|ESPN.com: US Open Men 2014||[Print without images]|
PINEHURST, N.C. -- Bubba Watson and the U.S. Open get along like wool turtlenecks and Pinehurst in June.
The only man on the planet who can win the first two majors of the year seems conflicted about this place, this tournament and this week (and maybe next week if we get a playoff or the predicted thunderstorms). He did his State of the Bubba speech Tuesday and made it clear he won't be nominating Pinehurst No. 2 for Course of the Year.
|Bubba Watson, who didn't hit a single range ball after arriving late to his Tuesday practice round time at Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open, is the only player in the field who still has a shot at the calendar-year grand slam in 2014.|
On the natural, native sand wasteland areas that border many of the fairways: "We don't call it 'natural areas,' we call it, 'not very good conditions,' where I grew up ... We call it 'weeds' where I grew up."
On the similarities between Pinehurst and Augusta National, where he won the Masters two months ago: "I don't see any, except it's 18 holes."
On his first two shots of his Tuesday practice round, which included a perfect 4-iron, followed by a perfect 8-iron: "Landed center of the green, where you're supposed to land it, and it bounced over the green ... It's 20 yards over the green because it decided that it was firm."
There is no in-between with Watson. He loves something or he can't stand it. He hits his driver so hard that the clubhead goes from pink to black and blue, or he grouses about having to lay up this week. He says you "couldn't ask for a better course," but then announces that the greens are "very, very unfriendly."
By the end of his session, the spin rate on my mind was off the charts. Bubba can do that. Or maybe it was the heat. With the wind chill it got all the way down to 97 degrees. It was Philippines hot -- hot enough that I don't know if Bubba is going to win this U.S. Open or finish last.
This isn't the mentally fragile Bubba of the 2012 U.S. Open, when he arrived at Olympic Club already convinced he had no chance to go back-to-back on majors. (He had won his first Masters that year). When he wasn't whining about the course, he was trying to cope with the pressure of playing his opening rounds with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
It didn't go well. He shot 78-71 and missed the cut by a par 5.
You want to believe the 2014 version of Bubba is different, that's he's more resilient, more experienced and less prone to let the U.S. Open get past his visor and into his head. He certainly said all the right things on Tuesday.
"My mental state is in the right spot," Watson said. "I'm focused on the right things now ... I'm learning to play less practice rounds or [spend] less time at the golf course so I don't get bogged down or overtired."
When Bubba is focused -- by his own admission, no small feat -- anything is possible. Two green jackets are possible. A 2014 that includes two victories and seven top-10 finishes is possible. Dominating a major is possible.
But when Watson becomes distracted, or annoyed, or impatient, then missed cuts and cover-your-eyes finishes not only become possible, but probable. This is his eighth U.S. Open and he's missed the cut three times and has only one top-10 (2007).
"Yeah, the golf course and the U.S. Open can frustrate you," he said.
Bubba said he's going to dial it down this week. The driver is going to be lonely at times in the bag. He's going to lay back and take his chances with longer second shots. He's going to put a premium on spending lots of quality time on the fairway.
"But that's what I'm planning right now," he said. "Now if I make a few bogeys and doubles right quick, I might switch to the driver."
See what I mean? Bubba being Bubba. He's the guy who said of navigating this course, "The golf, it's a chess match. Even though I don't like chess, it's a chess match where you have to plot it this way and that way and do the right things."
First he said it was a "second-shot course." Then he said "it's all about making putts." Then he said, "It's about hitting fairways."
Please, Bubba, stop. Do what you do best: don't overthink it, just play. See ball, hit ball. Don't let the U.S. Open change who you are.
Modifying your game for Pinehurst is fine. There's no dishonor in laying up sometimes, or playing for the safe parts of No. 2's greens, which are crowned like ski moguls.
But maybe it's time the U.S. Open should be worried about Bubba instead of the other way around. Maybe this is his week, his tournament and his major.
That's a chess game I'd like to see.