Bubba Watson bumping Phil off my fan ‘favorite’ perch

Bubba Watson is using his time in the spotlight to win over the fans.

I never thought I’d say it, but after years of answering “Phil” or “Lefty” or “Mickelson” if I was feeling proper, I’m fairly certain my answer is now “Bubba.”

So if you want to know my favorite golfer, I have to admit, a new southpaw has taken over at the top of the heap.

Stretching back into 2010 I found myself captivated by this big tall lefty with a funky swing you’d expect to see on the range somewhere. The nerdy top-button buttoned golf shirt and the old-school visor straight out of the 1980s, but not in a cool, retro way, just in a Bubba sort of way.

When he won late in the year and broke down emotionally, the bond was starting to be built. Having lost my father at a young age, I could feel the pain in Bubba Watson’s heart, so uncertain about the health of his dad, knowing that the prognosis wasn’t good, but understanding that he was able to stand there, hoist a trophy while there was still time to share it.

I’m a sucker for a heartstrings pulling, big risk-taking, honest-talking, Twitter-loving, fan friendly guy. And Bubba Watson has proven to be each of those.

He wears his emotions on his sleeve, throughout the round and after the round. When he lost his best shot at a major with some very questionable decisions in the playoff (see: big risk-taking), he didn’t fake some sort of disappointment that wasn’t there. He was proud of himself to get to that point and knew he’d be back.

He’s also got the risky, no holding back approach to the game that long made Phil my absolute favorite on the course. It will absolutely cost them both, but in the end, as a fan, I want to root for the guy willing to try pulling off the impossible, or at least the improbable. Bubba doesn’t have the record of outlandish plays in big spots to rival Mickelson’s yet, but I have faith. You can’t be labeled risky until your labeled irresponsible, and last year’s infamous PGA Championship would have put Watson on far more of a public broiler had we in the media not been so focused on Bunkergate.

But for all the attributes I appreciate on the course, it’s away from it that I can see so much that I love about Phil in Bubba. For years I contended that Tiger wanted to be number one in the rankings, and that Mickelson was happy to be number one among the fans. Phil’s always wearing a smile, waving, nodding to those cheering him, understanding that there’s more to being a professional golfer than making birdies. He’ll stand there and sign every autograph after a round, and to this day my grandmother’s got her signed Mickelson visor on display and will light up anyone someone asks about the day she watched Phil play in person.

So while the venue has changed, I get the same sense about Watson, who along with a few others on Tour, has made himself accessible through Twitter, as well as being one of the most visible players through TV interviews, goofy online videos and showing the world he isn’t a robot, he’s a guy with real emotions and feelings, who happens to play golf for a living.

I’d guess there are a lot of things that go into determining which players we root for and which we root against. It could be anything from a guy’s choice in irons matching our own, to the way he carries himself (is he aloof? Looking at you, DLIII… is he raunchy? Looking at you, Daly … is he boring? Looking at you, 80 percent of PGA Tour fields). Me, I’ve figured out what I like. Risk taking golfers, who engage with the public and are willing to open themselves up, let us in for better or for worse. It’s a guy who can bear his sole at the dark moments (think Mickelson calling himself an “idiot” after blowing the U.S. Open or Watson’s weepy interviews) that we can also embrace them at the heights of success.

Maybe it’s like swapping out one driver for another, knowing that at some point you’ll have them both at the range and longingly put the recently replaced stick back in the bag. But, I’m sorry Phil, my 905r. I’ve got my eyes on this brand new 910d2. A little newer, fresher look, a bit more pizzazz. But when you’re up there making a Sunday charge, you better save some room, cause I’ll be the first jumping back on the bandwagon. Luckily, there’s no 14-club limit when it comes to a favorite player stable.

Pace of Play is Brutal
While I’m on the topic of favorite players to watch, I have to note how painful it was to watch J.B. Holmes compete in the matchplay. Without the ability to cut in and out of the shots of a dozen guys, when TV had nothing but Holmes, you realized how mind-bogglingly slow he is. I understand the concept of a pre-shot routine and subscribe to my own, but if I even got to Holmes’ snail pace I’d be kicked off the course by the ranger, or more likely by my foursome.

Ben Crane has long been a chronic offender and has often run afoul of the pace police. I can remember watching him take more time in a bunker than some foursomes will take to putt out on a green.

The PGA Tour’s players have a strong say in the rules, and I’m shocked they haven’t been more aggressive in cracking down on slow play. It absolutely grinds down the other guys in a group, there are constant complaints from the entire field, and it no doubt robs from the viewing experience. They need to find a way to punish the true, compulsive offenders without docking their playing competitors, and spread the word to the general golfing public that there is no reason golf should take as long as it does.

Ron Varrial is Metro’s Managing Editor and writes a regular golf column for The Sand Trap.



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