Bubba Watson is a choker.
Just Google “Bubba Watson Choke” and you’ll see an article from earlier this year confidently predicting he’d choke away his lead in the Cadillac Championship, something which did indeed happen.
Of course, there’s the small matter of the 2012 Masters to say he’s not.
The article was written just 10 days before the win – something the author may end up having to explain in the future. But what history won’t record is, at the time the of writing, the author was just expressing the prevailing opinion on Watson.
There was some evidence to support it too. Watson is an incredibly talented golfer. Self-taught through play and unsullied by instruction to this day, he’s probably the most creative golfer in the world’s top 50.
But, by the age of 33, he’d only won 3 tournaments, despite several chances to win more. His first win might have come in a play-off, but he won with a par (which could be taken as evidence his opponents lost the tournament as much as he won it).
He might have beaten Phil Mickelson by a stroke in 2011’s Farmer’s Insurance Open, but his play-off loss in 2010’s PGA championship defined him. To a section of the golfing public (myself included) he was a tournament winner, but not a Major contender.
Apparently, Bubba didn’t get that memo.
He played superbly in the final round of The Masters but, when the dust settled and he was in a play-off with former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, it looked like he’d have his work cut out for him. And when, on the second play-off hole, his tee shot ended deep in the pine straw with his opponent’s in the second cut it looked like this would be another narrow defeat.
What followed was one of the most remarkable pieces of performance under pressure I’ve eve seen. Watson hit an amazing recovery shot, hooking the ball 40 yards onto the green with his gap wedge.
So what changed?
Well, for a start, we might have been wrong. We’re not Bubba, and therefore we’re not privy to what was going on in his head. He might have been as cool as ice throughout his career, simply losing out to players who played that little bit better.
But let’s assume we were right.
What could possibly have changed to make him perform so brilliantly under pressure in the biggest moment of his life?
Along with never having had a lesson, Watson hasn’t seen a mental performance coach…so that’s not the answer. But maybe he hasn’t had to see one to get perspective.
He became a father just before the Masters when he and his wife adopted a baby boy. There’s nothing like parenthood for dishing out perspective. I first realised this after meeting up with a former colleague after he’d become a Dad; although he was and is a fantastic physician, he was so intense about work I worried he’d burn out. Fatherhood gave him balance – he realised there were things even more important than medicine.
With the Watsons adopting, their journey to parenthood was more arduous than most, so they would be even more receptive to the new parent’s perspective.
In Bubba’s own words: “That’s the excitement of waking up every morning no matter how tired you are, now matter how red your eyes are, just seeing him pretty much do nothing, just lay there. It’s just exciting.”
Or, in other words, it’s only golf.
It’s only golf. 3 words guaranteed to upset weekend golfers when uttered by non-golfers. It’s almost a profanity. And yet here we have a pro golfer, someone who doesn’t just golf, someone whose entire livelihood depends on golf, a major winner ranked number 4 in the world who doesn’t just survive but thrives when this realisation dawned.
It’s only golf.
The good news is you don’t have to have become a parent to realise this, although it’s always easier when there’s something meaningful in your life away from the golf course. Pressure comes from within rather than without, as does happiness.
It’s only golf.
What effect would these 3 words have on your game?
Would they ease the pressure on you as you come down the final stretch? Might they help you smile after a shank? Might they increase your enjoyment of golf, while at the same time decreasing frustration? Could they even improve your golf game?
I think so.
It might seem like you’re not taking your golf “seriously” enough…but that’s not what I’m suggesting. Look at Bubba – golf isn’t just his passion, it’s his job. And it hasn’t done him any harm. Take your golf seriously, by all means, but never lose sight of what it is or how important it isn’t.
I can’t guarantee you’ll win at Augusta as a result (in fact, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t), but you’ll enjoy your golf more and play better.
And isn’t that what it’s all about?
What about you?
Have you ever had a moment of clarity and realised “it’s only golf?”. What effect did this have on your mood and on your game? What led you to the realisation? Has it ever harmed you game? Leave a comment below, but let’s not get too het up in the comments.
It’s only golf, after all.
[image credit: Caricature from Secret in the Dirt under Creative Commons license]