Tour Confidential: What Should We Expect From Bubba in 2015?

Tour Confidential: What Should We Expect From Bubba in 2015?

Bubba Watson holed a bunker shot for eagle on the 18th hole to get into a playoff, and then made a 20-foot birdie putt to win the HSBC Champions.
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Bubba Watson finished eagle-birdie to claim the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai and seemed genuinely thrilled at winning the event. Given his Masters and Riviera wins, as well as his PR-shredding tantrums and 0-3 Ryder Cup record, how do you assess Bubba’s season and what are his prospects moving forward?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Bubba is the best American player…when he’s on. He’s not on all the time, for reasons unknown. All we can do is take him for what he is, a remarkable talent who wins on occasion. He’s not a guy you can predict. We know he likes Augusta and Riviera. After that, it’s a coin toss. He has the ability to win five or six times a year, but I don’t think we’re going to see him do it.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: On paper, it’s an outstanding year. In real life, he comes off as…odd, and fighting himself.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): I really want to like Bubba — I really do. He could be so good for growing the game. He’s a genius at hitting the ball, boasts all kinds of distinctive traits, from his swing to his pink driver, and he’s now won multiple majors. Unfortunately, he shoots himself in the foot with a .357 Magnum over and over again. With what I’ve seen and heard from him, he’s very hard to root for. To win a second Masters and a couple of other coveted titles — that’s a great year by anyone’s standards, save Tiger circa 1997-2008. I see more championships ahead, but he has tidying up to do to be worthy of admiration.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Three wins including a Masters makes this the best year of Bubba’s career. Don’t look now, but he’s the top-ranked American in golf. The PR blunders and Ryder Cup letdown are clear areas for future growth. If he can harness his itchy, twitchy demeanor — a big if — Watson has a chance to become the face of American golf as Tiger and Phil fade and he enters the prime of a could-be-Hall of Fame career.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): He had 1.4 million reasons to look genuinely thrilled. Any season with a major trophy is a success, and his year has been outstanding in its highs and comically petty in its lows. Sometimes he just can’t get out of his own way, but it is always entertaining to watch. That will probably be the case for many years to come.

Mike Walker, assistant managing editor, (@michaelwalkerjr): Eccentric Bubba Watson is a classic late-bloomer. He’s been getting better, more mature and more consistent every year. He’s the most exciting American player in golf, and he’ll challenge Rory McIlroy for Player of the Year in 2015. Watson gets a bad rap on the public relations side too. I’ve always found him to be gracious and helpful anytime I needed to talk to him for a story. He’s admitted that he needs to work on his on-course demeanor, and I think he’s sincere about it.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): It’s kind of like a first-grader’s progress report: precocious if unpredictable talent with some impressive accomplishments. Does not play well with others.

2. Less than two weeks after then PGA of America president Ted Bishop called Ian Poulter a “lil girl” on Twitter, Patrick Reed was caught on live TV reprimanding himself with a gay slur after three-putting. Are these incidents a sign of rampant intolerance in golf or an indication of hypersensitivity in the culture?

LYNCH: None of us would like to be judged solely by what we mutter on the golf course (least of all me, since I’m a Hall of Fame cusser). Reed’s words were undeniably homophobic. I have no idea if Reed himself is homophobic, and much less do I care. More interesting is the reaction in this game every time a contentious issue arises involving race, gender or, in this instance, sexual orientation. It’s as though some secret clarion call summons to the keyboard every laptop bombardier in the nation to assert his right to offend, abuse and exclude anyone, anywhere, anytime. Those who angrily dismiss criticism of comments like Reed’s as PC whining are always the ones whose sensitivities are not in play. And to imply — as many did this week — that Reed’s two F-words are equally freighted expressions of frustration is either willful ignorance or breathtaking stupidity. For all its progress, golf still has ingrained issues around discrimination and inclusion. It’s just a shame that every time those issues come to the fore that golf’s leaders put their heads in the sand and leave the public dialogue to those with their heads up their asses.

BAMBERGER: Neither, really. Neither meant harm, but the words are harmful and over time we will hear them less and less and our society will be better for it. Tolerance is a good thing, even if many of the respondents to Eamon Lynch’s appropriate and thoughtful column about it would have you believe otherwise.

VAN SICKLE: The difference between the two is that Bishop was name-calling while Reed was berating himself. This is the price of fame, and if you’re a pro golfer, you’ve got to remember that any time you’re on a golf course, a microphone may be picking up your conversation. You’d better clean up your act.

PASSOV: Of the two choices, I lean toward hypersensitivity in the culture — but if I had a third choice, it would be “stupidity in the culture.” Patrick Reed has to be a moron if that kind of thing actually comes out of his mouth in this day and age. He’s 25 years old, not 125. Yet, because he directed it at himself, I’m not going to rip him any more than that.

RITTER: The two incidents further demonstrate that if you’re a public figure, you need to be careful — very careful — what you say or do (or tweet, or Instagram…or Snapchat) in the public space.

WALKER: I don’t think golf’s problem is intolerance so much as ignorance. I’m sure Reed regrets his remarks, but until the PGA Tour publicly reprimands retrograde attitudes, you can expect more of the same.

SENS: The real hypersensitivity I’ve detected is from people railing against anyone who said they were offended. In large part, the defensive reaction of this crowd has been to raise the specter of the “thought-police.” Jeez, so touchy. Not to mention way off base. Policing thoughts and challenging outmoded ways of thinking are two very different things.

3. Not that the PGA Tour will reveal how it deals with the matter, but what would you consider appropriate sanctions for Patrick Reed?

SENS: If the Tour is going to take his slur seriously, it should also take his apology seriously. He said he was sorry, and he’s been chastised plenty. That seems like enough.

RITTER: Since we don’t know how the Tour disciplines players, we have nothing on which to base Reed’s punishment, other than Dustin Johnson’s reported six-month ban for a third flunked drug test. A fine and a short suspension for Reed feels about right, assuming this is his first offense.

PASSOV: I’m fine with a slap on the wrist. Do some sensitivity training, make the proper apologies, pay the fines for the f-bombs. Not every PGA Tour player is enlightened, intelligent or tolerant, and in Reed’s case, he’s bottom of the barrel. Still, he’s hardly alone, in his sport or others. Maybe he’ll learn something from this, but if not, at least keep quiet going forward.

WALKER: These guys make so much money that public censure is the only sanction that would have any impact. Plus it would be great for golf for the PGA Tour to take a public stance against homophobic language. The Tour’s refusal to make its disciplinary actions public is a disaster waiting to happen. Look what’s going on with the NFL right now.

VAN SICKLE: A medium-sized fine would be sufficient. All player fines should be subtracted from their official money total for the season, and a pro-rated number of FedEx Cup points should also be deducted from their total.

LYNCH: I’m sure he’ll be fined, which seems fair enough. Reed himself described his words as “unacceptable,” so it would be fitting if he were to reveal the details of whatever sanction he accepts. In which case he might emerge from this episode with a little more credibility than the PGA Tour, given its continued silence on such matters.

BAMBERGER: As commissioner, I would allow young Patrick to decide his own fine and ask him to walk in the check into the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic in Houston, or some similar place where his money can be put to good use in the continuing gay health crisis in this country. Along the way he can learn something about what it is like to be an oppressed minority and the true toll the use of hateful language takes on people. And I say that nearly certain that he meant no harm.

4. No Masters Invitation is extended to the winner of the Sanderson Farms Championship, because it’s an opposite field event from the WGC-HSBC Champions. Yet, it awards 300 FedEx points. Should the winner here get a Masters bid? Regular Tour events hand out 500 points, WGC events, 550, and the Players and the four majors 600 points. Fair?

PASSOV: Given that none of the other old “Fall Series” events seem to draw anybody in the world’s top 30, I don’t know why winners of those events get Masters bids, yet the Sanderson Farms champ doesn’t. Isn’t that guy — whether Nick Taylor or somebody else — equally (or more) deserving than the British Am, Asia-Pacific Am or U.S. Mid-Am winner? What I’m amazed at is that the winner of the Shriners in Vegas or the Mayakoba event next week gets 500 points, but a major winner only gets 600? That’s preposterous. Majors should be at least 1,000, more likely 1,500 or 2,000.

VAN SICKLE: The Masters is trying to keeps its field to what it considers a manageable size, around 100 or less, so it’s easy to understand why it doesn’t award spots to winners of alternative events. It would be great if the Masters rewarded every winner. It would also be great if the Sanderson Farms had its own week and didn’t have to go up against a WGC event.

LYNCH: Fairness doesn’t enter the equation. The Tour protects and promotes its events, and so does the Masters tournament committee. That’s why Asia-Pacific Amateur champion Antonio Murdaca is guaranteed a berth at Augusta National in April and Sanderson Farms winner Nick Taylor is not.

SENS: Fair? There are plenty of other ways to earn an invite to the Masters. No grave injustice here. There are also plenty of goofy elements to the FedEx point system. But in the end, the short history of the event suggests that what matters most isn’t a win during the season but heating up at the right time. Just get into the playoffs, then hope you start to sizzle, New York (football) Giants-style

WALKER: I don’t think you should get a Masters invite for winning an opposite-field event, but the FedEx Cup points allotment is smart and gives players a reason to play more events.

RITTER: The Sanderson had one of most diluted fields of the year. If the Masters wasn’t impressed, can’t say I blame them.

BAMBERGER: With all due respect to the person who came up with this question — was it you, Steve Sands? — I got bored about halfway through it. In my house, we just don’t about FedEx Cup point allocation that often. Win-you’re-in should not go to these lesser events. We need an offseason.

5. According to the Detroit News, the Detroit Golf Club recently notified members that jeans are now allowed on club grounds. Where do you stand on the issue of playing in Levis: Denim Denier or Forever in Blue Jeans?

VAN SICKLE: The world isn’t going to end if a club’s dress code goes away because its members want to dress down. Clubs will do whatever the members want because it’s getting harder than ever to find and keep members. No big deal, but it is another small sign of golf slowly spiraling downward.

PASSOV: Troon Golf Management issued this directive as a policy at their daily-fee facilities two years ago, including an okay on jeans in the clubhouse. This is the first I’ve heard at an old-line private club. Five years ago, I would have been really irked. “Jeans” and golf? We’re talking Littler and Sauers, right? Today, sigh, it’s a sign of the times. Since I don’t want to see any more golf courses close, I’ll bite my tongue and defer to denim.

BAMBERGER: Jeans do not provide enough movement for golf, so no jeans. Unless they’re TigerJeans.

LYNCH: I’m not bothered by this one, so I’ll cheerfully adopt whatever position offends more of the aforementioned keyboard warriors.

RITTER: I grew up playing courses where folks occasionally donned denim, and although it would feel strange playing in jeans, I think it’s fine for clubs to set their own rules on it.

SENS: I’ll let the fuddy-duddies get worked up about dress codes. The real question here is, why would you WANT to wear jeans on the golf course? Are those really the most comfortable golf clothes you can find?

WALKER: If there’s nae khaki, there’s nae golf.

6. Bubba Watson has a new tattoo, his wife Angie’s name on his ring finger. If you were to get inked with a golf-themed tattoo, what would it be?

SENS: It’s already on my left forearm: WJDD. What Would John Daly Do?

RITTER: Not a tattoo guy, so I’d stamp a tribute on my arm to all the times I’ve broken 80. In other words, I would get nothing.

LYNCH: I have a swing thought for every finger, but they’ll need to be temporary tats to accommodate the ever-changing narrative in my game.

WALKER: The Caddyshack gopher.

VAN SICKLE: There’s no what-if for me. I’m not getting a tattoo, golf theme or otherwise.

BAMBERGER: “Be the ball.” On my right thumb.

PASSOV: Probably a nice scripted “supinate” on my left forearm/wrist.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.