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Mulvena: Stop hating Bubba Watson

| Tuesday, March 27, 2018

While everyone tuned into the whirlwind of Elite Eight contests and lamented the destruction of their brackets over the weekend, Bubba Watson quietly secured his 11th career win on the PGA Tour and second career World Golf Championships (WGC) title at the WGC-Dell Match Play. It was Watson’s second win on tour this season, after winning the Genesis Open at Riviera a little over a month ago.

There is simply no doubt that the two-time Masters Champion is woven into the fabric of golf’s illustrious history. But fans, writers and fellow Tour members still don’t like Watson very much … or at all.

In 2015, ESPN conducted an anonymous survey of Tour players, asking them a variety of questions from “Name one course on your bucket list,” to “Will Tiger Woods win another major championship?” One of the inquiries was this: “____ is in a fight in the parking lot. You’re not helping him.” The winner of this fill-in-the-blank was Bubba Watson.

And Tour members aren’t the only ones who’ve expressed these sentiments. Critics whine about his temper tantrums and complaints about courses, labeling him a “spoiled brat and whiny.

I’m not even going to entertain those who question his ability. His play speaks for itself. But those who continually hate on Bubba need to stop because he is great for golf.

In an age where golf’s TV ratings and the popularity of the sport in general are waning, the PGA Tour continually emphasizes the need to “grow the game.” Bubba Watson is literally perfect for expanding golf’s popularity and viewership.

For a sport often labeled as “snobby” and filled with athletes who practically grew up at the country club, Watson is a relatable figure for a general audience. He grew up in the Florida panhandle in a town called Bagdad. He wasn’t rich. He wasn’t a country club kid. In fact, when he first started playing, he used half a set of clubs because he couldn’t afford the whole set. He’s self taught. Watson has never taken a golf lesson in his life, and his unique swing, which strays away from the traditional, is solely a product of his own work.

Okay, so what? Even if Watson is more relatable than the average Tour player, golf is boring.

Golf may be boring sometimes, but Watson is most certainly not.

Even at 39 years old, coming off an undisclosed illness that clearly affected his weight, Watson still hits the ball a mile. In 2018, far past his physical prime, Bubba is fourth in driving distance on the PGA Tour, hitting his drives 316.2 yards on average. This weekend, in his second match against Marc Leishman, Bubba hit an iron 366 yards. 366 yards. That’s virtually unheard of. Plus, his ability to shape the ball is simply remarkable. From 330-yard fades off the tee that carve the fairway to sweeping draws that find the green on a crazy path, Watson’s creativity from tee to green is unprecedented. You could watch the protracer of his ball for hours and discover shot shapes you didn’t even know existed.

That is what people want to see. That is what will get the ordinary Joe to turn on the golf channel. Perfectly executed iron shots to within 10 feet of the hole are great, but Bubba’s game offers the theatrics that can draw in an audience who may not be dying to watch flawless bunker shots.

Sure, Bubba can get short with fans sometimes, but who wouldn’t? Just a few weeks ago at the Honda Classic Justin Thomas got a fan ejected for yelling, “Get in the bunker!” while one of his drives was in the air. After winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational just last week, Rory McIlroy complained of unruly fans and suggested limiting alcohol sales to combat yelling fans at tournaments.

I’m no expert, but to the golf enthusiasts seeking to “grow the game” — prohibiting fans from yelling and taking away their alcohol won’t do the trick.

Watson may get mad at his caddie, but just because it happened to be captured on TV doesn’t mean he’s the only one displaying this kind of behavior. Plus, Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott, is one of the most respected caddie on Tour, and if he wanted to leave Watson for someone else, he surely could have. But Scott has stuck with Watson for years.

Watson has even publicly disclosed his struggles with anxiety and other issues, which clearly affects his attitude on the course. At least he’s willing to open up about such a personal issue. He may not be perfect, but he’s certainly real. His emotions on the course aren’t polished like the normal golfer, they’re raw. That can be refreshing in a sport that often lacks flair.

So please, stop hating Bubba. In a game that can often drag on, Watson offers some excitement that can move the needle for everyone. He may not be perfect. He may not be traditional. He may cry too much after winning. But he’s relatable, he’s real and he’s fun to watch.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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