Bubba Watson: Golf's most mistreated megastar

2016 02 Bubba Watson

Since the start of the 2010 season, only Rory McIlroy has won more times on the PGA Tour than Bubba Watson. Let that sink in for a second.

The left-hander sealed his ninth PGA Tour victory last night in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera. In doing so, he passed Sergio Garcia, Fred Funk, Lee Janzen and more. He also joined a group of only five players to have won multiple times at Riviera and Augusta National, both notoriously tough courses. The others? Phil Mickelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Tom Watson. Not bad company.

Bubba has won two majors, a World Golf Championship and is the current world No.4. He has, in fact, been a permanent fixture inside the top ten on the world rankings since he won the 2014 Masters Tournament.

So, why doesn’t he get the credit he deserves?


Northern Trust Open - Final Round

Bubba Watson polarises public opinion. No question about that. Some people love him; even more appear to despise him. But why? What has he done to deserve being called, as one person on Twitter so scathingly recently put it, ‘the absolute pits’?

Is it because of his unconventional playing style? His fits of pique? Because he speaks his mind? Makes silly videos? What? What is at the root of the ill-feeling towards him?

Personally, I think there’s a double standard with the way Bubba is treated. On the one hand, there’s a lingering consensus that pro golf lacks ‘characters’, people who ‘break the mould’, do things differently, don’t conform. Then Bubba comes along, acts the way he does, says the things he does and gets crucified for it. That can’t be right. We can’t lament a lack of unorthodox behaviour and then squeal our displeasure when we get it just because we don’t like the person providing it or because it’s ‘not the kind of unorthodox behaviour we want’.

Sometimes when I watch Bubba, I can’t help but wonder at the superlatives and fawning adulation that would be thrown at the feet of just about any other player if they worked the ball the way he does. Tiger’s ‘genius’ would be certified, most likely Rory, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, too. But not Bubba. Heaven forbid that genius should be flawed, eh?


Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Clippers

So I have a theory. I think people’s opinions of Bubba are rooted in the feelings of an American audience which can’t reconcile his sporting prowess - and success - with his personality. Bluntly? He’s not the type of sports star America is accustomed to. He’s not Tom Brady, or Cam Newton, or Steph Curry (above), or Michael Jordan, or Derek Jeter, or Jordan Spieth. He's not 'cool' like they are. He's goofy, quirkier than all of them combined – and that, I think, makes him an easy target for ridicule.

Let's assume I'm right. Is that not a terrible way to treat someone? My old man used to tell me, ‘You don’t need to like somebody to respect them’. Frankly, I don’t think Bubba gets half the respect he deserves. It appears as though kudos is given to him grudgingly, that he is congratulated through gritted teeth. Why? Because he’s different, a bit of a ‘misfit’.
Bubba has achieved everything that he has in spite of himself.

For me, everything about the way he is treated speaks to a deeper social issue - a collective inability to fully appreciate or accept the talents of somebody we view as ‘different’. That, though, only makes me like Bubba even more. He’s achieved everything that he has in spite of himself.

I expect the vast majority of the people who wag fingers at his ‘bad behaviour’ have never seen an example of it, far less been on the receiving end of it. Instead, they’ve heard the rumours, remembered the rumours and used them as sticks to beat him with. But what about that is right or reasonable? Would you like to be judged by some second-hand, likely-exaggerated account of your ‘character’? Of course you wouldn’t. But people do it to Bubba because, well, “it’s only Bubba Watson”.

Except here’s the thing: Bubba Watson is a two-time Masters champion and has consistently been one of the world’s top golfers over the last few years. He deserves more respect than he gets. Much, much more.

Bubba Watson :: Your take

Do you agree with Michael McEwan that Bubba Watson deserves to be treated with more respect? Or do you think that the criticism levelled at him is justified? Leave your thoughts in our 'Comments' section below.

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