Bubba Watson has spent quality time with his newly adopted son and his wife, gone on the obligatory media junket and has now come back to the PGA Tour for the first time since his Masters victory.
He sat down for an extensive, wide-ranging interview in the media room at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, where he is the defending champion (the symmetry of that being pretty interesting). And he was classic Bubba. Much of the questioning was about his new son and the adoption process, but my interest was more on those questions and answers that spoke to the primary interest of this blog: the mastery process.
Q. You’ve spoken in the past about having odd thoughts out there playing golf, extraneous. Coming down the stretch at the Masters, what were you thinking about? Were you focused entirely on golf or did anything else come into the mix?
No, you know, it was funny, coming down the stretch, the back nine, my caddie said, nine holes to go. If you shoot 31, 5‑under basically, you have a great shot of winning. If that doesn’t win, you’re going to scare it. So I said, yeah, I’ve shot that many times. Let’s just try to do it today.
And I kept my head down. I just kept focus. Even though I bogeyed – I hit it in the trees the same way on No.10, still made par. Made a good par – and then I bogeyed 12, and after that bogey, I still was at ease. I was never nervous the whole tournament. I was just focused on what I had to do.
When I got inside the ropes, I didn’t focus on my family. I didn’t focus on anything but golf. So the back nine that day, I just kept my head down. Ever since the first tournament of the year, Maui, I finished 18th there, and I haven’t finished worse than that yet. So that was my worst finish was 18th. My goal at every tournament now is to finish top 18. At the end of the year if I could finish every tournament top 18, that would be pretty good. That’s all I thought about.
You know what, you bogeyed this hole, let’s try and make some birdies, you’ve got some par‑5s coming up, and let’s see what happens. You can get a top 5, a top 10, something like that. Just don’t lose it.
So I just stayed focused, and that’s all I thought about was golf. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. And then I birdied four in a row, hit a bad tee shot on 17, and I looked at my caddie, and I said, “we have a chance to win this thing,” and he goes, “yeah, you’re tied for the lead,” and I was like, oh, yeah. I never really thought about other stuff.
In this next answer, when asked if he prefers being the hunter or hunted, he talks about the tight focus necessary to win. This is important because most competitive players start out consumed with all of these sorts of extraneous thoughts. Not Bubba.
Q. How is it different for you going from being the hunter to kind of being the hunted these days?
No different. I mean, when we come to a golf tournament, it doesn’t matter what you did the week before or the year before. Everybody is trying to win. I don’t know how many is in the field here, but let’s say 156 people in the field here, they all have a chance to win because our motto is “these guys are good.” So it’s not about being the hunted or being the huntee or anything like that. It’s just about playing golf.
If I go out there and play my game, I have a chance to win. If the other guys go out there and play their game and hit good shots, they have a chance to win. So we’re not looking at that, we’re just looking at trying to play good golf.
Somebody in the media pointed out that the last eight major championship winners were all first time winners and wanted to know if the media was putting too much pressure on the players to win and if they did, how did players manage that.
Well, again, our slogan is “these guys are good.” You’re looking at the best players in the world. You’re looking at 150 players, Masters is 100 players, of the best players in the world. So the best players in the world are going to play great golf.
Eight straight different winners, eight first‑time winners, that doesn’t mean anything. Look at Lee Westwood, who plays unbelievable in every major. He’s right there, he just hasn’t got over the hump yet. But nobody out here considers him a bad golfer. None of us golfers. The media writes he can’t win, can’t do all that. None of us think that. We think that Lee Westwood is an unbelievable golfer. He’s won 38 times now on the European Tour, whatever it is, some big number like that.
So you look at that stuff, we don’t sit back and look at who’s won, who hasn’t won, why haven’t they won, all that stuff. We just try and play golf. When it comes to media putting pressure, no, golfers put enough pressure on ourselves. The media don’t really – if you’re nervous, you’re nervous. It doesn’t matter what the media said about you. The media is going to say bad stuff anyway because negative sells.
Q. Can you please talk about the shot again at the Masters, and where do you think you get those, for lack of a better term, improvisational skills to kind of get out of things that don’t seem like you can get out of?
Let’s just go back to in Bagdad, Florida, where I grew up, the big, tall 100‑year‑old trees, I had plastic golf balls, so I just learned to hit in the trees, throughout the trees, over the trees, under the trees. So when it comes to the creativity on the golf course, that’s just who I am. That’s just what I’ve done. So that doesn’t scare me. It thrills me because then I can pull off some shots. That’s more exciting. I don’t care if the fans were there or what, just to pull that shot off – if I was just playing with my buddies I’d want to pull that shot off.
The shot, again, was roughly say 40 yards [of curve]. Could have been more, could have been less, but we’re going to go with 40. Just off the pine straw, knew it was going to come out pretty hot. I could make it come out hot, just rolled my wrist over and hooked it about 40 yards, but somehow it got closer to the hole. We were looking at the front of the green. It was 135 to the front of the green so we were just looking at getting to the center of the green. It just rolled up.
For me it was just something as a child I’m used to seeing shots like that, so I pulled it off. To get that close was very special. I mean, made it work out. I was expecting front of the green, maybe center of the green at best because you never expect it to be that close. But it came off and I couldn’t see it. I ran to the fairway and I heard them roar, and I said, “where is it,” he said, “you see it about 15 feet,” and I couldn’t see it at first, and finally, he’s got real good eyes so I couldn’t see it. So I saw it, and I go – I go, “whew, I’m pretty good.” That’s how it all went down.
But yeah, the shot was just something – those shots, I draw – try to pull off the amazing shot, just like we’ve seen Mickelson pull off shots, Tiger pull off shots, everybody that’s won you’ve seen pull off shots like that. It’s something you want to try to pull off, and somehow I did.
A former LSU player, John Peterson, was given a sponsor’s exemption to play this week. Bubba was asked what advice he would give him…and it holds true for anyone trying to move up the food chain of competitive golf at any level.
The first advice I’d give to anybody is we don’t – the media sometimes says it should happen right away. My career, I’ve been out here, this is my seventh year, I’ve played three years on the Nationwide Tour, one year on the mini‑Tours. Golf you can play a long time, and just take your time at it. Don’t get overwhelmed, don’t get frustrated, just keep playing, keep doing your thing. You’ve obviously won big tournaments, you obviously can make it out here, you’re getting spots out on this tournament.
You’re good enough to play, so now just be yourself, keep playing. Don’t let other people influence you in different directions and cause you to take a step backwards because you don’t want to step back, you just want to slowly keep going forward. Some people take a big leap forward, but slowly going forward is not a bad idea.
Q. You’re kind of a self‑made champion. For people who get bogged down with multiple swing coaches and stuff like that, are you kind of a different way to do things?
Yeah, I just play golf. I just enjoy playing golf. Anybody can hit range balls on the range. It’s a wide‑open field. You never hit one out of bounds on the driving range, you always feel like you’re pretty good. So when I leave the golf course or leave the driving range, I love‑‑ I just love playing golf, so how I prepared the last couple days, I’ve been playing the last couple days and just playing golf. You’re hitting every shot, you don’t just sit in one spot and keep hitting with a perfect lie to a big field. That’s just how it works for me. It’s not going to work for everybody because my mind is obviously way different than a lot of people’s.
No, I’ve always said that for me swing coaches are out, but obviously you need some kind of fundamental things to help you grow in the game of golf, but don’t take it too far. When you start staring at video every day I think it goes too far, I think.
And because Bubba is devoted to his free-form swing and “just playing golf,” we should see him at the top of the leaderboards for a long time.
His interview was much more extensive than just these six questions. Go here to read the entire transcript. It’s quite informative and entertaining.