Open: Bubba Watson banishes bad St Andrews memories

American Bubba Watson high-fives a young fan in the St Andrews spectator village during a Golf Roots workshop. Picture: Jane Barlow
American Bubba Watson high-fives a young fan in the St Andrews spectator village during a Golf Roots workshop. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IN 2010 the Road Hole killed off Bubba Watson’s dream of challenging for The Open title so when he was led into the area of the HSBC golf zone mocked up to give kids a sense of how it feels to face the world famous bunker shot on the 17th, it could have dredged up bad memories.

But, for now, his mood is set at positive, the belief bolstered by the recent win in the Travelers Championship, and the enhanced putting performances.

“Those memories have already been dismissed,” he said of the two double bogeys he shot in his opening two rounds, to eventually miss the cut by one shot. “With golfers, we know that to be good at this game we have to be able to forget.

“The only way I’m going to improve is to forget about the bad stuff and also forget about the good stuff too so it’s always fresh.

“Playing here in 2010 I was new to it; new to the course, new to the experience of playing The Open. It was only my second year playing in it so it was all about getting the nerves out of there, and getting used to the feeling of excitement you get playing at St Andrews, the home of golf. This time it’s different. It’s five years on and I have seen the course, I’ve played here in The Open, I know what to expect. We had a wind delay in 2010 so I have seen the course in the wind. I’m still looking forward to the challenge if we have to play those conditions again.”

Speaking in his press conference later, he talked of the difficulties associated with his game and links-style weather conditions. “The way I like to move it, in heavy winds is pretty difficult. So [The Open] on paper, it’s probably not the best for me,” he added. “It’s a challenge for me trying to figure out the right spots, trying to hit the ball straighter.”

A player who marches through life to the beat of his own drum, that is not his forte. “I want to be like the greats and hit the ball dead straight, I just can’t do it,” he said. “Hopefully in the future I can learn it and still make some putts when I have a chance.”

But he fears tinkering with a game that is so instinctive, though, the product of practice and in-built talent rather than coaching manuals.

Helping HSBC launch an initiative that will see almost 300 courses across Britain – 82 of them in Scotland – offer a minimum of one hour’s free golf or coaching to children and their families throughout The Open, he gave a group of kids from Pitlochry a few tips on driving, bunker play, and putting. Run in conjunction with The Golf Foundation and ClubGolfScotland, it is hoped it will give thousands of youngsters an introduction to the sport. A man who wears his emotions on his sleeve, Watson is passionate about such endeavours.

“When you think about the game of golf and the great champions of the game of golf, they all have the same idea which is to play great but also to grow this game,” he said. “When you look at [Rory] McIlroy, pictured, what he’s doing, Tiger [Woods] and what he’s done, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, when you look at these guys you don’t just see great champions, you see what they are all doing off the course to produce other great champions later in life.”

With two majors already, Watson’s involvement shows the kids that there are different ways to tackle the sport.

“For me it has always been about learning how to score. That’s where you produce great shots and great memories. I believe, coaches can have you so focused on your swing you are not focused on trying to produce a great score. Like Seve has said before there are many ways to go about it. My mind is so out there to focus on one little thing so kids watching me see one way but then there are kids with great swing coaches and many, many champions who have learned to play that way.”

Watson’s approach is more unique than most. Instead of exorcising demons, he simply tries to wrangle them. Which is why he has to take a little less cut when driving the 17th, worried than any other approach would render his ball a hazard to the hotel which flanks it. “I don’t want to hit a window!” he states. Success depends on the wind which could be a massive issue on Friday and Saturday.

“Yeah, I’m feeling good but so far we haven’t had any wind and the rain hasn’t really been there so everybody is hitting great shots just now. But, the rumour is there is some weather coming so that might be really fun.”

He may have an ally in his putter this time, though. Having failed to threaten in his past Open outings, the two-time Masters champion has made inroads with his putter and believes that could be his saving grace this time. “Over the last few years I worked on it but I’ve worked on it hard over the past couple of months and it is improving. I’ve started playing better and won a tournament two or three weeks ago so I’m in the right frame of mind. Everything is working at the moment but, again, there hasn’t been any wind so we will see how it works out.”

l For a list of clubs participating in the HSBC initiative go to: www.theopen.com/hsbc