Interview: Bubba Watson

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My 2012 Masters all started with a Tuesday practice round with Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day. Webb’s caddie, Paul Tesori, was engaged, and his fiancée, Michelle, was walking outside the ropes. As we got going, Paul hollered over to her, “Honey, there’s one palm tree at Augusta National. If you can spot it, I’ll buy you that wedding ring you liked so much.” She’s looking everywhere for it. The palm tree is on the 4th hole, and when we got there I couldn’t help myself. I pointed at it real dramatically. She starts squealing, “There it is! I found the palm tree! I get the wedding ring now!” Paul is like, “Thanks a lot, Bubba.” He tells me it’s like, a $12,000 ring, and I’m feeling bad. So I tell him, “If I win this tournament, I’ll pay for that ring.” The other guys make the same deal.

I forgot about it after that, but about an hour after I’d won, while I was sitting around at the club thinking about what it all meant, it hit me: I owe Paul and his fiancée a wedding ring. And I did get it for her. Now that’s a good trade-off, a Green Jacket for a little old wedding ring.

My first putt in the play-off stopped six inches from the hole.

Everyone starts cheering, but I made a little gesture like, whoa, it ain’t over. Because it wasn’t over. A week before, I’d watched IK Kim miss that little bitty putt on the last hole that would have won. She lost in a play-off. Can you imagine if I’d started crying, or put my arms in the air, and then for whatever reason yanked that six-incher? It would have been the most humiliating moment in the history of golf. This was for the Green Jacket, man. Something told me, don’t mess around here. If there was a time to take a tap-in seriously, that was it.

Yeah, I cried after I won.

I cry all the time. I cry at church every Sunday. I cry at stuff on TV, especially if it involves a family hardship. I won’t go to movies that are sad, knowing they’ll just make me cry – it’s why I haven’t seen Saving Private Ryan.

I was going through a box last night and came across a gold coin Augusta National sent to me.

It’s real gold – solid gold. Real heavy. I don’t know how much it weighs exactly, but it would hurt if I hit you in the head with it. It has the clubhouse engraved on one side and ‘Masters Champion’ and ‘Bubba Watson’ on the other. It would go for a lot on eBay, I’ll bet. Not that I’d sell it or anything.

I’ve always said, if I’ve got a swing, I’ve got a shot.

I just don’t have the worries from trouble some guys do because my feeling is, you don’t need to be in trouble to mess up a shot. You can hit it crooked from a perfect lie in the middle of the fairway, too, right? And a lot of times I can make pretty good contact even from bad lies because I have a lot of speed and good hand-eye coordination. Hey, I’m a pro. So the second shot in the play-off at Augusta wasn’t as hard a shot as people make it out to be.

That shot at No.10 was made a lot easier by what happened on No.11 on the Thursday.

I’d hit a big pull, and when I got to my ball, it was in thick pine straw. My ball sat there like an egg in the middle of a deep bowl. I had only a 9-iron left, but I had to start my ball at the water to the left of the green. I told Teddy [caddie Ted Scott], “I’m known for hooking it, you know.” He didn’t like my thinking. He took a deep breath and said, “Whatever, dude,” and backed away. I pulled that shot off and got it to the front of the green. My lie on the 10th hole in the play-off was nothing like the lie I had on the 11th. I knew I could pull that shot off.

I saw that I had a shot [on the 10th] a good hundred yards before I got to my ball.

The crowd usually surrounds your ball when you’re in trouble, but this time the people formed sort of a horseshoe, with a gap toward the green at the open end of the shoe. That gave me hope. And then Teddy started giving me the signal that I had something. One thing we’ve worked out as a team is, Teddy gives me a thumbs up or a nod if I’ve got a shot, and maybe a head shake “no” if there’s nothing. I want a signal either way, because it relieves my anxiety. I don’t like surprises when I get to my ball.

Everybody asked if I thought about what would happen if I hit that shot at the 10th thin, or caught a flyer, or didn’t hook it.

It just didn’t occur to me. I think that when a good player is in the heat of the moment and sees a shot in his mind and gets committed to it, he doesn’t see the bad things that can happen. The positive thoughts take over. They’d better, or you’re asking for trouble.

The panic attacks I’ve had over the last few years are real. What can I say? I have issues.

My biggest fear in life is medical problems. When the tiniest thing goes wrong with my body, I get freaked. With the panic attacks, I thought something was wrong with my heart. I went to the hospital, and a doctor examined me. He said, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” I said, “Then why does my heart feel funny?” He said, “It just does. Don’t worry about it.” Some time passed. I still thought there was something wrong, and I went back to the doctor. He checked again and diagnosed it as acid reflux, gave me some medicine and told me to eat better. It went away. But then it came back. This time the doctors looked at me for hours. They said, “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. Your pulse is good, your blood pressure is good, your EKG [electrocardiogram] is great. Go home, Bubba.” But here’s the problem: When I get something in my head, it won’t go away. I’ll dwell on the littlest thing – it’s always something different – and I get anxious. I can’t sleep. My trainer says I’m super-sensitive to my body, little muscle pulls and things. So maybe I’m so sensitive I worry about things that aren’t there.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t change the light bulbs at home.

I let Angie do that. For one thing, she’s 6ft 4in, a little taller than me. But the main thing is, if the bulb broke and I cut my hand, I couldn’t play golf. And that would be bad.

Some players say they like the nervousness of being in the heat of the battle, of being tied for the lead in a major and thinking, This is what I worked for; this is great.

Well, that sounds weird to me. I don’t like that nervous feeling. I can handle it, but it’s uncomfortable. I’ll take a 10-shot lead any day. 

There was a long period where the silliest things on the golf course would set me off.

It could be a bad lie, slow play, anything. I’d get loud and obnoxious about it. Not only were the people in our group complaining about my behaviour, the groups ahead of us were complaining, so it must have been real bad. One day at a US Open qualifier, Teddy had had enough. He said, “Bubba, you call yourself a Christian, but you’re embarrassing your friends, your family and your team by acting completely miserable, and for nothing. We’ll always be friends, but my feeling right now is, I think this is my last tournament with you.” Teddy told me later he thought I’d say, “Go ahead and walk; you’re fired.” But what I told him was, “You’re absolutely right. As of right now, I’m going to stop trying to control things I can’t control.” That day I turned a corner. A short time later I won at Hartford. I owe Teddy a lot for that.

Boy, I hate golf jokes.

I hear the same ones from pro-am partners from Hawaii to Florida, and they’re always the same ones. For some reason they tell me the most obscene ones, which I don’t think are funny, even though I fake a good laugh. The question is, how did the same joke get from Florida to Hawaii? Three things travel fast in this world: Gossip, bad jokes and the General Lee.

You know I bought the General Lee.

I had to have it. I’m a huge Dukes of Hazzard fan. I have the complete DVD collection. After I got the car, I didn’t have it a month before I put it into the shop. It was messed up when I got it. There were hundreds of General Lees, but mine was the original. It had done a lot of jumping. There was a big concrete block in the back seat to stabilize it when it was airborne, none of the gauges on the dash worked, and it didn’t have seat belts. A year and $10,000 later, I got it back and everything was perfect. Would I drive it into Augusta? Sure. But will I? No. That’s a long way to take a car just to drive it to a golf course.

A few years ago, I played a practice round with Paul Azinger.

There are like, six holes left. We decide to play for $2 a hole coming in. I win the 17th to get the carryovers and asked him if he’d like to double down for $20 on 18. He says, “Sure.” I then make the hardest swing I ever made in my life. A high bomb that carries 330, dead centre of the fairway. Before the ball comes down, I stick my hand out and say, “Paul, it was a pleasure beating you today.” The look on his face was priceless. I had him beat right there. I still have his $20 bill in my wallet. It’s one of those things that gives me a smile when I look at it. Why only $2 a hole? Because Paul needed $100 from me like he needed a hole in the head, and vice versa. It’s about bragging rights. Playing for lunch or dinner is better than playing for money. It makes the teasing that goes with it more fun.

I went my first 31 years without making a hole-in-one.

That’s amazing, when you think about the thousands of par 3s I’ve played. Then, in 2010, I got one in a US Open qualifier, then another a few weeks later in a practice round at the Open. Boy, would I love to get one at the Masters.

My dad took me to an old Pensacola Open when I was a kid.

A player was walking along a cart path, bouncing a golf ball as he went. The player’s caddie intercepted the ball on one of the bounces and said, “Hey, kid, heads up” and tossed me the ball. I thought that was the coolest thing. My dad looked it up in the program and saw the player was Mark Brooks. When I got home, I handled the ball a lot and felt it might have some magic in it. I thought it was somehow different than the balls they made for everyone else. The next day, I went out to the golf course, teed up that new ball and promptly hit it in the junk and lost it. And that’s the end of that story.

With other tournaments, they connect a year to it.

I’ve been introduced as “2010 Travelers Championship winner, Bubba Watson.” But when you win the Masters, there’s no year involved. You’re just Masters Champion, forever.