by Jeff Skinner
Bubba Watson is back on the course for the first time since his amazing Masters victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Watson has captured the imagination of legions of fans that revel in his down home, average Joe, Bubba from Baghdad persona.
He seemed relaxed and candid during his pre-tournament press conference. He admitted to finally changing the diapers of his new son Caleb and he thinks that his popularity is based on the fact that he has a homemade swing and loves playing golf just like all his fans. But he is anything but an average golfer. His appeal is off the charts and the recently crowned “New American Folk Hero” has to be careful not to follow the path of some past folk heroes.
Bubba and one of the PGA Tour good old boys who wore the crown as a folk hero actually went to the same high school. Boo Weekly went to Milton High School as did Bubba (and PGA winner Heath Slocum.) Watson and Weekly grew up in the same part of the Florida pan handle and both can be called straight shooting, red necks that enjoy laughing at themselves as much as they do playing golf.
Boo Weekly was Bubba Watson five years ago, minus the green jacket. Weekly had won the Verizon Heritage in back to back seasons and provided the press with quote after quote of ‘Booisms’. He was just a good ‘ol boy who was playing golf until he could retire so he would be able to go fishing all day. He his remembered for his famous move at the 2008 Ryder Cup where he rode his driver off the tee like a bucking bronco to the cheers of the American fans. Boo was a hero, a folk hero. But fame is fleeting and so was Boo’s golf game.
That wild ride at the Ryder Cup was Weekly’s last moment in the sun as he has managed only five top ten finishes since 2009. Being a bit different and making some memorable quotes may make you popular on tour but winning sets you apart. As Weekly’s game deteriorated his popularity faded.
Watson also has some similarities to the granddaddy of all folk heroes in golf, John Daly. Daly has an unequalled resume for any folk hero: The ‘91 PGA Championship, The ’95 Open Championship, five PGA tour wins and a “Grip it and Rip It” style that became his calling card. Daly won the PGA as an alternate and took the golf world by storm with his hard playing and harder partying lifestyle. Fans loved him and he rode the wave as American Folk Hero for a long time but his no rules, self destructive lifestyle cost him a chance at a much more productive career. Daly is relegated to an afterthought and has burned so many bridges it’s a miracle he has anywhere left to play. Daly was at the top of the golf world but he has one win in the last seventeen years and is now more sideshow than golfer.
Bubba Watson is at the top of the golf world right now and from all appearances he is relishing the ride. But such a rarified status is a fragile thing. Being in the spotlight can be a difficult task and Bubba is on record as saying he isn’t comfortable with it but so far he has embraced his new role. He needs to realize that being tabbed “The New American Folk Hero” can be just as dangerous as it is exciting.