Love him or loathe him, it doesn’t matter to Bubba Watson. “I don’t sugar-coat,” said the American about why being a heart-on-the- sleeve man has sometimes made him unpopular. In a poll conducted by ESPN three years ago, he was effectively labelled the least favourite among PGA Tour players. Out of just over 100 players anonymously surveyed, 23 per cent answered with Watson to a question: “_______________ is in a fight in the parking lot. You’re not helping him.”
While clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, Watson’s way was instilled in him at an early age. “My dad taught me to tell the truth,” he added, speaking exclusively to The Scotsman in the build-up to the 147th Open Championship. “And, so love me or not, I am going to tell the truth. No matter how bad that is. No matter how bad that hurts me publicly, I am going to tell you the truth.
“That means me showing my emotions. I show what everything means to me. Sometimes it can hurt you; sometimes it helps you. But I think the people see that I am real; that I’m the true Bubba and I’m not hiding. I’m not going to hide behind making up a story. I’m going to tell the truth and live with it.”
This is the 39-year-old’s tenth appearance in golf’s oldest major. His best finish was tied for 23rd at Royal Lytham in 2012. The mere mention of this week’s fast-running test at Carnoustie, though, lit up his eyes as he looked out the window to an equally sun-baked course from the committee room high up in the charming old clubhouse at Panmure Golf Club.
“With the weather you’ve had over here recently, this is how Americans picture links golf in Scotland – burnt out and running fast,” said the two-time Masters champion. “It really is exciting to see the courses like this. It’s the only time I can remember other than Muirfield in 2013, when I finished joint-32nd – one of my best tournaments over here.”
Due to the uncertainty of balls bouncing on fairways that are rock hard, it’s difficult to see “Bubba golf” being conducive to this particular challenge. Watson, though, was confidently picked out as a possible winner here by a renowned American journalist on a BBC Radio Scotland programme the other day and the man himself is equally upbeat about his chances.
“When the conditions and the weather are like this, it makes it a little bit easier to play for me,” said Watson. “When this wind gets gusty, it’s a thicker wind and is harder for me to move the way I like to. When the wind is a bit lighter than on some occasions in this event in the past, I can create different shots.
“When I played nine holes in my first practice round on Monday, I hit an 8-iron that went 255 yards into a bunker off the tee when I thought I was going to be laying up. That sort of challenge excites me as you are trying to create something that’s unfathomable. It’s unbelievable that you can hit an 8-iron 255 yards when you’ve basically just chipped it and it’s kept going and going. So you are going to have to play a different strategy. I’ve even heard a rumour that some guys are just going to bomb drivers as the rough isn’t as thick as it normally is.
“That’s the beauty of this type of golf. It’s just the natural land laid out there in front of you. Having a good caddie is going to be important this week. He’s going to keep saying in your ear, ‘you are going to hit some quality shots that might not be rewarded and even lead to you being punished’. But we’ve seen some crazy stuff at US Opens where you’ve hit shots that go off line. We know that going into an event like this and be prepared for that.”
Jordan Spieth described the Claret Jug as the “coolest trophy in golf” when the defending champion handed it back to the R&A on Monday. Watson reckons it beats any other trophy up for grabs across the whole of sport. “The Claret Jug is one of the most well-known trophies in all sports, it doesn’t matter what sport it is,” he declared. “It would mean everything to me to get my hands on it, either this week or in the future.
“Leaving your own country and trying to win an event elsewhere is a big honour. Here, too, you have to learn a different style of golf. So, it would be an honour to pick up the Claret Jug and see all the great names on it, the great shot-makers, the great thinkers on a golf course.
“The Open Championship is a major first of all but more than that because very few can dream of actually having the Claret Jug on their mantle. The Masters has the best jacket, but the Claret Jug is the best trophy due to its shape and also the size of it. It’s not a big scary trophy. Also, a lot of people like to drink stuff out of it and that probably adds to the history of it.”
Only time will tell if Watson gets the chance to see how his favourite tipple tastes out of it, but one thing for sure is that he has no plans to change his personality just because he might be unpopular in the locker-room.
“Man, I want it to be that I had a big heart,” he replied to being asked what he wants his legacy to be once that pink-shafted Ping driver has been put back in the bag for the last time. “That I loved people. That I loved competing. And that golf was my avenue to give back. I want my legacy to be about giving back and loved to be part of something bigger than the game of golf.
“It is all about how do we help the next generation and golf is not just about the game and winning trophies. It’s much bigger than that and we’re doing that on the PGA Tour, having raised more than two billion dollars for charity.”
l Bubba Watson wears G/Fore shoes and glove (www.gfore.com)