My lasting memory of Bubba Watson’s thrilling 2012 Masters win wasn’t so much the hooded wedge he hit out of the trees to win the playoff but what happened at the green jacket ceremony.
Completely unable to absorb the magnitude of what he’d achieved, Bubba was like a toddler, staring at a helicopter in the sky and dying to whisper to Charl Schwartzel, who was presenting him with the green jacket — and who is also a pilot — and ask what kind of helicopter it was.
It is, frankly, still one of life’s great mysteries how a man with a mind that works like that could ever have held it together to win a major.
Bubba is, to be sure, one-of-a-kind.
He’s never had a golf lesson in his life and has a homemade swing that suits his go-for-broke personality; he’s a high-energy bundle of nerves and prodigious length and boundless creativity with a limited attention span and a pink driver.
In his world, I wrote in 2012, there is no punctuation. Thoughts just shoot by, a million miles an hour; like a swarm of bees, they never stop distracting him.
But Bubba’s changed.
Not altogether, of course, because he’s still a cat on a hot tin roof on the golf course. But he’s found a way to calm himself and focus on the task at hand.
And now he’s got a three-shot lead at the halfway point of the Masters after an excellent Friday round of 68.
“I keep my head down, just so I don’t get energized, just so I don’t get pumped up, just to stay focused on what I’m doing and committed to what I’m doing,” he said.
“So for me, yeah, you’re nervous and that’s why I’m keeping my head down, just to stay focused on what I’m doing, not look at leaderboards, just play golf. That’s really what you’re trying to do and what I’m going to try to do the next two days. It might turn out to be horrific, but at least I have that shot at it.”
He has more than a shot at it, playing better than anyone else by a long way. On Friday he fired five birdies in a row – from the 12th hole – to separate himself from the field, many of whom were heading in the wrong direction as the course was once again set up tough.
“It’s not science here,” he said of his strategy.
“It’s try to hit the greens, and if you’re hitting the greens, that means you’re obviously hitting your tee shots well. So that’s all I’m trying to do is just hit the greens; that means my tee shots are good and two putts, maybe throw in a birdie here or there.”
Watson admitted that last year was a struggle because, in a sense, he’d done what he’d set out to do.
“I was still celebrating my green jacket,” he replied when asked about 2013.
“How many green jackets you got? If you had one, you would celebrate it for a year or two.”
As you can tell, Watson likes to make people laugh.
But he can be serious, too.
“You’ve got to think about where I’ve come from, my mom having two jobs to pay for my golf, my dad working in construction,” he said.
“When you think about that, it’s an accomplishment for a guy named Bubba, with my mom, my upbringing.
“My career was complete after that (Masters) win.”
At the end of 2013, when he saw he wouldn’t be on the U.S. Presidents Cup team and had fallen way down the FedEx Cup list, he knew he needed to rededicate himself, and he’s done that very well. So far this year, he’s had four top-10 finishes, among them a win at the Northern Trust Open.
“He does a wonderful job of maintaining the simplicity in his approach and relying on his instincts, and I think that’s a lost art out here,” said Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay.
“I think a lot of players are gravitating toward an over-emphasis on technique and perfection versus going out there and trying to produce a result.”
Watson knows the toughest two days aren’t behind him but ahead.
“Just close my eyes and putt. You know, they went in,” he replied, cheekily, when asked how he was making so many putts.