Fame and all that goes with it may not be the most comfortable fit for the newly anointed Masters champ, Bubba Watson, who easily slipped into his 42-long green jacket on Sunday night.
"You take a lot of energy, your mental game goes, and I feel tired at the end of the day, I feel like I’m sick,” Watson told Golf Channel after the second round of last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship. “I feel like something’s wrong with me and it’s just all the energy it takes to play on the top level every week."
To read those words, a golf observer could easily have imagined that the then-three-time PGA Tour winner was among those slamming their trunks in the parking lot of TPC Boston. In fact, Watson had posted the second-lowest score of the day and was headed into Sunday’s third round with a share of the lead.
Indeed, it was just a few short months ago -- September, to be exact -- that newly green-jacketed Bubba Watson sounded like a down-home guy for whom the pressures of playing at the highest levels of tour golf may prove to be too much. He alluded, that day, to his legendary temper tantrums, which seemed to stem from a deep-seated anger that would flare up in the middle of a round.
"I’ve just been really angry on the golf course, about like my old days," said Watson, who talked about the burdens of championship golf and his former quest "to be the best ... to be better than everyone else."
Watson was simply not enjoying himself at all.
"I’ve just been uptight for the last few months, just haven’t really had fun and we’re just trying to change that and hopefully this week changes that," said Watson, who a few months earlier had taken a great deal of heat for some ill-considered remarks he made about traveling in France.
Back in July, Watson was coming off some poor play on Le Golf National course and complained about the gallery and tourney officials, and, most notoriously, came off as a country bumpkin with no respect for other peoples’ cultures when he called the Arc de Triomphe “something” that “starts with an L.”
Watson took widespread criticism from fans and colleagues to heart, apologized for his behavior, and tweeted that he hoped “to learn how to deal with new & different challenges in my life and golf career.”
Fast-forward to Boston, where Watson ruminated about how the increased attention from the media and fans had caused him health problems.
"I thought I was sick a few times, thought I had some energy problems, thought I had something wrong with me,” he told reporters. “I'm at a different stage of my life, more focused, more mental game, more preparation, all these things, and it just wears on you, and I had to get used to that.”
Now that he’s a Masters champ, Bubba from Bagdad will have to deal with far more than he’s ever had to before -- even with three previous tour victories under his pink and white Travis Mathew belt. He’s worked hard to overcome a demeanor that had threatened to derail the career of the game’s longest driver of the golf ball.
Watson credits his wife Angie, with whom he recently adopted a baby boy, Caleb, as well as his long-time caddie, Ted Scott, with helping him do a 180 on his mental approach to the game. It was an about-face that led to winning and now, to to the top of the golf world.
Looper and golfer have worked together since 2006, but a couple of years ago, Scott gave his boss an ultimatum: change your behavior or get someone else to carry your bag. Watson opted for the mental makeover.
“I was just going the wrong way,” Watson admitted Sunday night. “Every golf shot was controlling how mad I got, how I was on the golf course ... I was so wrapped up in what everybody else was doing.”
Since Angie, Scott, and some close friends sat him down and told him he had to change, Watson has done a pretty good job (France, notwithstanding) of leaving his old ways behind him. The old Bubba, for instance, may not have been able to rebound so quickly and convincingly after losing the lead in a final-round collapse at the WGC-Cadillac Championship a month ago.
For sure, Bubba proved Sunday night that he’s still the impassioned man who sobbed after notching his first tour win at the 2010 Travelers Championship, because he played under the weight of knowing that his father was dying. But he’s not the emotional train wreck he used to be, and he can thank Angie, Scott, and Caleb for that.
“It’s a slow process. Been working hard,” Watson said of his game and his approach to it. "It’s gotten better. Last year was a little better and this year is better. Hopefully the years to come it gets better and better.”
Some things, though, won’t change for Watson, and don’t ask him to buy into the star-making machinery that surrounds so many professional athletes.
“I don't play the game for fame. I don't play the sport for fame. I don't try to win tournaments for fame. I don't do any of that. It's just me. I'm just Bubba," he said. “I'm not ready for fame....I just want to be me and play golf.”