The Face of Golf

I came across a post on written by Damon Hack, Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated, titled “Young Americans seem content to be faces in crowd, rather than face of golf.”

In it, he worries that today’s young players just don’t seem to have the right stuff. He complains that they have become complacent, willing to accept “racking up top 10s and the occasional victory,” rather than the hassles of being in the limelight. And because of that, American dominance in golf is a thing of the past. After all, International players hold the current title in all four majors and have won the last four Players championships.

And Hack sees this as a personality fault, a failure of character, a generalized slacker attitude. He hangs his argument on an AP interview in which Bubba Watson was quoted as saying, “I hope the Tour is not going to bank on me being their poster child,” Watson said. “I think it’s going to be harder to dominate, like we used to see, like Tiger has dominated for so many years.” Hack sees this as irresponsible.

What he’d like to see is Sales Manager, Alec Baldwin, in the film, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” confront these slackers as he does his salesmen in the film:

Baldwin would fix them with an icy stare and implore them to embrace the challenge of being the face of American golf. “Are you gonna take it?” Baldwin would ask, as he does in the movie. “Are you man enough to take it?”

Geez. Really? I know that we live our lives vicariously through our sports heroes, but has it really come to this? That in order to have a sense of self-validation, we’re willing to do anything in our insistence that our sports heroes be the best?

Maybe the reason Hack’s post hit me the wrong way is because of my experiences interviewing and sitting in on interviews with Bubba Watson. He has this public persona as a fun-loving goofball which he carefully nurtures with his tweets on Twitter. But beneath the veneer of him and his wife, Angie, frolicking in their North Carolina lake on jet skis, beats the heart of a glassy-eyed, stone cold killer on the golf course.

In this first interview from a series of interviews at this year’s WGC — Accenture World Match Play Championship, he had beaten his good friend Bill Hass in the first round. He and Angie had gone to breakfast with Haas and his wife that morning, and he was lamenting that he had to beat a good friend. I wondered, from a mastery point of view, how he compartmentalized his friendship from his job of having to beat the other guy:

Q. When [that morning] did the friendship sort of disappear?

The friendship is always there. The competitive part is always there, too. As soon as I wake up, I want to be the first one to breakfast. I want to win everything I do. I want to put my shoes on better than you. I want to win. That’s why I play sports. I want to win. I want to beat him but I don’t want to beat my friend. I’m always a friend to him and then but there’s always that competitive edge. I always want to beat him but just hate beating a friend.

Interesting enough, when he said he wanted to put his shoes on better that me, I remember feeling how personalized his response had become and was glad I wasn’t the one who had been in his sights that morning. In trying to demonstrate his point, it was like all of his competitive consciousness had suddenly been matter-of-factly directed at me.

And in this interview from a subsequent victory, he gives us some insights into the inner mind of a champion golfer in the heat of battle. Note how focused he is. Note that he’s not thinking about his swing and neither is there any room for worrying about whether the United States is dominating the World Match Play Championship.

Q. How do you hit that shot and what was the thought process? And I imagine that turned out about as good as it could get? [A conceded eagle 3 on a par 5]

I won’t tell you how I hit that shot, because I won’t be able to beat anybody. Luck. I think we had 254 front is what we came up with. That’s all I thought about. I wasn’t thinking about where the pin is, how far it was to the pin. I knew if I hit a bullet 3-iron, it could roll up close, we were just thinking about getting it on the green. We were thinking about missing it left, so we’d have an easy chip up on the slope and not miss it right. I knew it was good. I saw where it was running and it worked out in my favor again. I swung as hard as I could at a low bullet 3-iron.

In this interview the next day, he won his morning match coming from behind, but lost his afternoon match. It leaves no doubt that there is fire in the belly, not a hint of complacency.

Q. I’m standing here with Bubba. First of all, hard fought match out there.

You know, it’s sad because I lost. But, you know, I played good. I didn’t really mess up too much.

He just beat me. He made some putts that I didn’t make and beat me 1 up, I guess they’re going to say 2 up. I didn’t putt out my last par on the last hole, so he beat me by 1. It was close.

Q. So much to be proud of. The birdie you made at 17 was world class.

You know, I hit that good. That’s the thing, it showed a lot it showed that I can play golf.

The first match this morning, I was down 5 with 8 to play and somehow I won it. It shows that I can do it, I can bear down and fight to the end.

And in this interview segment, he talks about how he found balance in his life and how that balance helped him to go on to even bigger success than just his first win in Hartford. (He’d won in La Jolla at this point, but didn’t yet know that he would win in New Orleans.)

Q. Your new attitude, has that enabled you to enjoy your profession and the gym more, compared to how much you enjoyed it before, was there a burden of pressure, are you happier now?

I’ve always been happy. The problem is inside the ropes my life was going the wrong way. A couple of years ago, I guess after I won Travelers, my caddie told me earlier in the year he was going to leave me, because he’s a good friend of mine, and he didn’t want to see me beat myself inside the ropes.

Outside the ropes, as soon as I sign the scorecard, I’m the same Bubba from Baghdad [Florida]. I love to have fun, love to goof around. I don’t worry about what I shot. Now I just had to bring it to the golf course. So I’ve worked hard to try to bring it to the golf course. And my caddie has kicked me in the butt a few times to remind me of what I’m supposed to be doing. Golf is the last thing I’m thinking about, we’re just thinking about keeping my life in the right direction. So it’s working so far. I’ve always enjoyed the game no matter how bad I play. When I go home I’m still playing with the members at my golf course and having fun.

Q. Did your caddie leave you or did he stick with you?

No, he’s still with me. He’s making good money. That was our sit down talk. He said I’m going to have to leave you, we’ll still be friends, I’ll still help you, but I can’t watch you do this on the golf course. It was a slap in the face.

My wife said the same stuff. We had a powwow and I was wrong.

Q. They did an intervention on you?

Yeah, and it’s worked so far.

Q. She didn’t say she was going to leave you?

No, I’m too good-looking. [Not only is this guy fun loving, he’s seriously funny.]

Q. Why did you have that attitude? I mean, in college were you a driver?

I’m a golfer, not a doctor, so I have no idea.

Q. You were always angry inside or pushing yourself or –

I mean, we can have a powwow right here, if you want. The thing is, I’m from a small town, not much money, life changes. You’re making over a million dollars on the PGA TOUR. I made over 100 grand on the Nationwide Tour. I was living the dream. The problem was I was getting wrapped up in the media telling me you needed to do this, telling you they need to do that.

Some people don’t like the way you play golf. I was just wrapped up in the wrong stuff. I was getting mad inside the ropes when people were taking my pictures, just stuff that who cares. You know, I should be honored that people want to talk to me and listen to what I have. Like right now, I’ll keep rambling and you’ll keep listening.

And so we get to see that Bubba Watson truly has found balance. He tried the ardent, self-critical, irascible persona, but it wasn’t who he was in his heart. And when you’re not being who you really are, it interferes with the mastery process, the ability to drill down to your inner core when you’re under the gun and trust what you find there. If you’ve allowed others to populate your consciousness with what you should be, instead of clean, clear existence, your mind becomes entangled in the cobwebs of others’ projections.

I dare say that on the eve of any PGA Tour event, let alone the majors or the Players, there’s not one player in the field who’s not thinking about winning the tournament. And there’s not one player who’s thinking about ensuring that an American player wins it and that an International player won’t. It’s just too far afield from what’s actually required to win.

They want to beat everyone else. They always have and they always will.

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