by Jeff Skinner
Hitting the ball longer is the never ending quest of all golfers, amateur and professional alike. We would sell our soul for a few more precious yards even though it’s the short game that shaves more strokes off our score. Some of the long bombers today can hit the ball a mile but struggle with the necessary “feel” that a good short game demands.
One long hitter that has no problem being a “feel player” is Bubba Watson. Watson has earned his reputation as a long driver. He leads the tour in driving distance this year, finished second in 2010 and ’09 and led the tour from ’06 to ’08. What makes Watson a bit different is his sense of feel for all his golf shots. Much like John Daly, his monumental long game over shadows his soft hands and gentle touch with the scoring clubs.
Plenty of pros are like The King, Arnold Palmer and love to tinker with their clubs. Palmer was famous for spending hours tweaking his clubs to find just the right feel. The modern pro has the tour van of his club supplier at the ready to make any adjustment the pro may want. They know their loft, lie, bounce and all the other specifications like they know their kids names. But not Bubba, he’s not a tech guy, not until the club is in his hands. Once he has the club, he knows if it is his, he could tell blind folded.
Michael Bamberger followed Bubba to the Ping factory where he submitted to the first “Sports Illustrated So You Think You’re A Feel Player Field Test.” They put Bubba to the test to see if he could really prove that he’s a feel player. The results were amazing.
Watson’s feel starts right away, with his grips. He uses extra thick grips with an extraordinary amount of tape underneath. He get 10 wraps of tape under the top half of his grip and 12 wraps under the bottom. Two or three wraps of tape isn’t that uncommon, but 10 or 12, that’s crazy. But try and sneak one without the required wraps past Watson and you’ll be surprised. “In the January Feel Field Test, Watson was blindly given three nine-irons, two of which weren’t wrapped to his specs. He rejected the impostors in seconds. They were two wraps from standard.”
“Later in the Feel Field Test, Watson was given seven wedges, with lofts of 60, 58, 56, 54, 52, 50 and 47 degrees. The shafts were all the same length. The clubs were jumbled. He could not see the loft markings. He was asked to order them. It was batting practice. Watson went 7 for 7 without a hiccup.”
They then tried to mess with Watson and gave him two eight irons and asked him to see what was different. He pounded balls until he gave up and said I can’t feel the difference, they feel the same. They were.
He hit a 9 degree driver and immediately knew it was nowhere near the setup of his 7.5 degree. But he really passed the test when they added 40 grams to the butt of his club and responded that he “couldn’t feel the head.”
Watson hit two four irons one with a lie angle of 61.5 the other with his normal 59.5 angle. He instantly felt the difference and knew the lie was off.
One of his amazing stories comes from an actual on course shot. Watson was given a yardage of 80 yards by a substitute caddy for a 60 yard shot. He surveyed the shot, pulled his club and stuck it close. He sees the shot, numbers are for amateurs.
“On the Ping range the other day, somebody asked Watson how far away a flag was. More than 45. Less than 50. “Forty-seven,” Bubba settled on. A Ping man walked out and measured it. Forty-six and change.”
He’s a feel guy, all the way.