What better way to watch the days, hours, seconds tick down to Thursday’s opening shots at Augusta, than attempt to figure out what makes two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson tick?
CBS, your weekend host for the 2016 Masters, let 60 Minutes viewers in on some knowledge about the eccentric, lovable, repellent, divisive (all of the above?) nine-time PGA Tour winner that the golf community has long known: Bubba from Bagdad has "a lot of mental issues."
With self-taught skills that blend booming tee shots with finesse around the greens, Watson enters the week as one of the heavy favorites — behind world No. 1 Jason Day, defending champ Jordan Spieth, and career grand slam-hunting Rory McIlroy — to shrug into his third green jacket in five years.
"It’s pretty amazing what he can do," Rickie Fowler said of his good friend. "He is a freak."
Ranked fourth in the world, again behind the oddsmakers’ three faves, Bubba has the uncanny ability to make you love him or hate him; there’s usually no middle ground for those who can’t enough of Watson’s other-worldly length and creative shot-making and others who have long tired of his whiny petulance on and off the course.
His own peers, in a notorious anonymous poll last year, agreed they would let Watson fend for himself in a street brawl.
Guess it's not just me. Secret #ESPN poll of Tour players says Bubba Watson the No. 1 guy they wouldn't rush to help in parking lot fight.— Cam Cole (@rcamcole) April 6, 2015
"First time I heard this question ... nobody wants to help Bubba in a fight," Watson, employing the third-person, said during Sunday night’s edition of the long-running news weekly. "Everybody thinks I’m tough, I like it."
His long-time, long-suffering caddie, Ted Scott, set him straight.
"Teddy said, ‘No, that’s not what they mean,’ " Watson recounted. "He said, ‘People don’t like you and ... the reason why they don’t like you, they just don’t understand you because you’re nuts.’ "
Watson acknowledged that social anxiety is at the heart of why he sometimes acts boorishly. You know, those times when he believes Scott makes the wrong club selection, he blows a putt because his looper misread the line, a spectator disrupts his focus, because it’s raining and he can’t hit a ball with water on his club face, or a course designer put a sprinkler head in his sight line.
"I have a lot of mental issues. I just am so fearful of things, which I shouldn’t be, right?" Watson said. "Scared of heights. Scared of buildings falling on me. Scared of the dark. Scared of crowds. Those are my biggest issues.
"In between holes is really scary to me because there’s so many people that close to you," he added. "I’m just scared of people in general."
For sure, Bubba Watson is P.G. Wodehouse’s prototypical golfer, upset by "the uproar of butterflies in the adjoining meadows." Scott observed that Bubba "notices everything," like the one guy among 3,000 spectators wearing a red shirt, a blue cap, who’s "got a phone underneath a thing."
But there is another side of Bubba — the one with what wife Angie terms the "fun meter" and a nature that Scott calls "a fun mess." He's a 37-year-old kid-friendly glad-hander who was the first Masters competitor to recognize the importance of and make it cool for other celebrities to join the youngsters at Augusta’s Drive, Chip and Putt Championship.
Indeed, if it weren’t for Watson, a certain celebrated father of two who has also been known to polarize a segment of the fandom may not have chimed in his appreciation for an event Bubba boosted from the start.
I don't watch a lot of golf on tv, but my kids and me are glued to @drivechipputt. Amazing to see them so focused and having so much fun.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 3, 2016
It's what golf and family are all about.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 3, 2016
And, of course, there’s the wacky boy band member who enjoys sharing with the world — from the safe distance of social media — his ditzy side, the good times he spends with Fowler and on his hovercaft skimming across a pond on his way to the green.
"He’s like a 12-year-old kid caught in an older person’s body," Fowler said.
"Whew, man, he is a mess … but he’s a fun mess, you know?" Scott said. "I think Bubba is an extremely emotional person, but 95 percent of the time that’s happiness."
As for the on-course outbursts that alienate as many people as his silliness and golf skills attract, Watson has said for some time that he’s trying to get better — as a person, inside and outside the ropes. And besides, it’s not as if he’s the only PGA Tour giving his caddie a tongue-lashing.
"Eighty percent of guys bash their caddies verbally on the tour," Scott said. "Guys that will be labeled the nicest guy on tour bashing his caddie — why is that? Because it’s pressure.
"You can't take it personally," Scott added. "If you’re thin-skinned you don’t need to caddie because, trust me, you’re going to get it; it’s just part of the job."
Watson, for his part, asks that you count to 10 before slamming him for the increasingly fewer temper tantrums he throws during rounds.
"I’ve got to get my anger out. Don’t let it linger, just get it out," he said, noting that Scott "always jokes, ’10 seconds. Give Bubba 10 seconds, he’s good.’ "
He’s so good, in fact, that Scott expects his boss — who has the imagination and artistry to see and deploy shots no one else can, like that 40-yard hook shot in overtime to set up his 2012 Masters victory — to win again at Augusta.
Just don’t let Bubba know.
"He doesn’t like expectations so don’t tell him I said that," stated Scott, who viewed the lush green grass, brown pine straw, eye-popping azaleas and dogwoods, and ivory white sand as the canvas upon which Watson paints his masterpieces.
"He’s an artist for sure," Scott said. "I’m just carrying the brushes."