Bubba Watson: Mastery tips from the Travelers Championship

Beginning with his first transcript on Wednesday at the Travelers Championship at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, it was Bubba Watson’s week. He came out with such a personal and insightful interview, you couldn’t help but have a whole new appreciation for who he is as a man and a player.

And then to polish the whole thing off with a 2-hole playoff victory over Paul Casey, well, it was almost like it was preordained.

And once again, Bubba was very forthcoming in his comments. An so here are the salient mastery issues from this week’s mastery: ¬†

The week was a great week. Everything was — my body felt good. My mind was calm. Coming down the stretch, I didn’t execute. I didn’t make the shots I needed to make. Paul Casey made the shots he needed to make.

Then in the playoff I hit a good shot, put some pressure on him and got a victory. It does remind me of 2010 where coming down the stretch I had to hit some good shots and I didn’t. That bunker I hit in the water in 2010. This time I got over the water.

But, yeah, I had to force a playoff. So it’s good to get the victory. I wish it was a lot easier, but a victory is a victory.

So speaking of that 2010 playoff, what was he able to draw on from that to win on Sunday? The biggest one was evidence of his greatness. The key element that he didn’t discuss here is that while he finally received evidence of his greatness, he had to first believe in his greatness. The crux of the mastery process is to continue to believe in your greatness in the face of failure after failure. Past Champion, Ken Duke, had to believe for 187 attempts before he won the Travelers and Harrison Frazar had to keep believing for 355 before he won in Memphis:

Well, I mean, I proved to myself in ’10 that I could win under pressure in the playoff. I proved to myself that I could mess up 17 and still have a chance to win, and so I knew that if I just kept my head down and kept doing what I needed to do, I could still have a chance to win, and that’s what I did. I kept grinding it out. No matter where the shot went, I kept focused on what I needed to do at that moment, and somehow it worked out and I’m sitting here.

Watson also talked about his criteria for being satisfied with his career, 10 wins. Now with 8, one can’t help but think that as his sense of himself continues to flower, he will be raising the bar to what’s appropriate for what he will finally sees in himself. That self-realization is another element of the mastery process:

No. My whole goal in my career was to get ten wins. I needed two more wins. I felt like in this day and age with the talent level all across the world, everybody playing the game of golf, that 10 is a big number to get double digit wins on the PGA Tour with as many players that are winning, all the talent, all the people know how to prepare now.

Tiger Woods raised the bar for everybody, and I think that around the world they’ve raised the bar. So it makes it tougher to win. So 10 was always a big number it just sounds better I have ten than nine. I think double digits, if you have double digit wins this day and age, I think that’s pretty good. Other people might, Tiger thinks differently than I do, but I just think that ten wins is a big number.

He was asked how he summons the fortitude to gear up for a playoff, the do-or-die, take-no-prisoners end of the day. Once again he began with a self-deprecating observation that didn’t come across as false humility:

Kind of funny you’re asking me about the mental part because I’m not very good at it. You know, it’s really about who can stay focused and committed under pressure. Today I was in between clubs going into the last hole in regulation. I knew missing it on the left was going to be my best option to get up and down to force a playoff, so that’s what I did. Then in the playoffs I had perfect numbers where I could hit an 8-iron both times.

So it’s just about staying calm. That’s what you have to do. Just breathe, walk slower. For me, walk slower, take some deep breaths and focus on the fact that no matter what, you’re still coming in second place.

So for me that’s how I do it. Right or wrong, I don’t know, but that’s how I do it. Just try to take it one shot at a time and hopefully the other guy is more nervous than you.

And somebody called him on his self-deprication:

Q. You seem kind of self-deprecating the last couple days when you talk about the mental part of the game. Yet I think the things that you do you have to be mentally strong. So what am I missing?

I think you’re looking too deep into it. If you’ve ever played golf, we’re all mental. It’s just who is better at that moment. I worked so hard on focusing over the ball on my set up, my putt, and anybody that tells you they’re not nervous or they’re not a head case on the golf course, they’re lying to you.

So I’m just being truthful. Just telling the truth. So for me, I know those things. I know those keys, and I’ve got to get better at those, and that’s what I do. I talk about it. Me and Teddy [his caddie] talk about it.

How do you get better? You have to focus on the golf course. Put your head down. It’s not that I’m mad or anything like that. I’m putting my head down so I can focus on what I need to focus on. Not focusing on the crowd yelling your name or the bad stuff like the water or the out of bounds and all those things.

By me saying that I’m a head case, it’s not going to affect me on the golf course. I’m pretty driven when it comes to the golf course. I know to keep my head down and focus on what I need to focus on. Here I’m just joking and having fun. But we’re all head cases on the golf course.

And finally, he offered some mastery tips on how to handle the meltdown of your opponent in a playoff. Paul Casey had a cascading series of unfortunate shots that led to his demise, one of which involved a ruling that took an extended period of time:

Well, the first thing you know as a golfer is anything can happen. So when he hit that shot I’m not thinking that he’s going to mess up. I’m thinking he’s going to hole it. He’s going to hit this shot. He’s going to hit this incredible shot and somehow I’m going to struggle it down there and we’re going to go to another hole. So that’s what you’re thinking about.

Now obviously as he hit the next shot and he missed the putt, then you think in your head I’ve got to two putt, three-putt. But, yeah, while he’s hitting the shots and there is still a chance, you always believe there is a chance…You have to tell yourself that and you have to focus on what you need to focus on. Until the last moment I was still focused on I’ve got to make this putt. I’ve got to make this putt. That’s how you do it. You can’t give up anything because something crazy will happen and then you’re losing.

And because he never let up, he kept his head in the game while chaos was running rampant…and never missed a beat when it was time for him to sink his birdie putt.

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