What's Not To Like?

By Ron Sirak Photos by Getty Images
April 09, 2012

Watson defeated Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff to capture his first green jacket.

The flight back from Augusta National was not what I wanted it to be, mostly because of the six hours I spent in the Atlanta airport while the airlines waited for the wind in New York to fall below the two-barf bag landing threshold. And when I finally arrived and made my way to the office I was absolutely blown away to find out that a number of our readers don't like the new Masters champ. So let me just nip this Bubba-bashing in the bud.

First off, Sunday at the Masters was the most fun I've had on a golf course since we used to use Castle Hills in New Castle, Pa., as a make-out spot in high school. An albatross, a couple of holes-in-one -- and then there was Bubba Watson. All he did was make four consecutive birdies on the back nine of Augusta National, hit a ball halfway to the space station to clear the trees on No. 17 and then find the green on the second playoff hole with a hook that traveled by way of Aiken, S.C.

What's not to like about that? The new Masters champ is sort of a cross between Happy Gilmore, Carl Spackler and Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy with a little bit of Andy the 40-year-old virgin thrown in. At a time when professional golfers are rolling off the assembly line with over-instructed monotony, totally devoid of individuality or idiosyncratic form and distinguishable only through their varying corporate logos, Bubba is a breath of fresh air.

The fun with Bubba starts well before he plays. Watching the dude warm up is way more entertaining than a mere practice session should ever be. Do it some time. No ball ever flies straight for Bubba -- big hook, big fade and all moving not on a random path but at a specific target. Oh, and he hits it about 12 yards past forever.

Golf needs to embrace Bubba because he is a walking grow-the-game program who can expand its demographic base in the same way that a superintendent's son -- Arnold Palmer -- did 50 years ago when his success, unique form and aggressive style of play helped put a golf club in the hands of nearly every steelworker in Western Pennsylvania.

With all due respect, and a certain amount of irreverence, allow me to take on some of the complaints about Bubba I have been seeing from those who think he's going to lead golf down the road to destruction.

• Bubba is going to draw jerks to the game.

Really? Since we are making movie references here, let me paraphrase a line from "As Good As It Gets" delivered by Jack Nicholson: "If you are selling jerks, we are all full up." What anyone who says they are worried about the kind of element Bubba might bring to the game are really saying is that they want to limit the game to their kind of jerks.

Slow play and annoying behavior on the golf course have nothing to do with the caliber of the player, whether or not they have had lessons or how many private clubs they belong to. I know a guy who is a top amateur, or at least was, having played in all the elite amateur events. I've been introduced to him at least a dozen times and on each occasion it is as if we have never met. I am not from his world and he could care less about me. Bubba might bring jerks to the game? Please.

• Bubba is annoying because he brings religion into the game.

Look, I am definitely of the school that I hope God has more important things on his mind than who wins the Masters or what the point spread is on a Tim Tebow football game. Hopefully, hunger, war and disease are getting more of the Big Man's attention. But I have no reason to deny the sincerity of Watson's faith. This one's trickier, but it's not a deal-breaker for me.

• Golf is harder than Bubba makes it out to be.

Maybe, but golf is not as hard as some would have us think. There are fundamentals to learn -- grip, stance, balance, tempo and getting the clubface back to the ball square to the target -- and there is no doubt that even Bubba hits practice balls. But if history tells us anything it is that there is more than one right way to swing a golf club. Just look at Palmer, Lee Trevino, Nancy Lopez, Jim Furyk.

The key to scoring is to be able to repeat the swing, especially under pressure. And maybe one of the things that Bubba teaches us is that the odds of repeating the swing may just be better if you are having fun doing what you are doing and not stressing out about technique, arm angles and hand positions. Golf is a challenge, but it is also fun. In fact, it is because it is a challenge that it is so much fun.

Bubba also reminds us that imagination is part of the game. He saw that shot he hit on No. 10 in his mind's eye. I think that scene was in "Bagger Vance."

• Bubba is a threat to the "gentleman's game."

Again, please. Many of the same folks who think it is hypocritical for Bubba to bring religion into the game make this "old school mores" argument. Let's not close our eyes to the excess baggage this line of thinking brings to the table. As Sara Hume, former head of the Executive Women's Golf Association said at the 2002 GOLF 20/20 conference: "Golf has a lot of traditions worth preserving; discrimination is not one of them." The "gentleman's game" has not always been welcoming toward gentlewomen or, in earlier times, minorities.

A long-ago colleague of mine used to lift his glass with this toast: "To us and those like us." Something about that always made me feel uncomfortable. Part of the problem with golf is that many of its constituents like living in that box with "those like us." The game cannot grow with that attitude.

Not everyone should be like Bubba, but the game can't turn its back on those who are. We now have a Masters champ who's been known to wear bib overalls. We once had one who on occasion played barefoot -- Sam Snead. What does Bubba bring to the table? Hopefully more players and definitely a fresh attitude. And that can only be good for a great game. As for those who disagree: Bring it on. I'm ready for you. I'm a Bubba backer.