Tour and News

'I want to be No. 1': The Golf Magazine Interview With Bubba Watson

Photo: Jeff Newton

"I'm a dad but that doesn't take away my drive," says Watson, who'll gun for the top ranking in 2013.

Bubba Watson contains multitudes. It all depends on where you catch him. On the course, he's Bubba the Player, an amalgam of nervous energy and pure focus. On Twitter, he's Bubba the Redneck, tweeting about "this arch I drove round" in Paris.

But Bubba in person is something else: a thoughtful, maturing man of substance, albeit one who dons denim overalls in the mock music group Golf Boys. This depth seems surprising, though maybe it shouldn't. A few years back, as Detroit suffered economically, he pledged to buy only American-made cars. In 2011, while participating in an anonymous Masters players' poll for this magazine, he not only joined the 10 percent who said Augusta National should admit female members -- he suggested we put his comments on the record. And more recently, the 34-year-old and his wife, Angie, became parents of an adopted son, Caleb.

Not content to be another ultra-talented one-major wonder (see: Love and Couples), Watson has reshuffled his goals and now has the World No. 1 ranking in his sights. He may already be golf's best interview. While many players today lack either the interest or insight to discuss the world outside of the PGA Tour, an engaging Bubba sits down to talk golf, life, gun control, panic attacks, President Obama, The Dukes of Hazzard, wisdom that comes with age, and the swing from last year's Masters that was even more amazing than the Hook Seen 'Round the World.

The last time we saw you wearing the green jacket was on Late Show with David Letterman that Tuesday after your Masters win. Fess up: Do you wear it to bed every night?
[Laughs] Letterman was the last time I wore it. It's been in a garment bag in my closet. I haven't looked at it, I haven't seen it. It got shipped from Orlando back to Scottsdale.

In a green garment bag, we hope. You decided to move from Scottsdale to Isleworth, in Orlando. You were followed while driving home after a charity event last year. Did that incident make you want to live in a gated community?
I've always lived in a gated community, but it hit home more when that incident happened, especially having a child now. It's just more security. We've seen things in the news -- our world is crazy -- and it's nice to have that peace of mind when we take walks or go outside.

Do you want to add to your family?
We'd like to add a baby girl. We're looking to do that in the next year and a half, after we get used to being parents with Caleb. We'd go through Chicks in Crisis again [an organization that facilitates adoptions].

A couple of years back you bought the General Lee, the car featured on The Dukes of Hazzard, which has a Confederate Flag on the roof. This created a minor controversy. Where's the car now?
It's in Phoenix, getting worked on. It wasn't street-legal [when we bought it]. There were no seat belts, the gauges weren't working, there was no back seat -- there were a lot of things that weren't working. We're getting a 1969 Charger all over again, in mint condition.

Who was your favorite character on that show?
Cooter. It sounded hillbilly, it sounded country -- my name's Bubba, so I go with the crazy names, I guess. And we had a dog named Rosco P. Coltrane, after the sheriff. That show meant a lot to our family -- me and my dad, we watched it all the time together. I also liked the old Knight Rider, The A-Team -- those were the shows me and my dad watched. I have all of those shows on my computer and all the DVDs at my house.

Now that you're a major winner, what are your golf goals? Do you worry about being a one-major wonder?
No, I still have goals. I would love to see myself as No. 1 in the world. Just because I'm a dad and a husband, it doesn't take away my drive. I still want to play in all those team events. I want to win a Ryder Cup -- we've lost both Ryder Cups I've played in. I said four years ago that if I could get to 10 wins that would be a great career, and right now I have four wins, with one major.

What will it take for you to reach No. 1?
I have to get more consistent. When Tiger was in his heyday, he was top-tennin' every week. McIlroy last year was top-five, top-10 every week.

You were very consistent last year, with 16 top-25 finishes in 19 starts.
Yeah, but I missed the cut three times. So when you add that in, it's really not that consistent. I want to make those cuts and make my top 25s into top 20s and top 15s. There are lots of things that went better in 2012. It was my best year on Tour for money, my stroke average went down, but you can still improve.

When was the last time you cried like you cried when you won the Masters?
Not in a while, but I'll cry when Angie goes out and it's just me staying with my son. I'll cry at how blessed we are, that we can provide for him and hopefully give him a good home, that I was able to win a major and can play golf for a living. There are many cool things about my wife. One is that she was a professional athlete [she played in the WNBA], so she understands the dedication, drive, energy level, focus, practice and travel schedule that it takes.

How's your hoops game?
I can shoot, but I can't dribble. I've always been slow. Basketball -- that's my favorite sport. I'm a true Clippers fan. I've basically met the whole team. I would give away all my trophies to play in the NBA. I love that atmosphere, five guys shooting hoops. I guess I like it more because I can't do it.

Golf, you can do. How do you rank the majors in importance?
The Masters is first, then the U.S. Open, then the British, then the PGA -- like on the schedule. Playing the Masters' Par-3 Contest is such a thrill, especially now that my son will get to caddie in it and walk and goof around with me. That's going to be the thrill of a lifetime. Hopefully he's walking by April.

You'll have to put him on a strict program, maybe some weights.
Yeah, I'll have him running wind-sprints! And then there's the beauty of the course. It never changes -- everybody knows the history, the excitement of certain holes, the significance of the tournament. But even though we've played it so many times, it's still hard. It's just tough, and some days it gets you.

You're a father, and earlier you mentioned recent news events. Where do you stand on the issue of guns, in the wake of the Newtown tragedy -- given that you play a lot of video games, many of which feature gun violence?
I truly hate guns. I've never been a gun guy. I'm freaked out by them. I shot guns with the Navy SEALs in San Diego the last two years -- handguns, pistols -- but they scare me to death. I've never owned a gun, and I've never been hunting. I felt like it was a controlled environment with the Navy SEALs, but with video games -- I don't feel that video games would cause somebody to do that, but everybody's mind is different. I don't see how video games are going to cause a guy to do that.

Early this year, you said that you've had panic attacks. Can you expand on that?
Three times I've had issues where I thought something was wrong with me. The first time I was sleeping, in '07. It was the middle of the night at home; I woke up and we went to the hospital. One time, in '09, I was watching TV at home. And one time, in 2011, I was at the golf course, and it wasn't my heart -- the other two times I thought it was my heart. The third time it was something [I felt] down my leg. Doctors said there was nothing wrong with me. Everything was perfect. Everything was normal. It was just me overreacting. They said I needed to get on medicine -- basically ADD [attention deficit disorder] medicine to slow my mind down, because my mind's always racing. Just sitting here now with you I'm thinking about a million different things. But I hate taking medicine, so I told them, "Well, I'll just have panic attacks, then."

People sometimes refer to ADD as having a "race-car brain."
My trainer says that when you get under the gun and have to do something, you get hyper-focused. I say this without knowin' -- I've never been diagnosed with ADD because I don't go to doctors. They freak me out. I guess I probably do have it.

You certainly need to be hyper-focused on the PGA Tour.
Two years ago at Augusta, I was 3-over on the 13th tee, and I wanted to make the cut. I went 3-under coming in and shot even par. And last year, I made four straight birdies on the back nine, hit a bad shot on 17, got hyper-focused and got out of it. You get so focused on one thing, the ultimate goal, and you're not focused on anything else. On some courses, where you have the so-called birdie-fests, I lose my focus.

In ranking the best shots of 2012, both your Masters playoff shot from the pine straw and Louis Oosthuizen's double-eagle on No. 2 topped almost everyone's lists. Isn't it odd that arguably the year's best two shots came from the same twosome on the same day?
What amazed me most was how long it took his ball to go in the hole; it seemed like it rolled forever and then kept rolling. I think it was 20 or 30 seconds from the time he hit it to the time it went in. And then he threw his ball! How crazy is that?

Do you still have the wedge that you used for your famous hook from off the 10th fairway in the playoff?
No, no. Augusta asked for that one. They have it somewhere.

You grew up on a tree-lined course on the Florida panhandle, so when you stood over that shot from under the trees, you'd had some practice.
The moment made it tougher, but yeah, because I grew up on tree-lined courses, I'm used to hitting driver all over the place. I've done it my whole life. I've hit shots on Tour where I've had to hook it even more.

Was that your best swing all week?
No. There were shots that were harder and more amazing. Sunday on No. 17 I sliced it into the woods and my ball was on the muddy hardpan, and I had to go over the trees, through a small gap, quick, off a tough lie. That was tougher. And on Friday on No. 11, I hooked it out of worse pine straw, with the ball sitting down and also out of the trees; it couldn't get more than 10 feet high and had to hook even more, and I had to aim at the water left of the green and bring it back. My caddie Teddy [Scott] is like, "I don't think..." and I say, "Teddy, I'm known for hookin' it!" At the time I'm 3-under, and the cut-line is 1-or 2-over. He says, "Let's not do nothin' stupid. It's a terrible lie. You can't do it." I say, "Watch this." I hit a low, bullet 9-iron that hooks 50 yards, all the way across the water, to the front of the green. He's like, "That's not possible!"

You don't have a swing instructor, but you do have a trainer. He got you eating breakfast, right?
Yeah, I would eat honey buns, donuts, Cokes. Because you're young, you're like, "I don't need to work out or stretch or eat right, I'm hitting the ball miles. Look at me." But then you start talking to different players. When I played practice rounds with Tiger Woods, he'd say, "Why are you doing this? You need to work out, you need to stretch." I'm like, "I don't need to do that. I hit it farther than you." And he's like, "Yeah, but you're not winning, and you're not there every week. You're only there sometimes."

You and Tiger used to play practice rounds together, but not anymore. What changed?
Our relationship is still really good, but things changed in his life. He got a family, had a child and then another child. And now I'm spending time with my wife and child. I started hanging out with different people because I'm trying to change my life, trying to become a stronger Christian. We grew apart in hanging out together, but we're still friends and we still talk.

Did you reach out to him when he was at his lowest point, after his sex scandal broke?
Oh, yeah, I called his manager once a week, every week, just to say, "I'm still his friend. I'm here for him." I don't care what happened, I still love him and Elin. We all do bad stuff. It's all equal -- sin is sin.

You've made more than $10 million in Tour earnings over the last three years. What toys have you bought?
It's funny -- my life has changed as I've gotten older. Take the General Lee. I mean, who doesn't want to own the General Lee? I still like cars, but I'm not buying 'em anymore. My wife hates cars. I'm trying to be smarter in my spending, and do the right thing with retirement funds and a college fund.

What else is in your fleet besides the General Lee?
They're all American-made cars: I've got a Cadillac, so does my wife. I've gotten rid of a lot of them. I just gave away a Ford pickup truck on eBay to a person who won a contest. Less than 5,000 miles on it. I don't drive much.

After you won last year, did you hear from anyone surprising?
That night at the club, one of the members pulls out his phone and says, "The Vice President wants to talk to you." He says that the President wanted to call but that he's busy, and that he'll call later. On Tuesday I'm in New York, doing the media frenzy, and I get a call. A voice -- the President's assistant -- says, "Bubba, this is the White House. The next voice you hear will be the President of the United States." I'd met him at the White House the year before, for the U.S. Open at Congressional. So when he says, "This is President Obama," I say, "Hey, buddy! How ya doin'? Umm, I mean, hello, Mr. President. How ya doin'?" He laughs and says, "That's fine, man, you can call me whatever. You just won the Masters." So that was cool. Whether you voted for him or not, he's running our country, and it's a tough job. But getting a call from the President is a cool feeling.

What does the caller ID say when he calls? "White House?" "Golfer in Chief?"
[Laughs] It just says, "Blocked." It was a very cool experience. I wish he'd invite me to play basketball, but what are you gonna do?

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