Bubba Watson is one of the PGA Tour’s most unique stars. He never shies away from showing his emotions or speaking his mind. He’s also not afraid to make splashy purchases — in the last five years, Watson has bought a replica General Lee, a pair of hovercraft golf carts and a minority share of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Cincinnati Reds’ Double-A affiliate. His demeanor can be perplexing, ranging from goofy and gregarious to aloof and disenchanted. All of these traits are overshadowed by one indisputable truth: the 37-year-old is among the greatest golfers of his generation.
Watson’s week at the Northern Trust Open was a fairly fitting summary of what he’s all about. Thanks to a number of errant tee shots, he found fewer fairways than most of his opponents, but his monstrous length allowed him to tie for seventh in greens in regulation. The 54-hole leader, Watson faced several spirited challenges throughout the final round but proved his mettle, birdieing two of the last three holes to come out on top by a stroke. It was his second win in three years at Riviera Country Club and brought him back up to No. 4 in the world rankings.
As is typical for him, the victory wasn’t the only highlight of Watson’s trip to Los Angeles. The former Georgia Bulldog passed a kidney stone (yes, really), made a guest appearance on the Disney Channel show “Girl Meets World,” hung out with Justin Bieber and attended a Warriors-Clippers game at the Staples Center. He even got a text from Warriors point guard Steph Curry, offering to give his three-year-old son some shooting lessons. All in a week’s work, right?
Needless to say, it was a banner week for Watson, but it was underscored by the reality that there may not be many more in the future. The victory was his ninth on the PGA Tour, and he’s repeatedly stated that his career goal is 10. Many golfers have made those types of remarks in the past, usually having no bearing on career length, but things might be different in Watson’s case. He’s always presented himself as a guy who puts family first — one who doesn’t exactly relish an intense spotlight and can appear fidgety in front of the cameras. If he’s got enough money (and he certainly does), what’s to stop him from hanging it up early and retiring to the Greenbrier?
Actually, a couple of things: it all depends on how badly Watson wants them. For one thing, there’s still major glory to be found. Watson has won two majors in his career, the 2012 and 2014 Masters. 2016 is another even-numbered year, and even more auspiciously, he won the Northern Trust Open in 2014, as well as in this season. In short, Watson’s great play has put him near the top of the Masters shortlist for this year, along with names like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Phil Mickelson.
Even if he doesn’t win at Augusta this year, Watson is on a World Golf Hall of Fame trajectory. With two major wins, he’s already satisfied the minimum for enshrinement. His current total of nine wins is a bit low, but given how he’s been playing, that total will almost certainly grow by the time he turns 40, the age when players become eligible. The question is whether or not he’ll be willing to keep going once he reaches the double digits — it’s one that he’ll have to carefully consider in the ensuing couple of years.
It’s not guaranteed that he will follow through on his threats of an early retirement. Boo Weekley, golf’s most famous good ol’ boy, often speaks of giving up the game to focus on hunting and fishing, but he remains on the PGA Tour, even winning an event in 2013. Jason Dufner, the PGA Champion in that year, has also spoken of putting his clubs away for good, but he hasn’t seemed to make any progress on that front. It can be a grind, but the life of a professional golfer is essentially a pretty good one. Watson might realize that once he hits that magic number of 10.
Of course, fans across the country would be devastated if Watson actually followed through. His booming drives and imaginative approach to the game make him one of the PGA Tour’s most exciting players. The human element can’t be discounted — in a sport that’s often viewed as stuffy and bland, people want to see a guy ride a Razor scooter off of a diving board. Watson’s done that and a whole lot more.
No matter what happens in the rest of his career, Watson has made an undeniable mark on the game of golf. He’s provided a tremendous amount of entertainment value over the years, but his wins are what will really go down in history. Hopefully, he’ll get more than 10.