Gobsmacked by Bubba

Written by meraj shah | Updated: Apr 27 2014, 07:39am hrs
Are you from Mars or something Because I dont believe you hit some of these shots you hit, asked caddy Ted Scott after Bubba Watson unleashed yet another preposterous, well-over-300-yards-long drive on the 72nd hole of the Augusta Masters earlier this month. The ball soared over the woods on the right only to swoop back 40 yards to the left, finally coming to rest in the middle of the fairway. An easy approach and two putts later, Watson was being helped into his second Green Jacket in three years by defending champion Adam Scott. The 2014 Masters will be remembered in the annals of the hallowed tournament for one of the most audacious, devil-may-care performances by the eventual winner. This is not how the script is supposed to run: you dont win Augusta by playing like a swashbuckling pirateflailing and swinging hard, going for every pin, and throwing the last vestiges of caution to the wind. You can certainly lose Augusta by playing like thatRory McIlroys final-round meltdown in 2011 comes to mindbut you dont stand a chance of donning the Green Jacket without a judicious mix of conservative and aggressive golf. Unless you are Phil Mickelson that is, or as it turns out, Watson.

Gumption, bravado, call it what you will, Watsons choice of shots during his final-day duel with Jordan Spieth defied convention, rationale, and what most could consider plain common sense. The massive drive on the par-5 13th, which cut the corner a bit too close (and clipped a few branches along the way), could have easily been out of bounds. Instead, it ended up bang in the centre and set up an easy two putt birdie, which pretty much clinched the tournament for the southpaw. In trouble from the woods two holes later, Watson manufactured a miraculous escape through a sliver of a gap that most golfers wouldnt have seen, let alone attempted a shot through. That shot was reminiscent of the swooping hook he hit from the pine straw to win the playoff at the 2012 Masters. This time though, he got home with three shots to spare.

A sustained, inspired barrage of this nature would have broken any opponent. But the precocious Spieth, astoundingly a mere 18 months past his amateur days, turned in a gallant performance: fighting tooth and nail until it became apparent to the rookie that he was up against someone for whom virtually no shot was beyond the realm of possibility. If you had told me that when I woke up this morning, Spieth said later, I would have thought it would be difficult for me not to win this golf tournament.

He played incredible golfthat drive at 13 was incredible. I will never forget it. I thought it was 70 yards left and out of bounds. But it was perfect. Im sure he knew that when he hit it, too, he added. For the rest of the audience out there, in the galleries, and watching on television around the world, seeing Watson hoist the club to that dizzying vertical top-of-the-swing position before rotating his hips with a violence that seems unsustainable in tournament golf, all the while trying to place the ball in Augustas narrow fairways was nerve-wracking stuff.

For a guy who has averaged well over 300 yards since he turned 15 years old, Watson is as far removed from the image of the alpha male long-hitter as Michelle Wie. For starters, he uses a Pink driver, with a pink shaft, that match with the pink spikes on the soles of his shoes. The jibe is tacit, but loud: hes outdriving all the other blokes on tour with a pink driver. And then theres the sobbing: he wept when he won the Masters in 2012; he self-admittedly cries while watching sad movies; and he cried again when he won the Green Jacket again this month. Man enough to use a pink driver and man enough to cry; a man who really puts himself out there.

Out there. That pretty much sums up how Watson plays the game; it encapsulates his remarkably imaginative thought process; the shots he conjures up; his insanely irregular self-taught golf swing; and his definition-busting course management. Watson defies every single convention of modern professional golf. And not only has he learnt to pull it off, with two Green Jackets under his belt, hes proved to the world, and more importantly to himself, that it is possible to play the game the way he enjoys it, and win.

In todays context, where most professionals approach golf like work, that is just ludicrous: a professional golfer who actually enjoys playing the game, much like the six-year-old Watson trying to curve plastic balls on to a four-ft diameter circle on a dirt track in the windy Florida Panhandle. Not for the money or the titles, but for the sheer thrill of pulling off a shot. And he does that not just in practice rounds, not in just any tournament, but in the final round of the most coveted Major. That sounds crazy even in theory, and betrays the superhuman level of self-belief this man, who has never had a coach, or a sports psychologist, or a nutritionist possesses.

He is already in the same league as the games past greats, but unlike good buddy Tiger Woods, creating a legacy isnt on his mind. Im not trying to play golf for everybody to tell me how great I am or tell me Im one of the greats of the game, he insisted at the post-round interview. I play golf because I love it. I love the game. I want to grow the game. The game has brought me everything that Ive ever owned in my life.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game