The gents who runthe USGA aren't noted for their humor, unless you think foot-high hay threesteps off the fairway is a hoot. But once a year, when they meet in secret tomake up the groups for the first two rounds of the U.S.¬†Open, they sneakin some sly wit as they perform their matchmaker services. The funny one thisyear was the Thursday 7:11 a.m. 10th¬†tee group: country boys Bubba Watsonand Boo Weekley, accompanied by Nobuhiro Masuda of Japan, who was on his firsttrip to the U.S. After two rounds and nearly 12 hours together, Masudaconcluded that Japan did not produce men like Bubba and Boo. His interpreterstood beside him, nodding sympathetically.
There were timeswhen a translator was also needed for Bubba and Boo, who grew up in littletowns on the outskirts of Pensacola on the Florida Panhandle. When Boo said hewas "renting in a motel" for his week at Oakmont, that meant he wasstaying in a convention-center Westin, with the plush beds, in downtownPittsburgh. When he noted that he saw "all kinds of different people"on the streets of Pittsburgh, that meant he saw a gay couple arm in arm.Weekley couldn't be nicer--but he makes Scott Hoch look worldly. Then there wasthis Yogi-like gem from Bubba, talking about playing with Boo: "Me and him,we're having the same pressures. He's thinking the same thing I'mthinking."
A reporter asked,"Which is what?"
"I don'tknow," Bubba said. "That's what we're trying to figure out."
Actually, though,as a cultural and regional stereotype, Bubba's a failure. He'd rather playvideo games than hunt or fish, and he doesn't chew. He has the Oliver Northbuzz cut but also a pink-shafted driver with a pink, knitted head cover.Cute.
Meantime, Boo andhis caddie, Joe Pyland--from "back the house," Weekley said, meaningthey grew up together--dipped all the way through the interminable openingrounds. Whether that nicotine drip makes the round go faster or slower is hardto know, but young Masuda, 34 and impressionable, found it interesting. Onevery tee and fairway, a little stream of brownish spittle would shoot out ofthe mouths of Boo and his bagman and settle on Oakmont's lush green grass.
"I had neverseen anybody chew tobacco before," Masuda said. "It didn't bother me,but I heard spectators say, 'That's disgusting.' "
Boo and Bubbaaren't close friends. They don't hang out together at home or on the road."Don't even have him in my cellphone," Boo says. They're buddies,though, and each knows where the other comes from and the road each took to getwhere he is. Last week at Oakmont was Weekley's first major championship, andthe U.S.¬†Open was the first time the two had played together in a Tourevent. (Thanks, group-making USGA guys!) There wasn't much chitchat betweenthem, and the only person Nobu talked to at all was his Japanese caddie, YoshiKazv, who wore bright white pants with the word tiger stenciled in large redletters down his left leg. (It's a Japanese entertainment company.) What Bubbaand Boo had between them was comfort.
Bubba can be agoofball prankster in his off-course life. He described the practice rounds hehas played with Tiger Woods. "I blast it by him every time," Watsonsaid. "He talks about his wins. I talk about how far I hit it." Butlast week Bubba was nobody's fool. Waiting for the group's Friday 12:41 teetime, he took a page out of Tiger's book, making a study of the courseconditions by viewing the tournament telecast. On the course he keenly watchedthe shots played by the golfers ahead of and behind him, and he had his caddie,Ted Scott, forecaddie on certain holes because the rough was like a black holeand he knew the volunteer spotters might struggle to find his tee shots, whichfollow no normal pattern in height, distance or direction.
Playing in onlythe second major of his career, Bubba, who has no swing coach or trainer orsports psychologist, was a shot off the lead after 36 holes. He was still ingreat position to win the championship through eight holes on Saturday, butthen he made a triple on 9, where he chipped not once, not twice but threetimes. "I had two horrible lies," he said of his first two chips, oneflubbed, the other rushed and skulled. He didn't sound anything like defeated,but the math was working against him and he wound up tying for fifth.
Bubba is fiveyears younger than the 33-year-old Boo--and a lefthander with slender arms andbony hands that do not touch barbells. His prodigious length comes from theenormous extension in his swing. He has broad shoulders and long arms, whichcreate an exceptionally wide arc. His downswing has more time than normal tobuild up speed, and the result is stunning. Swinging all out, which he seldomdoes, Watson can easily hit a ball 330 yards on the fly. On Friday at 17, a313-yard par-4, he hit a little cut driver nearly hole-high. On the next hole,484 yards and uphill, his drive, smack down the middle, left him with 100 yardsto the flag.
Watson doesn'tlike to draw the ball, so right hole positions are difficult for him. Strongwinds are also a problem because he hits the ball so high. Another issue forhim is how to handle the reins. On Thursday he played the uphill, 477-yard 9thhole with a four-iron off the tee and a five-iron in. The next day he hitdriver followed by a wedge. Both days he made bogey. But his toughest challengeis patience, a topic he discusses on the course with his caddie and off thecourse with his wife, Angie, a former pro basketball player whom he met incollege, at Georgia. "I have no patience, and I hate waiting," Watsonsaid, which made his 36-hole position even more surprising, given that theopening rounds each took close to six hours.
Having Boo aroundhelped. Putting his peg in the ground after a long wait on a back-nine tee box,Weekley said, "Play well," as if the round were starting all overagain. Bubba, unshaven and loose, laughed.
It's easy toimagine Bubba Watson winning at Augusta, where his massive fade shot would playlike a righthander's draw and make all the par-5s easily reachable. Bubba isnow ranked 77th in the world, and he may get to Augusta for the first time nextyear. Boo Weekley, courtesy of his win at Hilton Head in April, is already inthe 2008¬†Masters. At Oakmont, where he finished 26th, he was the player inthe threesome with a classic U.S.¬†Open game--or British Open game, forthat matter. Weekley plays a lot like Scott Verplank, except he's longer withevery club and not as deadly from 10 feet. His shots are low and straight, andthere's no reason that he shouldn't contend at Carnoustie next month.
Another son of theSouth, Sam Snead, won the Open on his first trip to St.¬†Andrews, when hecame in by train, looked at the links and said, "What's that over there?Looks like an old, abandoned golf course." Boo said last week, "I don'tlike wearing golf shoes, and I don't like wearing collared shirts." If hegets in contention, the working-class Scots--the world's best golf fans--willlove him.
Masuda liked Boo'sgame. He could relate to it. But Bubba's game left him in a trance. "NoJapanese golfer has ever hit the ball like that," Masuda said when thefirst two rounds were over. "It makes me want to go home and not come backuntil I improve."
He was laughing ashe talked, almost as if he had the giggles. He seemed happy to be done, happyto be part of a USGA social experiment. You might have thought he'd be upsetbecause he had just made a triple bogey on his last hole on Friday, with adrive in the rough that finished at least 100 yards behind Bubba's ball. All hehad needed was a par on the last to make the cut on the number, 10¬†overpar. Anyway, if he was frustrated, he didn't show it. Maybe it's a Japanesething.
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In contention all week Watson tied for fifth, while Weekley (foreground) camein 26th.
Watson stubbed his first chip on Saturday, then skulled the second.
Playing with Weekley (right) calmed Watson.