Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why I Was Not Cheering Against Bubba Watson...

There are a few Mondays of the year I actually look forward to going to work. Perhaps you know what I am talking about—they are usually sports related. When a great game or tournament has transpired over the weekend, I relish the drive to work because my AM sports radio show relives the memories—replete with soundbites, biased analysis and more. By the time I hit the faculty work room, I am so amped up that I should forewarn the first fellow fan I run into. 

This past Monday however was a little different. I don't know how many times I must have said "it was very hard to cheer against the 20-year old golf phenom, Jordan Spieth" on the final round of the 2014 Masters. So difficult that it put many golf fans in an unusual predicament. They found themselves asking: "Was I really cheering against Bubba Watson?" Maybe. Was I? No. Here's why.

To me, Watson represents all we want to be and don't want to be on the golf course.
No one is more tightly wound up on the course that Gerry Lester "Bubba" Watson, Jr. I was not surprised in the least when I heard him say "I don't remember the last five holes " at Augusta on Sunday. The man was hanging on for dear life, doing what he could to maintain par. He is quiet and serious because he is nervous and knows that nerves get in the way of good golf. Every golfer knows that is true.
Bubba, Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane & Hunter Mahan: Golf Boys 2.0

And yet we expect the (now) number four golfer in the world to be goofy and silly and fun. Between the name, the strong Southern drawl and the Golf Boys music videos, we hold this impression that he is "easy like Sunday morning." That persona, the one who owns and drives the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazard is not on the links. He is not even in the club house. We've seen him at his best and his worst (which I contend isn't that bad). 

NB: Some people don't like Bubba because he barks at his caddy. One incident in particular got a lot of press. It's worth reviewing so you can decide for yourself. Bubba was on the 16th hole and he had a 5-stroke lead on the day. It was quickly diminishing. I'm okay with him losing it in that moment. I know I've lost it before.

And yet we want to drive the ball with the sheer power that he has and the accuracy to keep it in the same state, let alone dead middle of the fairway. Maybe we want to rock a pink driver. Even the female golfers I know and love have a hard time supporting pink gear on the links. Still the way he plays the game leads me to point number two....
It's very hard for a man or woman to rock the pink driver. Props to Bubba
Although he did not adorn the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated, I enjoyed the 5-page spread on the Masters: Bubba Golf 2.0" Ben Crenshaw said it best. "He is out of this world, I mean, that drive on 13, are you kidding me? What game is he playing?" I think we know the answer to this—it's called "Bubba-golf."

"It's not golf, it's different than that. It's like a symphony, a painting, sculpture. It's artistic expression. Bubba sees the course in big parabolas and arcs, not in straight lines. The power is one thing, but what makes him so unique is the creativity. Put those together, and he can play this course like nobody else."

Parabolas and arcs...symphony and sculpture. Math and science meet art and music. I should stop right there. But Bubba-golf wouldn't be possible without three very important people: his mother Molly, his late father Gerry and....

His wife Angie. 
What was particularly special about this Masters Championship for Bubba was that his wife and child were able to congratulate him in person. Two years ago, Angie had to stay at home because the "adoption of Caleb was being finalized and Florida law prevented him from leaving the state." (Sports Illustrated)
The Watson family on the 18th hole.
It was a tender moment interrupted by a colleague who referred to Angie Watson as an "Amazon." No matter how you spin it, that is a pejorative, derogatory comment. Perhaps if he knew more about her, he might have kept those words to himself.

Angie played basketball at the University of Georgia where she met Bubba. She continued to play professionally in the WNBA and yes, at 6'4" she is 1" taller than he is. No, she is not a former Phoenix Suns cheerleader or a Swedish nanny. She is an attractive, athletic mother and wife. She is the reason Bubba is a devout Christian. He speaks candidly about his faith and the unwavering support she gives him. Wow, a professional athlete who says all the time "it's a game and I get to do this for a living to support my family. Losing my dad and becoming a father myself remind me of that all the time. Angie has shared all of that with me."

Talkin' Trash.
Of no surprise Watson can talk a good game of trash (during the practice rounds). When paired with Tiger he once said "you wish you could drive it as far as me" to which Woods said "the only W you'll ever see is the one in your last name." Too bad Tiger wasn't at the tourney to change his retort.
Woods lacks a few of them is a sense of humor. But glad to see he finds it in Watson and can give it back.
In a press conference before the final round on Sunday, Jordan Spieth kept referring to Bubba as "Mr. Watson." Was this gamesmanship? Trash talk? When asked about it, Bubba simply said "Well, I'm going to be outdriving him all day, so he needs to call me that."

One of the criterion Bubba holds for Bubba-golf is that it's fun. Trash talk like that is fun...special bonus that he can back it up!

We complain ad nauseum about basketball and football players turning pro before earning their college degree. If you want to lodge said complaints, please include professional golfers in that group.

You will however, have to exclude Bubba from those ranks. Hardly anyone knows or hears about the fact that he returned to UGA to complete his bachelor's degree. 

It's fun for me to think of why we support certain athletes. Why are we drawn to them? What can they teach us? Who do we cheer against others? 
Blixt's caddy couldn't help but show his loyalty & support for his favorite band. Every day was a different Dead shirt.
Unless you are a Deadhead, I find it highly unlikely that you were pulling for the second place Swede, Jonas Blixt. Maybe you caught the Dead logo that his caddy sported all weekend on his t-shirt. Caddies must wear the Augusta National issued white uni. But this guy was as defiant as he could be—lowering the button to reveal that infamous "steal your face" logo. 

I suppose those in golf marketing long for a singular name and face to dominate the game and the ratings in the way that Tiger once did. Not me. The pros vary from youthful to experienced, American to South African. It's any man (or woman's) game right now and the US has a strong contingent. Two of good ones were tied for the lead on the final day of the 2014 Masters. I wasn't cheering against the winner. Quite the contrary, I only found more to appreciate, admire and well...share with others at the water cooler. Until Pinehurst...or maybe Golden State in the play-offs...!

Tightly Wound
With Family
Pink Driver

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