On a PGA Tour overrun by perfect swings and political correctness, Bubba Watson stands out like a cowboy on Wall Street.
He is outspoken, with an unconventional swing and an imagination with no out-of-bounds markers.
Watson describes himself as a “new-age redneck,” his awesomeness implied. As if to drive home the point, Watson earlier this year bought the original General Lee, the Dodge Charger that starred in the television series “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Watson, 33, seeks the guidance of a pastor but not a swing coach. He wears his golf shirts buttoned to the top, but his mouth is almost always open. He does not pound balls or, apparently, beers. He was spotted hanging out near the French Quarter one night during the tour stop in New Orleans — at a frozen yogurt shop.
One of Watson’s best friends on the tour is Rickie Fowler, who is a decade younger. Asked why they get along so well, Fowler said, “I’m actually older than him at heart.”
A preposterous hook shot out of the woods helped Watson win the Masters and a wide following. With his handsy, quirky swing and wildness off the tee — after his last start, he was 108th on the tour in driving accuracy — his game is imperfect enough to give every weekend duffer hope. As a result of Watson’s candor, creative shot-making and tour-leading 314.5-yard driving average, he has become America’s adopted son.
The staggering fatigue, steep learning curve and sweet rewards that come with such attention are similar to what he has experienced since he and wife, Angie, adopted their infant son, Caleb, two weeks before that Masters win.
For Watson, an introvert trapped in an entertainer’s body, the harder adjustment has been building a relationship with the public that extends beyond interacting with his more than600,000 followers on Twitter.
“It’s weird that people want to hear me, see me, get my autograph,” Watson said, adding, “That’s the learning I’m trying to do.”
All eyes will be upon him this week at the United States Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. He is not only the reigning Masters champion, but he will play the first two rounds with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, two golfers long accustomed to life in the public eye.
Watson has received a crash course in fame since the Masters. In his next competitive event, in New Orleans, Watson played in the pro-am and was followed by a small gallery of early risers, including a handful of people who at every hole produced pin flags, magazine covers or glossy photographs for him to sign.
One man ducked behind a tree and changed into a different shirt in an effort to go unnoticed as a repeat autograph seeker. After six holes, Watson realized he was being stalked by dealers — “autograph hunters” is what he called them — who sell signed items to collectors.
Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott, told fans Watson would stop for autographs after his round. Watson tried to oblige every child who thrust items at him. He was more circumspect signing for adults.
At the Memorial Tournament a month later, a man provoked Watson into a shouting match and was escorted off the Muirfield Village course by security at the end of Watson’s pro-am round. The man called Watson “a liar” and “a terrible person” because he did not sign for him. Watson stopped, stared at the man and said: “I’m a liar? How did I lie? I’m a terrible person because I won’t sign for you? All you’re doing is selling the stuff, anyway.”
On the practice green afterward, Watson and Scott looked shaken as they reviewed the incident, the better to learn from it. Watson had weathered a worse fan experience the previous night in Columbus, Ohio. Leaving a charity concert he hosted, Watson and Angie, who was behind the wheel, were tailed by a stranger.
“I switched to driving, so I could drive through someone’s yard if I had to,” Watson said.
It took 37 minutes for Watson to give his pursuer the slip, long enough for Angie and him to commit to selling their much-loved house in Scottsdale, Ariz., and moving permanently to the gated community of Isleworth outside Orlando, formerly home to Woods.
“You can turn your phone off or lock down yourself at Isleworth and nobody can get to you,” Watson said, “and just spend time with the family, play golf.”
His victory at the Masters did not change his whole life. His priorities remain the same. Family comes before golf.