“But that’s really what this week was about, was hanging in there, not pouting, not getting too emotional. And today, I bogeyed the first hole but then came back with a couple birdies. And then I bogeyed a hole, doubled a hole and then eagled a hole and then birdied in a playoff. So it was just about keeping in there until the last moment.”
“So the year when you look at it, after winning the Masters, just like before, sponsors want you a lot more. They call you a lot more. They want you to sign a lot more stuff. Your fan base grows a little bit, so there’s more time with fans signing stuff, doing little contests with fans.”
“And then how do you still be a good husband — well, I think I’m a good husband, a good dad. It’s all about learning all that, how to deal with it all. It’s how do you manage your time wisely and then how do you manage your time about growing the game of golf, how do you manage your time about inspiring people, no matter if it’s in golf or just in life in general. And being a good friend. And then golf somehow gets in the way of all of that.
So I think I’ve handled it pretty good. A few missed cuts this year, so that’s getting better. My consistency is getting better. So I’m looking at it as a great year, a good learning curve and obviously the wins are proving that I can and I am going in the right direction”
This win certainly makes a statement about that, particularly since it is not only a WGC event, but an overseas event. All the great players in the history of the game have had games that traveled well. It was an important goal for Watson…and now he’s accomplished it. Coupled with his six other wins including two Masters, you’d have to agree with him that he’s going in the right direction.
Nice to see someone growing before your eyes.