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Opinion & Analysis

The Enigmatic Mr. Watson

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Growing up in Connecticut, I attended first Greater Hartford Open, then the Buick Championship, now the Travelers Championship most every summer.

Of all the tournaments I watched at TPC River Highlands, the only one I saw to its Sunday evening conclusion was in 2010, when Bubba Watson vanquished Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank in a playoff after coming from six shots behind Justin Rose’s 54-hole lead. Watson was overcome with emotion when he accepted his first PGA Tour trophy. Tears streamed down his face as he leaned on wife Angie and he dedicated the victory to his father, who was back in Florida in failing health. As he addressed the cheering crowd, it was easy to sense that it was entirely his.

This past Sunday at TPC River Highlands’ 16th hole, where he had secured his maiden victory three years ago, an evidently very different Bubba Watson faltered. Leading the tournament at the time, Watson’s tee shot — a nine iron — came up short in the pond that guards the green of the 178-yard par 3. Watson, incredulous, threw up his hands and glared at caddie Ted Scott. Scott has seemed to serve a more active role in Watson’s life than most caddies—the tall Floridian has credited Scott in the past with helping build a more positive on-course demeanor.

After rinsing his tee shot, Watson proceeded to the drop area, conferred with Scott and hit a half-wedge shot that careened over the green.

“So you’re telling me that’s the right yardage,” seethed Watson, all condescension.

Viewers, especially those who have caddied before, cringed at the awkwardness of what had just happened. Watson ultimately made triple-bogey on the hole and finished a disappointing fourth place, two shots behind eventual winner Ken Duke.

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Watson and Scott have publicly made up (thanks, Twitter), laughing off the exchange as something that happened in the heat of competition. But nevertheless, the incident is bound to lose Watson some fans.

Image-wise, Watson’s last three years have been eventful, and not always in a positive way. He won the 2012 Masters in spectacular fashion, yes, but the prior summer, during a trip to play in the European Tour’s French Open, he was reportedly uncooperative with media requests during the week, made some comments that belied little engagement with the culture and promptly missed the cut in the event. The ordeal left European golf fans and media with the impression of Watson as a stereotypical “cowboy American” — culturally clueless and borderline boorish.

Early in 2012, Watson purchased an orange 1969 Dodge Charger, a “General Lee” of “The Dukes of Hazzard” fame for more than $100,000. For some, the extravagance smacked of the same indelicacy Watson exhibited in France but for most, it was merely “Bubba being Bubba.”

In 2013, Watson has had mixed success on the golf course while continuing to build his own personal brand off it, to the extent that some have wondered which side of his life has taken the lead. With new clothing sponsor Oakley, Watson made literal waves in April by appearing in a video that showed off a futuristic mode of golf course transportation: a hovercraft.

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The stunt generated almost as much buzz as Watson’s two appearances in the pro-golf faux boy-band The Golf Boys’ videos and only added to Watson’s visibility.

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Do not take this as a condemnation of Watson, though, for all its mention of his public foibles. Quite the opposite, in fact: his fun-loving public attitude and down-home roots make him an everyman figure the game has not seen since John Daly — the type of figure golf needs.

He also happens to be one of the longest-hitting and most creative players of the game today, which adds to his appeal by backing up the sizzle with considerable substance. But moments like Sunday’s, when he laid his own ill-execution at the feet of his caddie, available to all who were watching the telecast, are frustrating to all golf fans — this one included — who want the best to be true of Watson.

Here’s hoping Sunday’s behavior was an aberration, rather than an accurate glimpse at the real Bubba Watson.

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Tim grew up outside of Hartford, Conn., playing most of his formative golf at Hop Meadow Country Club in the town of Simsbury. He played golf for four years at Washington & Lee University (Division-III) and now lives in Pawleys Island, S.C., and works in nearby Myrtle Beach in advertising. He's not too bad on Bermuda greens, for a Yankee. A lifelong golf addict, he cares about all facets of the game of golf, from equipment to course architecture to PGA Tour news to his own streaky short game.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. D-mac

    Jun 27, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Bubba is an emotional mess! Witness his wins always end in the floodgates opening up. Then, when he hits a bad shot, he blames his caddy. Yea, maybe it’s the swing…with more movement than a sumo wrestler after an all-nighter at a Mexican restaurant. Dude, get some help!

  2. MLH44

    Jun 27, 2013 at 7:39 am

    I believe Brad hit the nail on the head. They are playing for a “W” worth $300-$500,000. They are in the heat of competition and emotions are red lined. Bubba wanted to pull an 8iron, but Scott convinced him to use a 9iorn. If the 9iron lands 5 feet from the hole, Scott is a hero. As we know it did not therefore Scott was held accountable, unfortunately, publicly. Give Bubba a break, cause although he was the one pulling the trigger, Scott was the one that handed Bubba the gun. Add to the mix HD mics and HD cameras all over the place and what we heard/saw was probably more common than most of us would like to think. It’s golf at it’s highest level and if they can move on so should we.

  3. Brad

    Jun 26, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    @t Not a legend? Name one player in the top 50 in the world that has no swing coach, no putting coach, no short game coach, and no long game coach that has won a major? Many can be taught and programmed to do the right things but only legends CREATE greatness …fyi: you can’t.

  4. SC

    Jun 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Bubba is a one-hit wonder. The Masters will be it for him, as he is unwilling to adapt his game to the golf course he is playing. Take for example the Olympic Club last year, when he wouldn’t give up his driver, even hitting it off the deck a few times. That’s not how great golfers play the game. Also, anyone that buys a car with a Confederate flag painted on the top of it deserves no respect.

  5. wtfci

    Jun 26, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Based on this argument, you can string together disconnected events to make any person look like a monster.

    What Bubba does really well is to get people talking about golf that wouldn’t be talking about it. He gets people watching golf that wouldn’t be watching it. The TPC event was the first event after the US Open. This event gets almost no coverage. The attendance at the event was underperforming. Bubba’s falter in the last three holes was a great story that was told to people that wouldn’t have heard anything about it if he pared the 16th hole in the final round.

  6. Rich

    Jun 25, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    The Boss is always right? Right!

  7. Brett

    Jun 25, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    agreed^^^They play the game for money unlike most of us. what if the caddy was wrong? and i find this a non issue because certain people have been caught muttering far worse after a shot multiple times and dont get criticized for it. this is a non story.

  8. Brad

    Jun 25, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    This is very common in any working relationship. Read something this morning that put it in perspective. It said Bubba basically lost from $300,000-500,000 with that one bad hole. I know who cares when pros make so much right? No, like the great saying ” Don’t hate the player hate the game”. If my business partner and I made a joint decision that his call was correct and it lost us $300-500,000 I have a feeling I would give him some s@#t while still being fully aware of my responsibility in the situation. Don’t forget the fact that Ted said Bubba wanted to pull an 8 and he convinced him to hit the 9. All sounds like a great sunday on the PGA TOUR. Give Bubba a break…he’s a living legend.

  9. Patrick

    Jun 25, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    The problem is that this isn’t an isolated incident from Bubba. In fact, I’ve never seen a player more willing to blame his caddy that he. Multiple times on live television coverage I’ve seen it happen, and the commentators just ignore. It really makes Bubba look bad, and I’ve never been a fan as a result.

  10. C Masty

    Jun 25, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Scott threatened to drop the bag a few years back if Bubba didn’t change his on course attitude. One of the true testaments and reasons I play golf is because real players of the game learn to overcome on course adversity and play through. This was just Bubba showing his true colors. History does tend to repeat itself.

    • Tony R

      Jun 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      It wasn’t that big of a deal. I wish people would stop and think what these professionals are playing for. It’s not a 2 dollar Nassau at your munie.

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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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Opinion & Analysis

12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Valero Texas Open

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With one of the weakest fields of the year, TPC San Antonio hosts the Valero Texas Open this week. Only one player from the top-20 in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up here. That man is Sergio Garcia, who co-designed this course with Greg Norman.

Just like last week at the RBC Heritage, the wind can wreak havoc at TPC San Antonio. The course features an exposed layout, making the level of wind is often unpredictable. Expect it to be a factor yet again this year. Unlike last week, the longer hitters do have an advantage on this course, which measuring more than 7,400 yards with little rough off the tee.

Last year, Kevin Chappell held off a charging Brooks Koepka to post 12-under par and win his first title on the PGA Tour.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Sergio Garcia 14/1
  • Matt Kuchar 18/1
  • Charley Hoffman 18/1
  • Luke List 25/1
  • Ryan Moore 28/1
  • Kevin Chappell 28/1
  • Adam Scott 30/1

From the top of the market, it’s hard not to love Luke List (25/1, DK Price $10,000) this week. The big-hitting American is still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour, but he is knocking on the door relentlessly. In his last eight events, List has finished no worse than T-26.

He was so close once again last week, and he should take plenty of confidence from that performance onto a course that theoretically should suit him much better. On this long track, List will have a significant advantage as one of the longest hitters on Tour. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 1st in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. List is also flushing his irons. He was second in the field last week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and over his previous 24 rounds he sits 3rd in the same category.

It’s not only his long game that is highly proficient right now, either. List’s short game has been stellar over this impressive stretch, too. He ranks 8th for Strokes Gained-Around the Green and 28th for Strokes Gained-Short Game over his last 24 rounds.

The one department holding the big man back is his putting, where he ranks 145th for the season. The rest of his game is so sharp at the moment that he’s in the enviable position of not needing that hot a week with the flat-stick to win. He only needs an average week on the greens to finally break through and claim his first PGA Tour event. There’s nothing to suggest List isn’t going to play well once more this week, and at 25/1 he seems undervalued.

Returning to a track that he adores, Brendan Steele (33/1, DK Price $8,900) is always a danger at this event. As well as winning the title here in 2011, Steele has finished in the top-20 three times since then. Whatever it is about TPC San Antonio, it’s a course that brings out the best in Steele’s game.

It’s been an excellent season for the West Coast native, too. He won his opening event of the season at the Safeway Open and has since finished in the top-30 six times. One of the main reasons for his strong run of form has been his work with the driver. Steele is ranked 1st in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee over his last 24 rounds, and he has only failed to post a positive Strokes Gained statistic in this category once since this event last year.

Recently, Steele’s game is showing trends that he may once more be close to hitting the form that saw him win at the back end of last year. In his previous 24 rounds, the Californian is ranked 10th in Ball Striking and 7th in Strokes Gained-Total. Always a threat at this event, Steele is coming into this week with all parts of his game in sync. He should be a live threat once more in San Antonio.

Another man who has played well all year is Xander Schauffele (35/1, DK Price $8,800). The Californian has made seven of eight cuts this year, and he has finished in the top-25 in four of those occasions. Excellent off the tee, TPC San Antonio should suit the 24-year-old this week, too. Schaufelle ranks 7th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 17th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds.

With wind likely to play a factor this week, pure ball striking will be necessary. That shouldn’t be an issue for Xander, who sits 7th in Strokes Gained-Ball Striking over his last 24 rounds. There is nothing off about Schauffele’s game right now. He ranks 21st in Strokes Gained-Putting over his previous 12 rounds and 5th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green over the same period. It’s only a matter of time before the two-time PGA Tour winner puts himself in the thick of contention again, and there’s no reason why it can’t be this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Luke List 25/1, DK Price $10,000
  • Brendan Steele 33/1, DK Price $8,900
  • Xander Schauffele 35/1, DK Price $8,800
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