Up until about 4:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Masters, all we were talking about was how we were witnessing the future of golf. And we were, it's just that we were focused on 20-year old Jordan Spieth and not soon-to-be two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson.
Bubba is 15 years older than Spieth, the phenom who's likely to become a major champion. But with two green jackets, Bubba Watson is just getting started. Bubba's game is singular and unique. We're so used to seeing players try and get comfortable with their perfect swing, copy others, hire the same swing coaches, and work to achieve some perfect mechanical motion that's verified by TrackMan numbers. Watson, who's never taken a lesson, is an original. He makes different swings for different shots, sometimes when that kind of shot is not even needed. He throws his back wrist at the club. He finishes in all different places and different angles. He sometimes comes off the ground and out of his shoes, as he did this weekend when he hammered a drive at the the 13th with his front right leg opening up and coming off the ground on the follow-through.
While all the other guys are trying to achieve some comfortable, repetitive motion, Bubba's blasting away and still learning when to try all the different shots he has for the specific situation that's required.
And there's no better situation for Bubba, in any tournament, than Augusta National. It's a perfect fit, and we might be entering a decade of Bubba dominance at the season's first major.
Bubba is now the sixth left-handed winner in the last 12 years at the Masters (Phil Mickelson 3x, Bubba 2x, Mike Weir). Their dominant hand aside, Bubba and Phil are two of the best talents of this era. It's an amazing run given the disproportionate number of golfers who are left-handed, and then also in the limited Masters field. The theory that the course now favors a lefty got another boost this week. Watson has stated he's totally comfortable on every hole but two, the 7th and 18th.
So how would Augusta favor lefties? The scouting report on the course, for decades now, is that the layout has always favored a right-handed player hitting draws (right-to-left) off the tee. It's reportedly an intentional design trend influenced by founder Bobby Jones, who hit that kind of shot well, and added his input with original architect Alister MacKenzie. The development of the golf ball over the last 15 years has increased length but significantly decreased spin. A right-handed hitter needs to get the ball spinning in order to hit a steady draw and move it right-to-left. So the new golf ball technology has made it harder, perhaps marginally for some and significantly for others, for a righty to hit the shots that are historically the best way to play Augusta off the tee. Longtime pro Mark Calcavecchia even tweeted that it should be a par-68 for Watson:
There's never been a course ever better designed for a power lefty player like Phil and Bubba. Both will win more! Especially Bubba— Mark Calcavecchia (@MarkCalc) April 13, 2014
1st congrats Bubba. 2nd it's a par 68 for him. He won the Masters shooting 8 over par for him!! He will win MANY more!!— Mark Calcavecchia (@MarkCalc) April 13, 2014
The opposite is obviously true for a lefty, who can bomb away a high fade (for them) that's moving right-to-left and requires less spin to work it. Bubba, who's probably the most creative shot maker in golf, stands on the tee and just rips over and around corners. Spieth said he would remember his partner's drive at No. 13, a sharp dogleg left that requires a draw for righties, for the rest of his life. In that instance, Bubba just went up and over the obstruction in his way to make the par-5 a little two-shot hole. All four par-5s at Augusta are gettable birdie holes, and the two on the second nine are often eagle chances. Given Bubba's length, it's another advantage he'll have here for years to come.
After his first win here in 2012, Watson understandably took time away from golf. He not only cuddled up with his new green jacket, but also his newly adopted son. That was a win that on Sunday night he said he "lucked into" and it was a sudden life-changing moment. He took a little time to take it all in concurrently with a stretch in his life when the importance of golf receded. He wasn't really a factor at the next seven majors, and there were just a couple close calls at the non-majors, most notably at back-to-back Travelers Championships.
That all changed this year and he was arguably the best player in the world before this Masters win. He ended the almost two-year drought in mid February at Riviera in LA, and finished second at both Doral and the Phoenix Open. In nine total events since the start of the PGA Tour's new wraparound schedule, Bubba has six top 10 finishes. Given that pre-tournament form on a course that already suits his eye, we really shouldn't have been surprised when he won, and did so without drama. On a day when right-handed Jordan Spieth hit some bumps trying to draw the ball, Bubba blasted away and never got into trouble after the 10th hole.
Getting Past Tiger
With the course playing to his strength, and no real troubles with his long game, Bubba just needed to hold it together up on the greens. While we instantly think of all the 340-yard drives with him, he started the third round without a three-putt in 291 consecutive competitive holes. No one on the Tour was close to that mark. Unlike some of the other huge hitters, he's actually pretty steady around and on the green.
Saturday's round, which ended the three-putt streak, was the lone exception and he receded back to the field with a 2-over 74. The front nine holes on Saturday would be the only stretch that he was over-par. He overwhelmed the course, and it was done in a way that can be repeatable and consistent for him. It's also something no one else playing right now can replicate.
Bubba is more than just perpetuating the "horses for courses" cliche, because he's got the talent and creativity to be contending at all these other places (Doral, Phoenix, Riviera so far this year). Now that the life-changing shock of winning the first one is gone, we're going to see more and more of the performances like this week's win. He's going to win more Masters, and that success could start crossing over at other majors. We saw a big part of the future of golf on Sunday, and he's already got two green jackets.