Bubba Watson: Savant

Savant, noun: a person of profound or extensive learning

Bubba Watson had a grand day at the WGC-Cadillac Championship on Friday. He shot a 10-under 62 on the TPC Blue Monster at Doral which got its comeuppance for yesterday’s beating of the players with its blustery winds. It wasn’t a fair fight and he took a one-shot lead over Justin Rose into Saturday’s third round.

And with Bubba Watson on the card in today’s gathering, it wasn’t a fair fight either.

First of all, Bubba Watson hits the ball a mile. On his 11th hole, he missed a drive on the wrong line that looked for all the world that it was going to meet a watery grave; no way it was going to carry. Even Bubba squirmed a little waiting to find out how the flight was going to turn out. It carried by a mile and he had a mere wedge into the green.

Second, Bubba is an artist, not a technical golfer. He hasn’t had a swing thought in his head in a long time. Rather, Bubba sees a golf hole as a canvas on which he paints a golf shot in his mind. And then he merely allows his body to physically reproduce the shot he has in his mind. In many ways, he’s a savant. Adding to that notion, he doesn’t like to practice hitting balls, he likes to practice hitting golf shots on the course. So he plays instead. He would be one of the rare Tour players who approaches the game that way.

And he confessed early on in his Q&A that he was working on the “mental side.”

Q. Going through your card, you said this course is not a course that suits your eye or that you feel comfortable with. But seems to me you played the par 5s in 5-under today.

If you go back in the history of me playing this tournament, it’s not very good. So, I mean, it’s just one of those things. I just played good today. When you hit the ball well and you putt good, every golf course, you can score on.

So today I’ve just been doing something a little different. I’ve been really focused on the mental side of it this year. Haven’t finished outside of the top 18. Started last winter, after the Tour Championship, I took a different path, and I’ve been playing a lot better. Have not finished outside 18 since Australia. Tour championship, I think I finished 23rd there so that was the last time I finished in the 20s. I’m approaching the game differently and working hard at it and so far it’s paying off.

Today was just different. I made some putts. Hit some good quality shots, trying to trust myself and trust my thoughts and everything. So right now, it worked today.

So the mental side of the game for Bubba distills down to “…trying to trust myself and trust my thoughts and everything.”

Q. What courses do suit your eye, the way you bend it?

Read carefully what he says; it goes directly to the artistry in his mind.

I like stuff that you can just find the fairways real easy. Desert courses, you see desert and grass. It’s easy for me to find it; in my mind, I have to be able to see it, because [my mind is] everywhere. Today I talked about so many different things with my caddie. He’s like, “Are you even focused on golf?”

It’s like, not really. It’s one of those things, it takes my mind — I have to get really focused on it. When you get out here, the grass and the fairways and greens and rough kind of look the same. Like in Atlanta, East Lake, same thing I’ve said there at Tour Championship, I just can’t see it. It’s hard for me to picture shots because everything looks the same, the same color and that’s what makes it tough for me, so golf courses where I can find it, Quail Hollow, [TPC Sawgrass], Bay Hill they overseed, I like those kind of golf courses.

Q. Are you working with anybody on the mental stuff?

Again, this is interesting because he reveals what’s actually going on in his mind.

No. Nobody will take the time to help me. That’s a lot of work. No, it’s just me, just stuff that I’m doing, consciously doing, thinking about, trying to slow down, trying to focus more mentally and trying to slow down on the golf course a little bit.

Q. In the past we’ve talked about courses not suiting you; you kind of psyched yourself out…

Maybe [he joked] I’m just trying to get the media to turn away from me so that I can just think about golf.

Q. With this mental work, whatever it is that you’re doing, do you think you’re kind of past that?

No, I still don’t like this golf course. (Laughter).

Now, he made a joke here with his quip, but perhaps it was because the reporter thought that “this mental work” would actually ever be done.

Q. But can you say, I’m Bubba Watson, I know how to play it —

I’m doing it so far. I’ll tell you Sunday afternoon if I can do that or not. But I understand what you’re saying, yeah. But I’m just saying, like 18 — like the shot on 10, the shot on 10 is a 4-wood cut but the wind is coming across; the water is over there. So if you over-cut it, it’s in the water. And if you don’t, like today, I chickened out and hooked it into the crowd, you know what I’m saying.

So mental tricks to myself, 20-mile-an-hour crosswind, it’s hard to let a cut go out there and that’s what I’m saying. It’s hard for me, I’m fighting myself. I still made birdie, but I mean, like yesterday I did the same thing yesterday and made par. You know what I’m saying, so it’s just one of those things, it’s always a fight in my head, I have to trust it. I’m not worrying about these other guys, I’m worrying about myself. I’m fighting myself more than anybody else.

“I’m fighting myself more than anybody else.” At least in that regard, Bubba is as normal as all of the rest of us.

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