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Why Bubba Won’t Win Another Major

May. 2, 2012     By     Comments (10)

Trying to predict Bubba Watson's future.

Trap Five LogoFor the seventh major championship in a row, the victor of this year's Masters was a first-time major winner. Not since Phil Mickelson in 2010 has someone won their second major, and by my count that is the longest such streak ever. With Tiger Woods perpetually on the mend and endlessly ineffective, and Phil Mickelson often too headstrong for his own good, Bubba Watson is another in the line of new entries to the major winner's circle.

Bubba, as a sold player but not of Hall-of-Fame caliber, faces stiff competition. Never before has there been so many players that match his level of play.

In addition to the state-of-the-sport challenges Bubba faces, his game has some glaring holes. While it would be a disservice to say Bubba was handed the Masters, he didn't exactly steal it away until that famed shot from the tress (and even that was only a par). Bubba has missed the cut in about a third of the events he has played over his career, and while his relatively homegrown swing might make him a nice poster-child for the anti-instructor movement, it could prove to be his ultimate undoing.

I have nothing against Bubba personally (he seems like a good guy and I did a ProFiles article about him last year), and watching his go-for-broke play is very entertaining, but I don't see him winning another major championship.

Read on to find out why.

Number Five: He's Not Phil
Naturally, as a long-hitting lefty with a knack for getting out of sticky situations, Bubba has often been compared to Phil Mickelson. They both have fierce swings that sometimes get dodgy, they both find themselves in the woods a lot, and they both wear visors. But the comparisons evaporate quickly.

Though Phil's putting has been up and down over his career, it's almost always been better than Bubba's. When Phil is on fire, like the back nine on Saturday at Augusta, his low scores come from making mid-range putts, and his statistics show that (he's one of the best putters from 15-25 feet). Despite his length, Phil has never relied on hitting it close.

Bubba Watson PGA Playoff Bunker

Bubba, on the other hand, heavily relies on hitting the ball near the hole, especially from long range. The fact that he's hitting a 6-iron when you're hitting a fairway wood is his biggest advantage (which is why he's first on Tour in "Going for the Green"). Because he's so poor of a putter, he has to hit those close, and when he doesn't, he doesn't win. Or he misses the cut.

While Phil has one of the most famously extravagant short games, Bubba's is downright poor. Not only is Bubba terrible from the rough, he's even worse from the sand. If there's anything that can make someone less like Phil, it's a dodgy short game.

Number Four: His Inconsistency
There's a reason that Bubba was in those woods on the second hole of the Masters playoff. For all of his length, Bubba is one of the least accurate drivers on Tour, and while he can get hot with the driver over the course of a week, that doesn't typically lead to long-term success.

The streakiness of Bubba's game can be downright staggering. In one vertigo-inducing roller coaster of a stretch in 2010, Bubba finished third at the Transitions, missed a few cuts and played poorly over the next few months, won the Travelers, missed two more cuts, then lost in a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA. In 2011, Bubba won the Farmers Insurance Open early on, had a few mediocre months, won the Zurich Classic in May, then cracked the top 20 just once the rest of the year.

Bubba Watson Fore Left

His runs earlier in his career are even more mind-boggling. In 2009, Bubba missed five cuts in a row, as well as six out of eight. In 2007, he missed eight of 11 cuts in one particular run, while this year he's yet to finish out of the top 18 in an event. Bubba's hot streaks tend to come crashing to a halt, and while I wouldn't be surprised if Bubba played well the rest of the year, I also wouldn't put money on it.

Number Three: His Swing
Since his Masters win, a lot has been made of the fact that Bubba has never had a traditional golf teacher. It's seen as a badge or honor, that Bubba can get this far on his own. He's found "the secret in the dirt" so to say. This is seen as admirable by many members of the golfing community, and it's only natural to take pride in doing something yourself.

Setting aside the contentions that Bubba has indeed received help in some form (it's tough to get through junior college and then school at a big-time golf college like Georgia without some tips along the way), Bubba has gotten a long way on talent alone. Watch any swing of his, and that's glaringly apparent. Timing tends to come and go in a golf swing, and Bubba relies heavily on it.

But as anyone good amateur that has never taken a lesson will tell you, it might be the prideful route, but it's not the easy route. Bubba has said that above all he trusts his instincts, and tries not to question himself. That's easy to say now, when he's on Piers Morgan and wearing the green jacket, but over that five-straight missed cut streak back in 2009, don't you think he was questioning himself just a bit?

Bubba Watson 2012 Masters Playoff Woods

While Bubba might have more of an intimate knowledge of his swing than others when it's going good, when the bad times come he's going to be left scrambling (something Bubba's not very good at, incidentally). His swing has some very nice components, and he's obviously immensely talented, but going it alone is not usually the route for lasting success.

Number Two: It's Only Getting Tougher
With his Masters win, Bubba Watson was bumped up to fourth in the Official World Golf Rankings, his highest spot ever. Bubba Watson is an extremely good player, and has done very well as of late, but are we ready to say he's better than everyone but McIlroy, Donald, and Westwood? Is Bubba Watson really the best golfer not born in the U.K.?

This has happened not because everyone up there is bad, it's because they're all really, really good. Fields are only getting deeper, and major championship wins are becoming more and more flukey. Bubba, Charl, Louis, and Graeme are all really good players, but they are facing fields that are increasingly deep. The difference between the 11th player and the 111th player in the fields is shrinking rapidly, and at most big tournaments the amount of players that simply don't have a chance is going to zero.

Bubba isn't going not win because he isn't good enough, he's not going to win because everyone else is just as good.

Bubba Watson 2012 Masters Friday 16th Hole

Number One: The Pressure
As a professional golfer, Bubba Watson has never been under much pressure. He's immensely talented, that much is obvious the first time you see him hit a driver, but people see his swing and doubt that he can win.

Though he's spent his entire life at the top of leaderboards, Bubba never faced the anticipation of blue-chippers like Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim, and Rory McIlroy. If Bubba never won a tournament he wouldn't have been letting down the American public, we simply would never have known.

What Bubba proved at Augusta is that when he gets hot, he can win, and he can come up big when he needs to. But Watson goes through extended streaks of poor play, and he's only going to be more and more scrutinized. As a prolific user of Twitter, Bubba has put himself out there, even going to so far to personally issue "thank you" replies to all of the people that congratulated him for his victory.

When he goes through a rough patch, and he will, those Tweets aren't going to be quite so rosy, and Bubba is going to have to deal with the pressure that comes with being under the microscope. He's proved to be a very emotional golfer, and it remains to be seen how he handles the stress.

Closing and Your Thoughts?
Bubba Watson is a supremely talented golfer who has broken new ground with his victory. As someone who is outspoken and a heavy user of social media, Bubba has put himself out there for judgement, and if he falters in the future, which his stats and his swing say is likely, he might have a tough time handling that.

Bubba is also competing in an increasingly bunched up world near the top of the golf rankings, where anyone in the field can win on any given week. Bubba may well win another major, but I'm not betting on it.

Photo Credits: © Andy Lyons, © Sam Greenwood, © Streeter Lecka, © Andrew Redington.

Discussion

  1. He has no mental game and can't overcome failure on a given day like other, stronger players. He whines and won't be a media/fan favorite for long, and he loses friends on the international stage by being an embarrassing, obnoxious hayseed. He'll be affected a lot by haters and it will hurt his play. Some players can use that to ramp up their game out of spite, but Bubba can't always block out the bad voices in himself and outside the ropes on a given day.

    He will have a hell of a time if and when he gets hurt, since he relies on physical strength and his unusual swing. He gets tons of GiRs but that isn't meaningful because he can't putt and he usually isn't very close on his approaches. Plus trouble can really kill him and as an inaccurate driver that means he can get a blow up hole under pressure.

    He's a lot more like John Daly than Phil, IMO. 2 majors and a lot of talent, but nothing more due to his strengths being his undoing. In ten years he'll be the same sort of figure. I'd say he's too streaky to not have a shot at a win in a second or third major, but I'd be surprised if he had the persistence and patience to fail many times before it goes right.

    Plus Rory is not going to be wet behind the ears forever. He's so clearly the most complete golfer, with a stronger albeit developing mental game and superior iron play and short game. He is a very strong driver, the best iron player in the world, and a competent putter. Course management and mental state will determine how many majors, but I'd say Rory wins his sixth before Bubba wins his second.

  2. Rudyprimo says:

    I don't see anything in the article that would make me think that Bubba will never win another major. Saying that he won't isn't actually making a bold prediction either with the state of the game where majors winners jump out of the pack, win, and fade back into the pack.

    I think he has as much of a chance as anyone to win another major. When he's on, he's great like the second round of the WGC, or the back nine at the last round of The Masters. But like other long hitters, even Phil, it's hard to swing away like they do and put four good rounds together.

    I don't know what you mean either, that he didn't steal the Masters. He birdied holes13-16 and then hit one of the all time greatest shots at the Masters to win it in dramatic fashion. I don't know if that's stealing it or not, but that's jumping up and grabbing it away from everyone.

    And I don't know why some people keep trying to split hairs about how Bubba never had lessons. He never had a coach teach him one on one like all other golfers current golfers have had. I doubt the coach at Milton High School or the coach at that powerhouse of golf, Faulkner Community College, ever changed his swing. By the time he went to the U of G he was already 20 years old and I doubt anyone changed his swing there.

    The guys doubting Bubba's claim are splitting hairs. So if Bubba was on the practice range when in high school and the coach said to Bubba "You're going too far past parallel" as he was walking up and down the line of golfers, that's it. That's a lesson. Bubba should never claim he was self taught. That's exaggerating it but not too far off from that line of thinking.

    Like I said, when Bubba is on he's great. Maybe he's maturing into a winner now, maybe not. I don't think he has the game to win a U.S. Open, but he can jump up again and win another major sometime over the next 10 years.

  3. The thing I have to wonder is why it was necessary to write this article in the first place? Why all the negativity towards one of golf's biggest rising stars? Is Bubba bad for golf? I personally don't think so. It seems because he has put himself "out there" he has become the topic of negative conversation be many a jealous hacker that seem to think its unfair that his homegrown swing produced fame and fortune while theirs can't produce a score under 90.

    Bubba has risen to #4 in the WGR for some reason. I know all the so called "experts" want to bring up his putting stats all the time, and they are certainly not stellar by an means, but his ball striking is and that has been proven more important anyway. Sure he hovers around 50% in scrambling but when you hit 75% of GIR, that somewhat negates that stat.

    And to even put him in the same category as John Daly is criminal. Bubba ought to find you and slap you around. Daly had lots of talent and LOTS of bad habits to go with them. Daly is a car wreck, a drunk womanizer with a bad attitude. When the going gets tough Daly hides in a bottle. Bubba is nothing like that, Bubba has the intestinal fortitude to pick himself up and work through adversity. Look what he has gone through to get to where he is.

    If he doesn't win another major (and I think he will) then so what, it was a lot of fun watching him win the one. Lots of great players never win any.

  4. longbow says:

    Bubba will win another major, I can't tell you which one or when but he will. He is to good not to. I think the tougher the course the better he will do. He never see's a straight shot and to his credit he can hit shots others only wish they could.

    I'll also say that all the young guns in golf today can thank TW. They saw how he worked to accomplish what he has so they emulated him. Now TW isn't the only great golfer in the field. They all are potentially great at any given event.

    Bubba is tremendous for the game, the way he thinks, swings, comes at the course as only he see's it himself. Don't say he won't go that way or hit to that pin cause he will. I really enjoy watching him. He is a creative genius when it comes to hitting the impossible shot. Being extra ordinarily long helps too. thanks for listening

  5. Old1964 says:

    Blue-chipper = Anthony Kim?

    If that is the logic behind the analysis, I have to disagree.

  6. The thing I have to wonder is why it was necessary to write this article in the first place? Why all the negativity towards one of golf's biggest rising stars? Is Bubba bad for golf? I personally don't think so. It seems because he has put himself "out there" he has become the topic of negative conversation be many a jealous hacker that seem to think its unfair that his homegrown swing produced fame and fortune while theirs can't produce a score under 90.

    Bubba has risen to #4 in the WGR for some reason. I know all the so called "experts" want to bring up his putting stats all the time, and they are certainly not stellar by an means, but his ball striking is and that has been proven more important anyway. Sure he hovers around 50% in scrambling but when you hit 75% of GIR, that somewhat negates that stat.

    And to even put him in the same category as John Daly is criminal. Bubba ought to find you and slap you around. Daly had lots of talent and LOTS of bad habits to go with them. Daly is a car wreck, a drunk womanizer with a bad attitude. When the going gets tough Daly hides in a bottle. Bubba is nothing like that, Bubba has the intestinal fortitude to pick himself up and work through adversity. Look what he has gone through to get to where he is.

    If he doesn't win another major (and I think he will) then so what, it was a lot of fun watching him win the one. Lots of great players never win any.

    I wrote it partially because I think Bubba was a bit overrated right after his win. I could, of course, give you a dozen or so reason why Bubba will win another major.

    I have no resent for Bubba's swing, as I myself have only had one real lesson in my life.

    And I can only assume you're John Daly comments are in response to LuciusWooding. I didn't mention Daly.

    Blue-chipper = Anthony Kim?

    If that is the logic behind the analysis, I have to disagree.

    Anthony Kim was a blue-chipper as recently as a few years ago. One of the biggest of the past few years.

  7. scottyjoe145 says:

    This is an extremely irritating title. I feel a bit better after reading the full column, but not much. You could've said this about a number of players: Lucas Glover, Y.E. Yang, Trevor Immelman, Stewart Cink, Darren Clarke, Todd Hamilton, Shaun Micheel... etc. Bubba is a better caliber golfer than those colossal flops. He didn't just get red hot at the right time. He's a legitimate, talented threat in every major he competes at. Why pick on Bubba??

    This was Bubba's 2nd playoff in a major! He had a T5 in the 2007 U.S. Open. He's now won 4 times on tour in this environment of "more-elite" players as you say. How did you come to this baseless conclusion??

    I understand what you tried to do with this piece, but it came off as serious hate speech man. Poor choice of people to deem "not deserving." He may be quirky as hell and have a piss poor attitude, but he has game.

    The "blue-chipper anticipation" comment was a low blow. You sound like Johnny Miller hating on Tommy Gainey because he shouldnt be here.

  8. grim golfer says:

    I find this not only hilarious but also a bit stupid.

    As an author who is saying he is not of hall of fame caliber and will not win another major I want you to realize Bubba is one of the few on tour who realize that this is just a game. Because of that he will win another major and will be laughing in your face or on your grave as he takes his place in the hall of fame.

    I say this because of moronic articles like this that adamantly attack a player for bEing different and not of the cookie cutter over teached swings we see today.

    The game needs more peoplelike Bubba to show everyday players that they too can play at the highest level with just a little work and determination.

  9. He is a playoff away from being a two time major winner which is better than a lot of golfer's can say.

  1. [... For the seventh major championship in a row, the victor of this year's Masters was a first-time major winner. Not since Phil Mickelson in 2010 has someone won their second ...]

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