AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bubba Watson is loved fiercely by his wife and close friends. He’s adored by fans, who see him as one of them — only with longer drives. Much longer drives.
To his fellow PGA Tour pros, though, the defending Masters champion is about as popular as a politician lobbying for the rich to pay higher taxes.
And he’s OK with that.
“I take it as I need to improve as a man,” Watson said this week. “I take it with pride. I need to get better. And I think over my career, since my rookie season to now, I’ve gotten better.
“But obviously there’s more room for me to improve as a man. And so hopefully next year or the year after, it improves.”
See, Watson didn’t need an ESPN survey indicating he’s not well-liked on the Tour to tell him he hasn’t always behaved as well as he should. He’s aware he can rub people the wrong way.
And he knows his public persona of a gregarious, good ol’ boy doesn’t always square with a man whose inner circle remains small and who is uneasy in public settings.
He’s been working on growing up and taming what can be perceived as petulant ways for the better part of a decade now. But it takes years to develop unappealing traits, and it’s going to take years to overcome them, too.
“I’ve had some mess‑ups on Tour, and I think I’ve improved in those areas and I’m trying to get better. That’s all I can do,” Watson said. “I’m glad people call me out when they do; that’s the only way I can get better. If I don’t know about it, then I can’t improve.”
Watson has always done things differently. Perhaps it was the influence of his father, Gerry, a Green Beret with a knack for standing out. Perhaps it was the result of being a blue-collar kid in a country-club world. Whatever the reason, he has always been a contradiction.
And contradiction is sometimes only a step or two from curmudgeon.
Back at the 2010 PGA Championship, Watson told the story of how his longtime caddie and friend, Ted Scott, had threatened to quit earlier that year if Watson didn’t stop acting like such a jerk on the golf course. Scott is still around, and has praised Watson’s growth as a person. Yet at last year’s PGA Championship, Watson made Scott tee up his ball in the driving rain while he huddled under an umbrella.
Other pros have taken Watson to task when he’s complained about pace of play, and more than a few have grumbled about what they perceive as attention-grabbing antics: the pink driver, purchasing the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard, befriending Justin Bieber.
Even some fans have tired of his whining and the temperament that runs hot and cold.
“If … people don’t like me, then I’ve got to improve and prove them wrong,” Watson said.
But it’s other people who have it wrong, said Rickie Fowler, one of Watson’s closest friends and fellow member of the Golf Boys “band.”
“Bubba’s Bubba,” Fowler said. “I don’t think he’s really in a position where he’s too worried if certain guys like him or don’t like him. I feel like if you’re worrying about something like that, it’s only going to weigh on you. You’ve got to take care of your family and take care of your golf game.”
There can be no criticizing of Watson in either of those areas.
Ask Watson about wife, Angie, and he’ll gush for an hour. Ditto about their two small children, Caleb and Dakota. Despite changing priorities in his life, he is loyal to his closest friends and makes sure to carve out time for them.
As a favorite to win his third Masters this week, his game has never been better.
“Play well and make sure your family is happy and everything, and all is good from there,” Fowler said.
But just as golf is a never-ending pursuit for improvement, so is life. And Watson will keep playing that game until he gets it right.