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With his personality and roots, Bubba harks back to characters of Tour's past

Bubba Watson, 2012 Masters
John Biever/SI
Bubba Watson brings to mind Bill Mehlhorn, a true character from the Tour's past.

The still-fresh memory of Bubba Watson's 40-yard slingshot from the trees makes me a little nostalgic. It's impossible to compare golfers of different generations, but amid the common lament that the landscape of professional golf is devoid of characters compared to the days of yore, Bubba, with his overcaffeinated swing and personality, harks back to the hardscrabble men who peopled the Tour before it was a big-money pursuit.

As the Texas Open approaches, Bubba brings to mind Bill Mehlhorn in particular. Mehlhorn's game didn't really resemble Bubba's—Bill was known for hitting it straight—but he was a character. On Tour they called him Wild Bill because he often played in a cowboy hat and did bizarre things. Once, during the 1926 Texas Open, he climbed a tree to heckle a member of the final group, Bobby Cruickshank, who had a 10-inch putt to tie for the title. Efforts to quiet Wild Bill failed, and as he yelled, "What do you know about machinery!" Cruickshank missed.

Although he was born in Illinois, Wild Bill seemed at home in Texas, as three of his 20 Tour wins came in the Lone Star State (two at the Texas Open and one at the El Paso Open). Maybe it was the hat. In the 1923 Texas Open he lost to Walter Hagen in a playoff. That was the open's second year. It's the second-oldest non-major tournament on Tour and a reminder that the circuit's traditions, both in terms of events and eccentricities, stretch from Wild Bill to Bubba. We should continue to celebrate both.


 

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