Bubba Watson has the knack of surprising people. We always know what is going on with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and, lately, Jordan Spieth. With little fanfare, Watson is making a name for himself.
Sunday’s victory at the Travelers Championship was Watson’s second of the season and the second time he has won that event (2010). Only Spieth, with three wins this year, has more. Bubba also became only the sixth golfer to win this event more than once, joining Mickelson, Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer, Peter Jacobsen, Stewart Cink and Sarasota High School and Florida State University alum Paul Azinger.
Watson defeated Paul Casey on the second playoff hole after finishing the four rounds tied at 16 under par. In six career tour playoffs, Watson has won five.
Watson rarely shows any emotion on the course, which may be a key to his success. He was ultra-cool at the Travelers.
“It’s just about staying calm,” he said after his victory. “That’s what you have to do; you just breathe and walk slower, take some deep breaths, and focus on the fact that no matter what, you still come in second place.”
Maybe another appropriate nickname would be MAD Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman, who championed the phrase “What, me worry?”
The thing about this guy is he just doesn’t look like a Bubba. Perhaps more like a Gerry Lester Watson, Jr., his real name. His father, the late Gerry Lester Watson, Sr., is responsible for bestowing the nickname after the former Michigan State and NFL All-Pro defensive end, the late Bubba Smith.
Though 100 pounds lighter than Smith in his heyday, Watson certainly hits a golf ball further than those twice his size. He consistently ranks near the top of the PGA Tour in driving distance with the ball consistently winding up more than 300 yards further than from where it started.
It still surprises many who see him play for the first time that this slender North Floridian smashes those 300-yard drives with a pink driver. Laugh all you want, macho man, but Watson and that pink driver of his have accumulated two Green Jackets as Masters’ champion. Some will recall the Florida Senate honored him in Tallahassee for his 2014 victory.
For his part, Casey briefly looked back on his Travelers’ performance to what might have been, but was philosophical about his narrow loss.
“There are always ifs and buts and could haves,” he said. “But the goal was to give myself a chance to win and I did that.”
Watson, Casey and the best players in the world are pointing to the next major tournament in two weeks. Americans still call it the British Open, but the British preferred to drop “British” from the name, so it is now The Open.
The legendary Old Course at St. Andrews will serve as host. European links, especially St. Andrews, place more emphasis on precision than mere length.
Careless long hitters can reach devastating pot bunkers or roll through a green that others may not. Perhaps a little more Gerry and a little less Bubba.
Watson will have his work cut out for him. Spieth and defending champion McIlroy will be the favorites, but if Watson can win his third major, he won’t be surprising anyone any longer.