Bubba Watson is one of the original pro golfers who led the charge for greater average driving distances. The player who took two majors is actually self-taught and plays with the freedom of a man facing down the course, rather than his competitors.
Here, he tells RSNG the best piece of golfing advice he has ever received, and reveals his mindset as he walks towards the first tee in a major golfing tournament…
RSNG You taught yourself to play golf after only one lesson… we don’t even know where to begin within that!
BUBBA WATSON, TWO-TIME MAJOR WINNER “Haha! I know, right. Absolutely crazy, but I just made sure that I was learning to hit the ball and then hit it further each time.
“The thing is that my dad wasn’t a great golfer and was usually around the 100-mark for 18 holes, although he did manage to shoot in the 80s a few times. But he told me from the beginning that it’s all about physics.
“So, if you line the ball up in the middle of your stance, that’s usually a foot and a half either side of the ball and that’s all you need to think about. As long as the club face is in the right place when you impact with the ball, you’re fine.”
RSNG That sounds really easy… why can’t we all just think and play like that then?
BUBBA WATSON “Hell, I don’t know. But that’s how I learned and the way I moved forward from that was to make sure that I kept that club face in the right place and then build up the power, keep it straight and make those putts.
“When I was really young, obviously I wasn’t really entering competitions or anything like that… I was mainly just hitting balls around the house and garden and stuff. Anyway, I didn’t really know how good I was, or indeed if I was any good.
“However, I played my first tournament when I was eight years old and then I began to start improving and watching the other players around me. I shot a 62 when I was 12, but I wasn’t interested in being better than anyone else.
“What I wanted was just to improve for myself and try and do that by practicing, shoot lower scores on each hole more consistently, and go from there. I wasn’t a kid who wanted to be better than anyone else – I wanted to better myself.”
I have genuinely never gone into an event thinking that I should be looking to win that tournament, or that if I don’t win I’ll be disappointed
RSNG You’re done with your practice, you’re walking towards the first tee at a big tournament. What’s going through your mind?
BUBBA WATSON “Depending on my form and what’s going on with my game at that point, it will be a mixture of excitement and professionalism. The reason I cherish the feeling of walking to the first tee is because I never take for granted when I won’t be able to make that walk.
“So, the fact that I am lucky enough to have played professional golf since 2002, which is 20 years – wow, I wish I hadn't mentioned that now, haha! But the fact that I am lucky to have golf as my career, I know I am fortunate.
“However, I have certainly worked hard to get where I am, God has also blessed me by clearing a path for me to be able to do what I want for a living and to be able to play this great game, and provide for my family.
“That’s what goes through my head and it does help me to relax when I’m approaching the tee, waiting to take my opening shot and just thinking that no matter what happens with that drive, on that hole, or if I make the cut, I’m blessed.”
RSNG How does your mindset develop from there?
BUBBA WATSON “Well, I just try to make sure that I stay focused from the off. But then once I am playing more into the round, those thoughts are gone because I am in the middle of a competition and that competitive nature between me and the course resumes.
“The good thing with being on a Tour like the PGA is that you play the same courses year in, year out. And having been playing for so long, it is something that I have in my locker – experience.
“So, I will be walking to the next tee and knowing where I should be taking my second shot from and where I can’t miss. That’s the advantages that I have over some of the younger players. But man, they can crush the ball, now.”
RSNG When you talk about the battle between you and the course, does that mean that you’re not as bothered about winning? Is what you’re saying: you can’t really win, but you can’t really lose either?
BUBBA WATSON “I don’t think that I have ever truly played to win, and I mean that honestly. Obviously, when the thing escalates and we’re coming to the end of a tournament on a Sunday and I’m in with a chance, I will be playing to win, then.
“But up until then, I have genuinely never gone into an event thinking that I should be looking to win that tournament, or that if I don’t win I’ll be disappointed, or anything else.
“The reason for that? Well, because on any given Sunday, any player can play their best round, regardless of how I play and then that would mean that they would win, even though I hadn’t made a mistake.
“Golf is one of the few sports where you can’t physically affect your opponent, and you can’t stop any player from doing their best. In football, soccer, boxing, basketball and all kinds of other sports, you can.
“So, my feeling is that you just go out there, do the best that you can and see if it’s good enough when the other players post their scores. If it is, then that’s all great. But if not, I’m just grateful to be out there trying to do my best.”
My dad told me that I should never take a day off, regardless of how well I played, how big the win or the trophy was
RSNG Your father was a great role model for you, wasn’t he. What would you say was the best piece of advice that he gave to you?
BUBBA WATSON “He used to give so much different advice that I would take onboard and use in the ways I felt best for me. So, I wouldn’t say that he had anything which stood out from anything else that he said, because he was wise.
“But if I had to pick one thing – other than how to swing a golf club properly when I was young – it would be the encouragement not to take days off just because I had played well, or I was in form.
“When I won my first tournament in 2010 at the Travelers Championship – and I felt really good because I won it in a playoff over Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank, with four rounds in the 60s – I was looking to have a rest.
“But also because I felt a sense of celebration in having won my first tournament since turning pro eight years earlier. But my dad told me that I should never take a day off, regardless of how well I played, how big the win or the trophy was.”
RSNG Because there is always someone who is ready to step into your shoes, isn’t there?
BUBBA WATSON “Yeah, that’s right. I would give that same advice to anyone else who – no matter how their form was, to keep on practicing every day they’re not playing in an event. Because you don’t know when that day is going to come when you can’t anymore.
“That day comes in all of our lives and when it does, it suddenly hits us the older we get. We get closer to retirement, we get closer to not being as fit as we used to be and we no longer have that joy in our lives.
“So, my advice is to do the things that you like to do, for as long as you are able to. Earn for your families, be happy, play your sports, have the good times – and the bad, we can’t avoid those – but do as you wish to make you and yours happy.”
WHAT NEXT? Find out how the PGA’s Jordan Spieth built his way back from injury by committing to the solution, in the RSNG interview here.