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COLUMN: Bubba has to manage off course as well as on

Watson’s struggles with celebrity likely to be more magnified

April 9, 2012
B.J. LISKO - Salem News Sports Editor (bjlisko@salemnews.net) , Salem News

Bubba Watson is the new Phil Mickelson.

Remember years back when many people considered Mickelson a phony? Phil's squeaky-clean, prim, proper and polite image almost seemed to good to be true.

It took an awful long time for Mickelson to become a guy people could relate to and a guy who everyone finally realized was exactly as honest and good as he sounded. Some of it had to do with his wife's health struggles and Mickelson's stoic handling of adversity. Some had to do with his head-to-head duels with Tiger Woods, and the fact that with Woods' off the course indiscretions, Phil became the anti-Tiger in many ways. But the biggest part of it was likely the struggle Mickelson had in getting over the major championship hump to capture his first Masters.

You don't hear too many negative comments about Phil Mickelson these days.

Bubba Watson is another story. And despite his emotional win Sunday at the Masters, the jury is still out whether or not he's as fun-loving and nice a guy as he might want you to believe.

While no one can deny Watson's self-taught ability, an overwhelming air about him has him in a category where it's tough for some people to truly consider him a fan-favorite. The roars were great Sunday, for sure, but keep in mind Watson was not only an American playing South African Louie Oosthiuzen, but also is a University of Georgia graduate.

Watson bashes a big pink driver and hits it further than practically everyone else all the time. Big hitters are instantly likable. Guys who don't come off as the normal groomed country club kinda golfers are, too. Watson plays fast and aggressive and has said he wants to see more excitement on the PGA Tour.

But there's an air about the big lefty that just doesn't quite sit right. Watson himself has said he has struggled with being in the spotlight and the pressures of cameras, writers and fans analyzing his every move. He's often played angry in the past, and some of his off-course behavior, specifically when he went to Europe, didn't exactly paint him in a positive light.

Watson, who was being paid a rather hefty $200,000 appearance fee, reportedly refused to share a courtesy car with a European Tour player, instead demanding his own. He refused a cameraman's request to film a simple publicity head shot, instead saying "see my manager."

He also called the Eiffel Tower as "that big tower," the Arc de Triomphe as "this arch I drove round in a circle" and the Louvre as "a building starting with an L."

But here's the thing about Watson - he's been given a pass on all of it. A few writers and peers criticized him at the time, but quite frankly because it happened overseas, most people didn't seem to notice or care.

He released a cringe-worthy music video with fellow golfers Hunter Mahan, Ben Crane and Rickie Fowler, where he pranced around in nothing but overalls to an atrocious boy-band song they all took part in singing. It may have been an effort to paint himself in a more care-free light, but a great deal of the time he seems anything but. His behavior on the course often looks stressed even in far less meaningful rounds, and a lot of his post-round comments remain those of an annoyed and irritated golfer who seemingly hates the obligations that come with being a professional. In short, he comes off as a guy who always wants his way and anything but simply won't suffice.

Phil Mickelson never said "I think this might be the only time I play in Europe" in disgust after an event when asked for comment. Yet it took Phil years to move past a phony stigma that was hugely unfounded.

I've never bought Watson was suddenly a different golfer just because he's a religious guy and gets emotional after he wins, and that didn't change Sunday just because it was the Masters.

I want to like him. Everything about the fact that I love non-traditional golfers makes it seem that I absolutely would like him.

But for a guy who dislikes the celebrity part of being a PGA pro so much, winning Sunday isn't going to make it any easier.

I'm happy for Watson he won, and quite frankly whatever peace and satisfaction with the sport he seems to be looking for, hopefully a major win helps. I just hope that with the super-stardom a Masters win will bring he can keep his emotions under control, step back and enjoy the ride.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at bjlisko@salemnews.net

 
 
 

 

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