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Bubba’s Masters victory shows what’s missing from golf

Grant Raffel, Author

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Bubba Watson won the Masters on Sunday thanks to creativity and feel.

– Grant Raffel

Bubba Watson had a swing, so, as he put it, he had a shot. He proceeded to hit a 40-yard draw around the trees from the pine straw, which finished just 10 feet from the 10th hole at Augusta National, clinching the sudden death playoff and giving him an easy two-putt par for his first major.

He did what none of the other 94 players in the field could or would even attempt to do. And his creativity and feel shows what has been missing from professional golf in this modern age.

Watson, 33, hails from Bagdad, Florida, and attended the University of Georgia.  His victory in The Masters was the fourth of his career on the PGA Tour, moving him to fourth in the world rankings.

While most golf professionals have swing coaches constantly watching their every move, the lefty has never taken a lesson in his life. And he is proud of that fact. Bubba plays the game of golf the way it was meant to be played, by shaping shots and using feel and control.

Unlike the days of balata golf balls and woods made of, well, wood, today’s modern game of golf has seen the rise of players with textbook mechanics who hit it long and straight. You could not differentiate between many of their swings on the range, and none of them have been able to truly dominate the sport the way Tiger Woods did prior to the scandal.

And while Bubba may never dominate, he is truly a different player. He certainly has the distance of today’s modern game, ranking first this year on the PGA Tour with an average of 313.1 yards per drive (according to the PGA Tour). But the way he gets his ball from one point to another is completely different than any other tour player.

He will hit a 30-yard fade drive, followed by a 20-yard draw approach shot. And that’s when he finds the fairway. From the trees, where Bubba finds himself more than he may like (he ranks 158th on Tour, hitting 58% of his fairways), his creativity and ability to hit nearly every imaginable shot enables him to escape trouble with relative ease.

 Which brings us back to the shot on 10, just a small sampling on a large stage of Bubba’s creative shotmaking abilities.

At the same time Bubba was tearing up after his playoff win, Tiger Woods was on his way back home after yet another disappointing major, finishing in a tie for 40th place. Woods failed to shoot a single sub-par round on his way to a +5 finish at a tournament he has won four times.

Throughout Masters week, Tiger repeatedly talked about flaws in his mechanics that were producing inconsistent golf shots. With coach Sean Foley in tow, Tiger worked on his swing tirelessly throughout the week, yet got a weak result.

But look at Bubba Watson.  His technique is far from perfect.  He has many mechanical flaws that any instructor would immediately tell him to fix.  But the bottom line is that Bubba has trust and confidence in his swing, something Tiger does not.

While we continue to hear Tiger utter his famous cliches, “It’s all part of the process,” and “I just need more reps,” Bubba needs neither a process nor reps (repetitions).  He walks to the beat of his own drum, as they say.

Bubba claims that he never watches his swing on video like nearly every other player does.  He has never taken a lesson.  But he has the talent and the feel to play major championship-caliber golf.  We all know Tiger has that ability, considering he’s won 14 of golf’s majors, putting him second all-time in that category.  But he seems to have lost the concept of playing the game with feel instead of strict mechanics.  

In short, Tiger plays swing, while Bubba plays shots.  

The difference may not seem so great, but trust me, it is mentally contrary to think about your swing mechanics versus the shot you are going to play.  To play good golf, you must activate your right brain, and Tiger is only using his left.
 

All of this comparison shows the contrasting styles of Bubba and Tiger, and their demeanors further their polar opposition.  Bubba remains calm on the course for the most part, but this sereneness is sometimes interrupted by the great intensity we saw at Augusta on the back nine on Sunday.  Bubba learned in his first years on tour that a negative attitude would get him nowhere, and after the death of his father in 2010 he committed himself to enjoying his time on the course.  Meanwhile Tiger does not seem to enjoy himself, as his constant use of not-made-for-TV words and club-throwing is the norm.

Forget Tiger for a moment; he has gotten enough of the attention for someone with only one PGA Tour victory since 2009. Let’s shift the spotlight to an exciting player who plays the game his own way and with major results.

Your 2012 Masters Champion, Bubba Watson.

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