Bubba Watson might be the ultimate horse-for-the-course player. Eight of his 12 PGA Tour victories have come on three tracks—Augusta National, Riviera, and TPC River Highlands.
Watson returns to the latter for this week’s Travelers Championship, where he has won three times—including last year, when he fired a final-round 63 to take the title by three shots.
SI.com’s Ryan Asselta caught up with Watson to discuss why he loves this event so much, turning 40 and so much more.
Ryan Asselta: You’re back in Connecticut, one of your favorite spots on the PGA Tour. What is it about this event that brings out the best in your game year after year?
Bubba Watson: When you think about the golf course and the shape of the holes, it sets well for me to hit driver a lot. The rough is doable and I usually have short irons into most holes. The greens are always rolling nice. Not too fast, but really smooth. The whole golf course experience is perfect for my game.
I come to Connecticut with a lot of confidence having won here now three times and knowing I have the ability to really get it around this place.
RA: The Travelers is consistently voted by pros as one of their favorite events on Tour. It has another loaded field this year. What’s something they do for the players that’s different than any other event on tour?
BW: First off, their communication with the players is unlike any other tournament. They’ve told us that they want to make this the best tournament for the players year after year and they do it. When they took over in 2007 there was no driving range. Now there is a full range, First Tee center, and a par-3 course for juniors. Now they’ve built a brand new clubhouse.
Everything they've told us that they're going to do, they’ve gone above and beyond. That’s why we keep voting it as the players’ favorite tournament on tour.
RA: You turned 40 in November. Tell me the biggest difference you’ve noticed about your golf game since turning the big four-oh?
BW: You know, I set my retirement up for 40 years old, so now that I’m past that age, I’m good to quit whenever I want to. Right now I don’t feel like quitting. I went through some tough times last year and I just wasn’t finding that much joy in the game. Since then I’ve actually tried to stay away from media a bit more so that I can try and enjoy the game, spend time with family and things like that.
Physically, I haven’t seen any changes. No energy loss. Nothing like that.
RA: I know your family time is paramount for you. Would you consider stepping away from the game at a fairly early age?
BW: Oh, for sure. I contemplated stepping away about a year and a half ago when I was getting sick a lot. I lost 25 pounds in like a few months. I'd rather have health and a great family than try to win golf tournaments.
As I thought about it, though, I just love the game so much. So I’ve scaled back the schedule a bit.
But yeah, I've definitely thought about it. I've thought about it long and hard.
RA: When you see guys like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods winning in their 40s, does that motivate you to try and win later in your career?
BW: Definitely! I mean, look at Phil. Gosh, he’s 49 now! I see that and think I’ve got nine more years. Nine more good years. Who knows? There’s the Hall of Fame that’s close for me, if I can win another major or a couple more events. That’s motivation as well.
RA: Speaking of Phil, he recently took a few shots at your physique on Twitter. You quickly brushed him off. He’s fairly new to the Twitter game. How would you rate his social media skills?
BW:I think he's been doing unbelievable. You know it started at the Ryder Cup in Paris when he had the video of him kicking the water bottle over Zach Johnson’s head. I told him I’d post it for him cause he didn’t have Twitter yet. He got very excited when he saw how many people liked it, and so now he’s putting out these amazing videos. He’s funny. He’s really working on his calves, which is hilarious. At his age, to get involved in social media, it’s really showing the fun side of Phil.
RA: Your Twitter game seems to be on point. What does Phil need to learn?
BW: Well, my advice to him would be just don't read the comments. You know, you're going to have people that love you and people that are just trying to get a rise out of you. So he should just keep posting funny videos and having fun with it.
That’s the whole thing. Just have fun with it. We’re trying to show our personality to the world because you can’t really get a glimpse of it on the golf course. Like Tiger—he gets zoned in, but Tiger is a really fun guy to hang out with. And it’s the same with Phil. He may come across to the media a little bit different, but he his really funny.
We're so focused on the course, trying to win a tournament and people just don’t get to see our personalities. So that's how I ran with it. Just trying to show the funny side of me because I just love having fun and goofing around.
RA: I know you have plenty of off-course interests. You own a few businesses including a minor league baseball team called the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. I'm curious about your ownership style. Is it more like Jerry Jones, Mark Cuban or the Steinbrenners?
BW: That's a good question. The biggest difference is our team is affiliated with a Major League team. This year we are with the Minnesota Twins, so they are the ones signing players, trading players, signing and getting rid of coaches.
We're trying to create a family environment for players and fans to show up and enjoy the game of baseball. For me though, I would have to say I’m like Steve Ballmer of the Los Angeles Clippers. I like to watch the games right behind home plate with my family. I don’t go too crazy and yell at anybody. I’ll stand up and cheer when we do something good or hit a home run.
I like to support the players. When I first came on board as owner I bought the guys a Ping-Pong table and an Xbox for the clubhouse. I wanted to splurge on them a bit and give them a great environment in the clubhouse.
RA: I know you’re a big sports fan in general. We recently saw Tony Romo play in the Byron Nelson. Do you think, we are ever going to see a high profile successful athlete from another sport transition to golf at the PGA Tour level? Could an athlete like a Lebron James or Tom Brady switch to golf with the proper training?
BW: I would have to say no. And the reason why I'm going to say no is because of the fact that LeBron is focused on his sport and Tom Brady is focused on his sport. The only way that they would really take the time to grind it out and be like us would be to quit their sport altogether. Now, the Champions tour? Yes. Because if Tom Brady retired from football next year, then he could build his way up to the game of golf. Not saying he would. I'm just saying he could.
It takes a lot of work, but we know those guys put the work in behind the scenes like we do. Athletes are true sportsman. Lebron James, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady…I think we all respect how much work we all put into our sport.
There’s a bunch of guys that play golf in the NBA, like Steph Curry. He’s a very good player but, to play golf at a high level where you’re shooting under par consistently, that’s the hard part.