Top 10 - Lessons We Can Learn From Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson a fascinating athlete - one of the most unconventional players the PGA tour has seen in a very long time. He is self-taught and has developed a swing that seems to defy some of the basic principles that are key to a good golf game, moving his feet around as he swings through the ball and rarely hitting the ball straight off the tee. He describes his game - which others have dubbed "Bubba Golf", as "having fun and hitting shots that you probably shouldn't (try to) hit". Despite all that, he has become one of the most successful players on tour since his first PGA win at The Travelers Championship in 2010, having claimed 8 Tour titles, including two Green Jackets, in 2012 and 2014.
Many fans love Bubba - others, not so much - but regardless of your opinion about the man, his game shows that there is more than one way to be exceptional. Let's dig a little deeper into Bubba Golf, and what insights it might provide for today's game.
10. Distance Matters
Bubba Watson hits it long, and his distance has a lot to do with his success. It's really a simple principle - if you hit it longer, you put yourself in a position to hit it closer. If you hit it closer, you are are going to score better. I realise that some will challenge this simple principle. Players like Zach Johnson and Jordan Spieth have found ways to win multiple major championships without the ability to bomb it consistently off the tee, but they are not the norm. Today's game makes it difficult to compete if you can't hit it deep. And there is more to Bubba Watson's distance than just tee shots. The man hammers all his clubs. He hits his driver and irons longer than most. If you take a moment to think about this, it means that he not only is going to have shorter approach shots into greens, but he will be hitting higher lofted irons than most players would from those same distances. Bubba's distance provides him with a "double advantage" over most of his competitors.
9. But...Distance Isn't Everything
While his distance provides him with an incredible advantage, it alone will not win him events. Bubba has developed a stellar short game, and belief in his ability to win. Distance only matters if the rest of your game supports the advantage you get from your length. In this new age of "power golf", Bubba reminds us that for as long as we play golf, the intangibles of a solid short and confidence in one's abilities, will always be a performance prerequisite.
8. Looks Aren't Everything
In a game dominated by the pursuit of biomechanical perfection, Bubba certainly stands out. The man has never taken a lesson, does not use film to analyze mechanics, and employs a swing that breaks traditional "rules". The definition of a good swing cannot be found in aesthetics. A good swing is found in what you can perform effectively, and do so consistently.
7. Maintain Athleticism
Bubba’s swing has served him well because it is an athletic move that suits his his body type and skill set. Not every player can independently figure out an effective swing; some will need to enlist the help of a qualified professional. Whatever approach a player takes, it is important to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and develop an athletic move centered around your strengths. Bubba has tremendous speed and hand-eye coordination and has developed a swing that compliments this skillset.
6. Understand Your Brain
Bubba is a classic example of a player with a very unconventional swing. He goes well past parallel at the top and his feet move through impact. These are not characteristics of a golf swing that you would teach, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. Bubba is an athlete who has found what works for him and he has learned to trust it, and own it as his own. It could be argued that there are aspects of his swing that could be improved upon, but Bubba understands how dangerous “tinkering” can be. Our brains learn through repetition, so any time we learn something new, we need to spend a very significant amount of time repeating that skill over and over again in order to make the skill a subconscious habit. Popular instructor Sean Foley often refers to this process as “building myelin”. In a 2013 interview he explained myelin as, "The insulation that wraps around neural brain circuits and helps them fire faster when presented with certain stimuli ... 'Swing change' is really a stupid term, because it's actually just gradual evolution in encoded brain patterns." Bubba understands that to make swing changes would be a very time consuming process, and require him to change the way his brain processes information when on the golf course. While his swing is certainly unconventional, it works very well, meaning that making changes would be a very dangerous, and quite possibly foolish, venture.
Bubba is outspoken, and he does things his own way. He is comfortable in his own skin, which in turn has developed an inner confidence that compliments the way he plays golf. He has been quoted as saying, on multiple equations and in different ways, that he really doesn’t care about what others think about him. “I just want to be me and play golf. I’m just Bubba.” To play solid golf, one must focus on that which they can control, ignore the things they can’t, and a big part of this is not caring what your critics will think. Go out, be yourself, focus on what you can control, and get the job done.
4. Hit the Shot That Fits Your Eye
One of the many aspects of Bubba’s game that makes it so unique is his imagination. He sees the shots that he wants to hit, and then executes. The fact that he rarely hits a straight shot adds to the originality of his game. Regardless of the club he is holding, he is often looking for a way to move the ball from one direction to another, toward his target. He has become very good at seeing the shot he want to hit, and then executing decisively. He models the idea that the correct shot is the decisive one.
3. Enjoy the Moment
You don’t have to study too much to recognize that Bubba loves playing golf. The fact that he enjoys the process is part of what makes him so good. The opposite of fear, is joy. Fear sabotages performance, so it should be countered with joy. Watson shows that a great way to deal with the nerves that accompany competitive golf is to seek to joyfully enjoy the process of competing.
2. Care About Your Performance
We’ve all seen Bubba “lose it” on the course. This often leads to criticism since he is one who preaches being thankful for the opportunity to play, and seeks to enjoy himself in the process. I am not meaning to suggest that Bubba doesn't, at times, let his emotions get the best of him, but I don't find there to be any blatant inconsistency in Bubba's deep appreciation for having the opportunity to play the game he loves, and his passion for performing to the best of his ability. Indifference about your performance would suggest you are taking for granted the opportunity that you have.
1. Use Your Platform
Perhaps the best lesson we can all take from Bubba is to remember to use your personal situation to make a difference to those in need. Bubba plays with a pink driver to to honour his late father and raise awareness for cancer research. He he is involved with a wide variety of charities, helping to enhance the lives of the less fortunate. Bubba Watson understands that with great blessing comes great responsibility, and I am sure he would be the first to remind us that we all have opportunities in our own lives to put that principle into practice.
About the Author
This article was written by Jonathan Carr (@jonathanwcarr) as part of our weekly 'Top 10' series. As a scratch golfer himself, Jonathan has a keen eye for what it takes to be successful on and off the golf course. His passion for golf is surpassed only by his passion for his faith and his family.
Read some of Jonathan's other articles here.