Masters champion Bubba Watson is no longer MIA
AP Golf Writer
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) – Bubba Watson had a 3-iron, a small audience and a point to prove.
The flag was 251 yards away, with a light wind out of the right. With an open stance, he hit a high cut and begged it to carry the bunker, which it barely did. Next, he aimed some 15 yards to the left of the green and hit a bullet with a slight hook that landed on the back corner of the green.
“Still got it!” Watson jokingly proclaimed.
He hasn’t forgotten how to play. He hasn’t been gone from the game that long, though it sure seems that way.
It has been just more than seven weeks since Watson hit that wild hook with a wedge out of the Georgia pines and onto the 10th green to win the Masters in a playoff. He became an overnight sensation in a green jacket, and then he virtually disappeared from the golf scene. He has played only one tournament since, in New Orleans, and only because he was the defending champion.
The reminder of how long Watson has stayed away from golf came on the practice range Tuesday at Muirfield Village. With the U.S. Open only two weeks away, players were still congratulating him on winning the last major two months ago.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Winning majors can be a life-changing experience for everyone except those who seem to win them all the time. Few, however, had this many life-changing moments away from golf as Watson in such a short time.
He and his wife, Angie, adopted a baby boy just two weeks before he became a Masters champion. The adoption process is still not finished, though a few months doesn’t seem like much considering they began thinking about adoption four years ago. Watson is selling two houses and trying to find a home in Orlando, Fla. (The baby was born in Florida.)
And if that’s not enough, he has organized “Bubba Bash” on Tuesday night with some 10 Christian bands to raise money for a hospital in Kenya. Typical of a guy named Bubba, he has arranged for Waffle House to provide the backstage meals.
“A lot of stuff going on in our life,” Watson said. “A lot of positive things, nothing bad. But it’s just different changes.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Watson replied to a fan on Twitter on Friday during The Players Championship that he’s “not missing golf at all.”
“You can turn your phone off or lock down yourself at Isleworth and nobody can get to you, and just spend time with the family, play golf when I want to,” Watson said. “It’s been a good thing. It’s been relaxing, rewarding. It’s been fun.”
The Memorial boasts a strong field, as usual, with defending champion Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Hunter Mahan leading the list of top players. Dustin Johnson returns from a back injury, his first tournament since Doral the second week of March.
Watson adds another layer of intrigue, mainly because he is a major champion who has accumulated more rust than riches in the last two months.
His agent, Jens Beck, said interest in Watson has been unrelenting since the Masters: offers for endorsements and too many interview requests.
“For us, it hasn’t stopped,” Beck said. “For him, the biggest change in his life has been with the baby. I don’t think people truly get that. It was a huge life change for him.”
Watson still faces a long year with three more majors, the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Ryder Cup. The season has become longer in golf, and the trick is to stay fresh for the most important stretches. No one has mastered that better than Woods over the years.
Just more than two weeks ago, Watson tweeted that he didn’t miss golf. So he might be rusty now, but at least he’s ready to play. The Memorial is the start of three tournaments in the next month, ending with the Travelers Championship, where he won his first PGA Tour event.
“I got energized as soon as I got here … looking forward to the challenge of being out here and beating some of the great players,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been missing. I miss the game of golf, miss playing, miss competing, miss trying for championships.”
Watson will say he’s doesn’t play golf for the attention, but there is a part of him craving just that. He is a showman at heart, and he has a lot to show.
Henrik Stenson stopped on the practice range to watch Watson hit a selection of hooks and slices toward the green with a short iron, all of them landing near the flag regardless of the flight of the ball.
“Let’s see you hit one straight at the flag,” Stenson said.
Watson took dead aim and the shot covered the flag. He whooped it up and turned to look at Stenson, who already had walked off and was 20 yards down the range.
“He didn’t even watch because he knew I was going to do it,” Watson said in full banter mode.
These are the kind of shots that represent “Bubba golf.” Watson even talked about having his own “Bubba School of Golf,” which would be different from just about any other golf school on the planet. It would consist of a building where he could invite customers to “hit balls and just practice.”
“That’s all I’d tell them,” he said. “And then I’d ask for my money.”
He grinned in such a way that it was hard to tell if he was joking. That much about Watson hasn’t changed, and probably won’t.