Fatherhood tames Bubba Watson, but not too much

Masters champion is flamboyant as ever, even with his new duties on the domestic front

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 10:53am

When Tiger Woods first became a family man, he was at pains to insist married life had not dulled his competitive edge. Knowing what we do now about Tiger's marriage, those media debates seem darkly humorous, though his ex-wife Elin Nordgren probably wouldn't agree.

Yet the trope - so-and-so has a kid, realises there's more to life than sport and loses his hunger - remains common, and new dads are often at pains to deny it. Not Bubba Watson.

The Masters champion is famed for doing things differently. He has never had golf lessons and eschews the sports psychologists, visualisation coaches, and nutritionists many top pros hire. His amazing hook-shot recovery on the 18th that set up the win at Augusta isn't in any coaching manual. He urged the galleries to roar as he teed off on the last day of the Ryder Cup, something that stunned the game's stuffy purists. And when it comes to family matters, he's happy to admit golf has tumbled down his list of priorities.

Watson's wife, Angie, told him on their first date she couldn't have children. Even as he played his final round at Augusta, he was thinking mainly of his newly adopted son Caleb, an admission many players would keep to themselves. In May, he skipped the "fifth major", the Players' Championship, happily revealing he wanted to hang out with his son.

"[Being a father] has changed me in the way I look at the game, I'm not as angry or mad on the course," Watson said at the WGC-HSBC Champions this week. "It's given me perspective on what golf really is. It's just a game.

"We say that but before I got married and had my son golf was pretty much everything. That's how I lived my life. Then you get married and your wife comes first, then with a baby golf is third.

"I actually say golf is fourth on my list [God presumably is in the top three for the committed Christian], so it really puts it into perspective how meaningless it is. Whether you shoot 80 or 63, there's more important things in life. Obviously, I'm trying to win every golf tournament but it's not going to control my life. So now it's easier for me to accept good and bad."

Watson says his eight-month-old could actually inspire him to play even better. "I think the other side of it is the role-model part. You want to be a great dad, a great husband, a great person. I'm hoping my son is going to learn from me, not by what I say to him but by my actions.

"On top of that other kids are going to see me as a role model, so hopefully I do things right so my son and other kids see that example and that I'm having fun doing what I love to do."

There genuinely seems no front with the Florida native, happy to describe himself as a "new-age redneck". 'Bubba Golf", this unabashed, joyful style of play and behaviour on and off the course, means he's set to achieve John Daly-esque levels of fame, albeit probably without so much tabloid turmoil given he's teetotal.

He chose CNN's Piers Morgan to give his first big post-Masters interview "because I thought [he was] a prick on America's Got Talent", has a YouTube smash with his boy-band style song with fellow pros (a sequel is on the way), and recently won over the Tonight Show audience by obliterating various foodstuffs with ferocious drives.

"This [celebrity stuff] is something I enjoy doing," says the 33-year-old. "I've never changed who I am. I say what I mean, even if sometimes it gets people mad and I'm just me.

"I just happen to play golf and am in the spotlight but I'm still the same person. I'd still enjoy smashing cakes and fruit around with a golf club even if people didn't know who I was!

"That's where 'Bubba Golf' has come from. It's about having fun and enjoying life and that's what I'm doing on the golf course."

Bubba Golf is spreading farther afield and, having reached China for the first time this week, it will be hitting Southeast Asia next month at the Thailand Golf Championship, his Masters win and Ryder Cup performance having exposed him to a worldwide audience.

Watson's reaction to the latter defeat, when opponent Luke Donald blocked out the Bubba madness on the last day to get Europe off to a winning start in the singles, is also different from many of his peers.

"I learned so much from that," he says. "It was great that for a loss you learned so much, watching Ian Poulter, watching some of the other guys on the European team, you can learn so much from them, the way they handled themselves when they beat us, they did it with grace and respect and they just beat us.

"And I think the loss will hopefully help me. Obviously I wanted to win, my team wanted to win. We were upset, I cried a bit, but the way it all went down I think we can learn from it and walk away knowing that the game of golf grew from that.

"Europe helped grow it and I think the way we handled ourselves with the loss helped grow it and I think the game of golf was the biggest winner of the whole event."

Winning isn't everything? Just another example that father knows best.