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

Bubba Watson, 2012 Masters
Al Tielemans/SI
Watson's great escape from the trees in last year's playoff at the Masters.

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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