April 16, 2012

Self-taught Bubba Watson Wins Masters

Last week ‘Bubba’ won the Master’s Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.  The name says it all; Bubba is an unschooled, self-taught golfer without pretense.  It is refreshing to hear about him.

When Bubba was just 6 years old, his father gave him an old golf club.  He cut off a few inches from the top to make it the right size for the little boy and sent him out into the yard.  After showing him how it worked and how to hold it, he told him to figure it out.  Bubba started hitting whiffle balls around his yard as he played with his new toy.  To Bubba, it was just play, not practice.  But after hours of hitting that ball, he got better and better at it.  Bubba played whiffle ball golf instead of playing with his other toys because he thought it was so much more fun.  If it was raining outside, he’d bring the gear inside and putt on the carpet. 

His favorite game was to draw a 5 foot circle on his dirt driveway in Florida, then see how few shots it took to go around the house and get the ball into the circle.  He would go clockwise sometimes, then the other direction.  Once in a while Bubba would hit his whiffle ball into the bushes.  Without getting upset, he’d just play it from the bushes.  And on the driveway, he learned how to chip the ball into the circle carefully enough not to generate lots of dust.  His dad didn’t like it when he got the cars dirty.

What Bubba didn’t know was that his playing with the whiffle ball and golf club was teaching him how to play golf.  Going clockwise around his house taught him left-to-right hooks and going the other direction taught him how to hit right-to-left slices.  The natural obstacles of bushes and trees gave him practice in getting out of the bush.  And his struggles with the ball landing on top of the bushes taught him to play through with whatever conditions he was given.  Bubba said later, “At the time I didn’t know it was practice, it was just something fun to do.  Instead of playing with army men or whatever, I played golf, like for hours, every day.”  

After a few years of this play/practicing, he began playing golf with his father at the local golf course using real clubs and balls.  He became so good at age 12 that other adult golfers wanted to play with him.  That gave him more practice and confidence.  It must have been funny for him to play against adults and win at such a young age.  (As an aside, at school one day, he was sent to the principal’s office.  When he got there, he discovered that the man behind the desk was someone he had played golf with.  That must have been a funny conversation.)

Bubba went on to win the Masters Tournament last week.  It had come down to the last shot, a tie-breaker between Bubba and South-Africa’s Louis Oosthuizin.  It was a difficult hole, number 10, a long tee shot.  But Bubba hit his to the right, deep into the woods.  Everyone thought it was over, that Oosthuizin had won.  One sportswriter wrote,
What followed has already become a piece of history and golfing lore to be replayed and remembered for the next fifty years.  With his ball resting on pine straw and no clear path to the green, which lay more than 190-yards away, Watson crowded the ball with his pitching wedge, closed the club face severely at address, and literally pulled off the intentional hook of the century.  Hitting a shot which few players, even on the PGA Tour, could execute in a hundred tries, Watson drew the ball so profoundly that it landed on the green and spun sideways past the hole like a professional billiards player's cue ball. (Grappone)

After winning, he ran up to his mom and gave her a big hug.  And when first given the microphone to say something, he choked up and thanked God for his win.  

At age 33, he’s not the youngest, but he might be the first untrained, un-coached, self-taught golfer to ever win.  Some say that he might have won the Masters when he was a younger man if he had been coached, but others say that he might have lost his love for the sport if he had been coached or had to endure actual golf lessons and pressured to succeed.  His motivation was clearly just a love for the game.  

Some say that he plays with reckless abandon, meaning that he enjoys the game and isn’t worried about winning so much that he is overly cautious in his play.  Others say that it’s simply a confidence he has in his practiced unique form that he takes chances the more coached golfers won’t take.  Either way, Bubba is showing the world that one doesn’t need formal training and expensive coaching to succeed in the golf world.  Somehow, this ‘rich man’s’ game just opened up for the average Joe.  

Bubba Watson shows us again that with enough practice, we can master any skill and succeed.  We can do it our own way and bring our unique talents to it.   


“Bubba Watson.” Tennessee Deer Talk web. 15 April 2012.

Grappone, Jim.  “Masters 2012:  Bubba Watson’s Faith Goes Beyond Miracle Shot For Easter Victory.”  The Bleacher Report 10 April 2012: n. pag. web. 15 April 2012. 

Newport, John Paul. “Is Bubba’s Secret No Lessons?  Watson’s Unschooled, Natural Play Won the Masters, But It’s a Mixed Message for Young Golfers.”  The Wall Street Journal Saturday/Sunday 14-15 April 2012: A16. Print.  

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