Simon Kelner: Why golf needs someone like Blubbing Bubba

Kelner's view


We are told that big girls don't cry, but we know that master golfers do. Bubba Watson's uncontrollable sobbing when he holed the putt that won him the US Masters was quite something. First his caddy, and then his mother, offered a strong shoulder for Bubba to blub on, the emotional release of victory after four days of toiling proving too much for him.

It was hard to work out what to make of this scene, a grown man in floods of tears after winning a golf tournament. On the one hand, you could say that this open display of human feelings was a welcome contrast to the disciplined, rule-bound game he was playing, and the buttoned-up nature of the Augusta club, where the event was taking place.

However, you could also say this: grow up, Bubba, it's only a blinking game of golf. Sure, it means a lot of money – first prize in the Masters gets you a cheque for the best part of a million quid – but, as he's a professional golfer, you'd have to assume that Bubba has a bob or two.

There is the place in history, of course, and they take all that very seriously at Augusta, invoking the ghosts of champions past at every point, and ensuring that all their traditions – like the wearing of a green jacket for the winner (touching) and the non-acceptance of women members (antediluvian and indefensible) – are strictly observed. It seems incredible that Augusta is still allowed to get away with this gender apartheid, but then many golf clubs seem to operate a belief system that should have passed away long ago.

A friend of mine belongs to a club where, until recently, women members were not allowed to sit on the verandah which overlooks the 18th green, while there are some clubs in the Home Counties where the dogs of male members appear to have more rights on the course than women.

It is no wonder, therefore, that golf is a game that lacks universal appeal, and that it needs someone like Bubba, a complete natural who never had a lesson in his life, and swings with a thrashing motion that defies description and – almost – gravity, to make the game more approachable.

And the sport's straight-laced authorities must feel highly relieved that the new champion is a family man who has recently adopted a child and has a propensity to break down in tears rather than someone whose idea of family life comprised enjoying the hospitality of lap dancers while escaping in a car from a wife brandishing a five-iron.

Bubba comes from Bagdad (the one in Florida, not Iraq), a small town where he's undoubtedly the biggest thing to have happened – the Bubba of Suburbia, if you like – and, as a member of golf's religious fraternity, he would certainly appear to be a more suitable poster boy for the sport than Tiger Woods. And, of course, those tears he shed on the final green, on a still evening in Georgia, were not self-indulgent. He will perhaps have been thinking about his new son, or, more likely, of his father who died of cancer two years ago. For true sportsmen, the moment of triumph is when the things that really matter in life are put into context.

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