Trading shots with Justin Bieber and Jamie Foxx at Friday’s NBA All-Star Celebrity game, the American ended Sunday’s Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club with his first PGA Tour title for two years.
There are so many emotions going through my head,” said Watson, doffing his cap to the amphitheater of fans at the eighteenth and choking up as the magnitude off his victory hit home.
“You never know if you’re going to be able to play good again. I even thought about retirement. I can’t believe I’m going to lift the trophy.”
To call his two-shot win a shock would be an understatement.
Watson has been a shadow of his former self for over 18 months, an undisclosed illness leaving him feeling tired and weak.
In that time the 6ft 3in big-hitter, renowned as one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour, would dread stepping onto the scales, shedding significant weight and dropping as low as 160 pounds.
It was, he puts it, “the lowest point I’ve ever been at in the game of golf.”
“My ball speed, my swing, everything changed,” said Watson. “The last year-and-a-half, almost two years, give or take, it’s been a struggle because I want to be at the top.”
“Not being there,” he admits, “you feel like, is this it, is this my old man moment where I can’t play golf again?”
Ranked as high as world No. 7 as recently as 2016, the 39-year-old entered this year’s Genesis Open down at No. 117 following his worst season in the FedEx Cup era.
So low did he rate his chances, Watson considered withdrawing from the tournament altogether in order to shoot hoops instead.
“I really don’t want to pull out of LA., but I will pull out if I have to,” he said ahead of the tournament. “I will no-show because I am definitely showing up at the [arena]. That I’m not worried about.”
Thankfully a sympathetic set of tee times enabled Watson to do both; he walks away with a 10th PGA Tour title and $1,296,000 richer.
‘Quit whining and play golf’
It was Watson’s wife Angie, incidentally a former WNBA player, who spurred him on to keep going.
“My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf,” he said, looking back on a tumultuous year in which he missed the cut at three of the four majors. “She’s a lot tougher than I am.”
The sight of Bubba crying on the course is not unfamiliar to golf fans, but it was tears of joy that greeted his milestone victory.
“Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Florida, would ever get to 10 wins, let’s be honest,” he said, having held off compatriots Kevin Na and Tony Finau to end his wait to reach double figures.
“Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can’t putt, you know? This day and age, to get 10 wins on the PGA Tour, the greatest tour in the world… I am thrilled.”
Reminded he’d just joined all-time greats Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer as a three-time winner of the Genesis Open, he was in no mood for lofty comparisons, saying: “I’m the first and I’m the only Bubba Watson.”
But then he always has been a one of a kind: a self-taught, left-handed, self-proclaimed “head case” with two green jackets.
This season’s Masters is now just over a month away and, should Watson earn a third title there, he would equal the likes of Phil Mickelson, Nick Faldo and Gary Player.
Watson once said he’d retire if he reached his career goal of 10 PGA Tour titles. After a year in which he’s seriously considered walking away from the sport for other reasons, that landmark victory has given him cause to dream again.
“I’ve got to set a new goal now,” he said. “I’m going to be at Augusta until they kick me out!”