The trouble with Bubba

WHILE it is impossible to be bored by the playing of the Ryder Cup, it is possible to sleep through the lead-in days.

The trouble with Bubba

They are that predictable, that scripted. Captains arrive each day, answer questions and run through strategies as if in a world peace initiative. Faces are grim, talk serious, the mere pleasures of golf are not on the menu. But the boredom got thickest on Tuesday with Bubba Watson.

It should be said up front that Watson, like haggis, is an acquired taste. His two Masters victories, his homegrown swing, his ability to shape shots in any direction... well, it’s loveable stuff to legions of fans. Admittedly, my membership card has never been requested. Tough taste, that Bubba.

Not “Bubba Golf,” mind you, as there’s nothing but respect for the unconventional, but talented, lefthander. His rags-to-riches story is to be admired and you can’t deny his individualism and the fresh layers he sometimes brings to a landscape that can be stale. It’s just Watson can be such a contrarian, on the one hand insisting he just wants to move along unnoticed, on the other hand courting attention with a pink driver.

When he comes across as smug and boorish, as he often does, Watson pleads for forgiveness, asking that people remember that he’s learning, as if he were a 22-year-old breaking into the professional golf world.

He’ll be 36 in November and has been a pro for more than 12 years, winning more than $25m (€19.5m), two green jackets, and he has a young family. Everything is in place to have reached a position of maturation, yet Watson on too many occasions slips into old habits, and Tuesday was one of those times. To each of the first four questions, Bubba supplied answers that contained references to this “grow the game” stuff. If R&A or US Golf Association officials want to talk about pushing golf at the Olympics to “grow the game”, fine. But as far as what sits at the heart of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, “growing the game” was mentioned by just one player: Watson.

If you accept that his reason for his encouraging the fans at Medinah two years ago to cheer for him while he drove off the first tee was because he saw it as “my little chance to grow the game”, then we can agree to disagree. It was another “look-at-me” moment.

Watson said that Ian Poulter, Europe’s unquestioned emotional leader, has grown the game in his way and that Rory McIlroy has, too. “I might not be the [best] talent in golf, but there are other ways that I’ve helped grow the game,” Watson said.

YOU hear Watson’s 11 teammates talking about redemption, or making amends for the collapse at Medinah in 2012. You hear McIlroy, Poulter, and 10 other European golfers talking about making more putts and keeping their hands on a trophy that had in another era been so impossible to take hold of.

Rest assured that 65-year-old Tom Watson — an iconic figure in this country, thanks to his five Open Championships on Scottish soil — is not telling his players that so long as they “grow the game”, their mission will be accomplished, even if they lose.

Please, it’s golf’s greatest competitive theatre, one that “brings out emotions you don’t normally see”, Phil Mickelson said, and so it was easy to come away from Bubba’s interview session just shaking your head. Superficial and shallow, Bubba demonstrated why he presented a challenge to captain Tom Watson. “I can play with anybody on the team,” Bubba said. “Maybe they don’t want to play with me.”

Spot on there, because Bubba is not a guy most US teammates would line up for a chance to play with. But Webb Simpson? Now there’s a partner, Tom Watson thought to himself, and so the veteran captain extended one of three picks to the 29-year-old.

Tom Watson keep repeating “5 and 4, 5 and 4,” the scores by which Bubba and Simpson won four-balls games at the 2012 Ryder Cup. It’s difficult to argue with factual matter, but one wonders if captain Watson considered this: Bubba and Simpson got beat in foursomes and they went out first and second in singles when it was imperative the Americans, with a four-point lead, stem any sort of European momentum. What happened?

Bubba was totally outclassed by Luke Donald, 2 and 1, and Simpson squandered a two-hole lead and lost to Poulter, 2up. It was a one-two punch that staggered the US and ignited Europe. If Bubba had played at Medinah “to grow the game,” he had failed to stop the Europeans from growing their dominance in this biennial event.

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