Masters 2015: Unpopular Bubba Watson vows to win over the locker room

The defending champion has just been voted the most unpopular player on tour by his peers

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The Independent Online

Everyone loves Bubba Watson, right? Well, not exactly. The fans may whoop and holler after him but his peers have just voted the defending Masters champion the most unpopular player on tour. Worse than that, he was the player 22.6 per cent of the PGA Tour players polled by American TV network ESPN said they would not help if they saw him in a fight in a parking lot. That’s not just unpopular, that’s brutal.

Watson’s nearest rival for pariah in the locker room status was Patrick Reed, with 11 per cent of the vote of no confidence. To add insult to the injury of being virtually beaten up, Reed is the player, remember, some former college golf team members have accused of being a cheat and a thief. An accusation denied by Reed.

No denial by Watson, though. When this embarrassing personal slight was put to him in his champion’s press conference, he could have taken the Fifth Amendment. Instead he took the first opportunity to accept the damning verdict and vowed to do something about it. And fair play to Bubba for that. “Here is the way I take it,” he said. Deep breath. “I take it as I need to improve as a man. 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. It’s a challenge. It’s great. I’m glad that it came out and it’s going to help me improve. 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. 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.”

 

You have to admire his honesty. It seems churlish to doubt it. But one has to wonder if he is playing rather too much of the God-fearing Christian martyr to say that he is glad it came out. A need to stop being a jackass at work, perhaps, but no need for self-flagellation. “So, if it’s a bad thing and people don’t like me, then I’ve got to improve and prove them wrong,” he said.

Watson said he was not aware of any unpleasant atmosphere in the locker room. “I had the same question asked to me [by ESPN], so I answered that question,” Bubba said. “I put my name on there, because I’m not going to call out anybody, there’s nobody I dislike on tour. I dislike them if they beat me, but I don’t dislike them as a person. So I put my own name down there. I wrote it down myself.”

Now that the elephant in the room had been released, the elephant in the locker room reverted to his rambling, hokey sense of humour to show that if there is a darker side to his character, there is no denying he has a daft and lovable side, too. “Obviously, I’ve never been in a fight in my life, so if I was in a fight, it was my fault. I caused somebody to get angry,” Bubba said. “So yeah, I wouldn’t help myself either.”

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Bubba Watson's 2014 Masters victory was the left-hander's second in three years (Getty)

Putting aside his bruised ego, Watson will know that winning the Masters is not a popularity test and he has a chance to make history this week. Only Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods have successfully defended their title and a third Green Jacket would put him in the exalted company of Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Phil Mickelson and Faldo. Popular or not, that would be some legendary company to join. Only Arnold Palmer and Woods have won four Green Jackets. Nicklaus holds the record with six.

“You ask yourself, why or how?” Watson said. “How does a guy from my background make it? How does a guy from my background actually win it, and to do it again? It’s amazing, when I sit back and think about it. You’re in awe of the place. This is what I consider the best golf course in the world. It gives me goosebumps every time you come down Magnolia Lane.”

The 2012 and 2014 champion brought the number of victories for left-handers to six in the past 12 years after Mike Weir broke the right-handed monopoly in 2003 before Mickelson got fitted for his three jackets. Have lefties somehow finally worked out Augusta’s secrets? “Right-handers have had a lot of success here, too,” Watson said. “It goes in cycles. For some reason, lefties have won recently and, hopefully, it keeps going with me and not the other lefties. For years, there weren’t that many lefties on tour, and now with equipment, there are more of us and more chances for us to win the Masters a few more times.”

Outside the locker room, there would be no more popular champion than Watson come Sunday. Fans flock to Bubba. He’s like a cat on a hot tin roof with ants in his pants and frogs in his shoes playing death or glory golf. He’s a kid trapped in the body of a 36-year-old. Love him or loathe him, Watson is essential viewing. Why does he think fans, at least, love him? “Because I’m nuts,” he said.

Going left-field: Masters winners

No left-handed players had won the Masters before 2003, but three different lefties have triumphed a total of six times since.

Masters winners in last 15 years (lefties in italics):

2000 Vijay Singh

2001 Tiger Woods

2002 Tiger Woods

2003 Mike Weir

2004 Phil Mickelson

2005 Tiger Woods

2006 Phil Mickelson

2007 Zach Johnson

2008 Trevor Immelman

2009 Angel Cabrera

2010 Phil Mickelson

2011 Charl Schwartzel

2012 Bubba Watson

2013 Adam Scott

2014 Bubba Watson

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