When Bubba won his first Masters, his fans loved it, but his critics called it a fluke and said he lacked the consistency to be a great player. This Masters win proves those critics wrong.
1. The more I think about it, the more I see Bubba as a bigger, stronger and longer — and yes, quirkier — Seve Ballesteros. Like Seve, Bubba has a home-built swing based on a great pair of hands, and like Seve, Bubba can be a little wild off the tee and then pull off unbelievable recovery shots.
Bubba also reminds me of Seve in that he's an emotional player who is able to control his excitement when it matters most. Of course, Seve was also known for his fantastic short game. Bubba's short game is not quite there but it's perfectly adequate, as we saw at Augusta National last week.
Like him or not, you have to respect Bubba's golf and his ability to post a score. He had a slight "Masters hangover" after winning in 2012 and it took a while to win again. That shouldn't be the case this year. He really needs to put the pedal to the metal and win one or two different majors to further validate his place in the game. Much like Seve, the U.S. Open will probably be the toughest one for him to win, but this year's U.S. Open at Pinehurst will allow players to go a little off-line with their drives and still recover. That could be interesting to watch.
2. Each generation of younger players comes up better prepared for success. Rory McIlroy is going to be the elder statesmen of a remarkable generation of young players that includes Jordan Spieth, Jonas Blixt, Rickie Fowler and many others. What impresses me about them is how they are better prepared for success, mentally and physically, than any group of young players I've ever seen. I expect we'll see a first-time winner again at Augusta National in the coming years. Part of the reason is that players today have more competitive experience because they play in many junior tournaments at a younger age. Jordan Spieth, for example, won two U.S. Junior Amateur Championships. That's not a major championship, but for him at that age it was major-level pressure.
These young players also have access to more information in the form of mental-game training, conditioning and coaching. Players used to grow up isolated and it took much longer to learn what it takes to win. So many players came out of Florida, Texas and California because that's where everyone congregated. Now great players come from everywhere, like Hideki Matsuyama, who could be the first real Asian force in major championship golf. The generation of Tiger, Phil and Ernie might not be ready to pass the baton to this younger crowd, but the younger guys are ready to grab it and take it away.
3. We've become spoiled with the Masters. Everybody expects to see a phenomenal second nine on Sunday, and we didn't get it this year. There were a few reasons for that. First, Bubba's tee shot on 13 went through the trees and landed safely in the fairway, but it could have gotten caught in the trees or taken a bad bounce and made things more interesting. Second, there wasn't a real challenger who put pressure on Bubba. The golf course was set up a little differently than usual on Sunday. The holes were in the traditional locations but they weren't exactly on the traditional spots. I went out to putt them in the morning and they were two or three yards away from the usual placements. The subtle changes made the course a little tougher than usual. We saw that difficulty when there were no eagles on 15 Sunday and only one birdie on 17.
The course's tougher setup can also be traced back to Augusta's terrible ice storm a month earlier. While the loss of the Eisenhower tree was the most visible and obvious result of the storm, there were other trees and limbs that were lost. The result was a different wind pattern, especially on the second nine. The winds were much more variable and inconsistent forcing players to bail out a little more rather than attack the holes. We had more roars on the first nine than usual, and I think everyone expected them to grow louder as the players got to the 10th hole. It never happened. Oh well, you can't get a phenomenal Christmas gift every year! Maybe, next year.