Bubba Watson: Not a big name, but a down-to-earth champ


LITTLE ROCK — Movies or golf, drama alone is not enough to grab casual fans.

They want familiar stars.

Think of the small TV audience for the final round of The Masters in the same light as the 2009 movie, “The Hurt Locker.” For this comparison, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, and Jonas Blixt are Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. An avid golf fan, I know the leading men at Augusta National. Not much of a moviegoer, a photo of Renner looks vaguely familiar.

The story of a bomb disposal team during the Iraq War, “The Hurt Locker,” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Domestic gross from the movie was $17 million, barely above production cost.

Not that documenting the work of a bomb disposal team during the Iraq War is comparable to watching golfers navigate one of the most famous courses in the world, but overnight ratings for the final round of the Masters were the lowest since 2004.

Last year, the ratings were helped by a playoff between Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera. Depressed from the get-go because Tiger Woods was sidelined by back surgery, the weekend ratings took another hit when Phil Mickelson missed the 36-hole cut for the first time in 17 years.

No Tiger or Phil, non-golfers find something else to do on the weekend.

The shame of it is that there were plenty of compelling storylines on Sunday and Watson’s back story is the sort that should appeal to the masses.

Both Spieth and Blixt were chasing history — the former trying to become the youngest Masters winner at age 20 and the latter hoping to be the first Swede to win a major. The supporting cast included a 54-year-old former champion and a Spaniard whose warmup routine is unusual to say the least. In a movie, they would be character actors — one with a languid swing and the other with a ponytail and a paunch.

A first-time Masters winner in 2012, Watson’s story should be well known by now.

More than once in the media center at Augusta, he referenced his mother working two jobs so he could play golf.

“A guy named Bubba … raised in Baghdad, Florida (pop 1,490 in 2000) … it’s crazy to think you’ve won,” he said Sunday.

If you think the moneymakers on the PGA Tour can’t make a move without consulting their swing coach or their short-game coach, Watson is your man. Self-taught, the left-handed Watson lines up way right and hits a big slice to find the fairway. He imagines shots that curve 30 yards or more instead of tinkering with his swing or his grip to the move the ball a couple of yards one way or the other.

Yardage to the pin does not dictate his club selection. On Friday, somebody asked him to provide an example of what Watson had described as his athletic swing.

Well, he said, he used 9-iron on No. 12 for a shot of barely 150 yards. And, on No. 16, with the pin 186 yards away, he stuck it close with 9-iron.

Not that I agree with his strategy on every hole, but I appreciate that he does “My Way” to the hilt.

For example, leading by two with six holes to go, his line off the tee was too aggressive for my taste, but the drive that flirted with trees and a creek left him only 144 yards on the par five and he two-putted for a birdie.

On the personal front, there is plenty to like about Watson:

• A week ago Sunday, he showed up at a national competition for more than 80 kids at Augusta National and meandered around the practice range, shaking hands with those who noticed and tapping others on the shoulder to introduce himself.

• Adopted son in one arm, he took a victory lap, high-fiving fans, then used his post-Masters news conference to mention the many children in need of adoption.

• And, he celebrated Sunday evening at a Waffle House with plate of hash browns.

Harry King is a sports columnist. His email is HLeonK42@gmail.com.