Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: April 26, 1:54 AM ET
Dissecting the uniqueness of Bubba
By Farrell Evans, with Mitchell Spearman
As a young boy growing up outside Pensacola, Fla. in the tiny village of Bagdad, Bubba Watson would circle the tree-lined acre surrounding his family home playing cuts and draws as well as hitting the ball high and low. From the time he was 6 years old almost into his teens, Watson would perform this exercise sometimes five or six hours a day.
That was the beginning of his self-taught and quirky brand of Bubba Golf: the place where he first learned how to visualize and shape shots better than any player of his generation.
This amazing shot-making ability that he first cultivated around his parents' modest home reached its zenith a few weeks ago at the Masters, where he pulled off one of the most amazing shots in major championship history on the second hole of his playoff with Louis Oosthuizen.
As a feel player, the shot was ideal for Watson because he is able to spin the ball. As a left-hander, he could hook it more than slice it from that position. He also had a very clean, tight lie that allowed him to do more with the shot.
Bubba was in the trees at the 10th because he was trying to hit a fade off the tee at the dog-leg left par-4. But the ball didn't move as much as he wanted it to and it stayed straight. It's a much easier tee shot for a right-handed player, who can hit a low draw around that corner.
Most players probably would have knocked the ball out the trees 80 or 90 yards from the green and tried to make par that way. But most don't have Bubba's rare combination of extraordinary club head speed and shot making.
By now most of the world has seen Bubba's spectacular shot from the playoff -- a 155-yard L-wrench-shaped hook with a gap wedge off the pine needles that stopped about 10 feet from the hole. But Mitchell Spearman explains what the 33-year-old former Georgia Bulldog did in his swing that allowed him to make the shot look pretty easy.
Spearman is a top 100 Golf Magazine teacher who splits his time between the Doral Arrowwood Resort in Rye Brook, N.Y. and the Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Windermere, Fla. Spearman's book AIM of Golf focuses on how to help golfers form perfect images in their minds of the shots they want to hit. At Isleworth, where Bubba is renting a house, Spearman recently watched the Masters champion hit balls on the range.
For ESPN.com, Spearman gives some analysis of that spectacular swing in the Masters playoff and what the typical golfer can learn from the PGA Tour's longest hitter.
Keys to the shot in the playoff
|Bubba Watson's second shot on the second playoff hole at the Masters show just how impressive his shot-making ability can be.|
Three keys in the setup:
1. The ball is back in his stance, which ensures that he's going to catch the ball first and he's going to have an inside swing path.
2. Bubba's shoulders are aimed closed to the left.
3. The hands are high at address to promote a draw.
The downswing and follow through
Watson stays down on the ball for a long time. You can use more hands if you stay down longer through the shot. When Bubba hits the ball, the dirt sprays up to the left in the shape of the shot. His swing path is coming from the inside and his left shoulder is coming over like a topspin tennis shot, which encourages the ball to go back to the right.
Learning from Bubba
Walking down the 10th fairway in the playoff, Bubba's caddie, Ted Scott, told his player that "if you have a swing, you've got a shot." That's probably the most valuable lesson anyone can take from Watson's experience with that shot.
Practice different shots
Bubba has talked often about how much he enjoys curving the ball. Most players tend to have only one shot shape and they find the opposite shape hard. Bubba tried to hit a fade off the 10th tee in the playoff and didn't pull it off, but he was able to hit a hook on his second shot.
He's the modern Seve Ballesteros with the hooks and the fades. But the difference between Bubba and Seve is that Bubba has a trainer that's preparing his body to withstand all the torque and twisting in his swing. Seve came from an era where very few players had personal trainers.
I don't know if Bubba plays tennis, but if he did he would have a great forehand and backhand because of the fast pace at which he moves his hands through the hitting area. He's got quick hands and the ability to trust them with the clubface through the ball.
The downside to this way of playing is that if you don't curve the ball in the direction that you want, you can often end up in trouble like Bubba's tee shot at the 10th in the playoff.
Lee Trevino used to practice on a driving range in Dallas and aim his balls at the freeway and he knew if they went straight he was going to cause an accident. The only way he learned to hit a push fade was to aim at the freeway and make sure he didn't hit it there. There is something to be said for aiming for trouble and hitting away from it.
Creating Bubba's sidespin
If you want to curve the ball like Bubba, you have to have some disparity between the face position and the swing path. If those things are the same, you're going to hit the ball mostly straight. With the modern technology it really doesn't matter where you hit the ball on the face, you have to have some angles between the swing path and the face to curve the ball.
If you have a soccer ball in front of you and you punt it with your toe, it will go straight. But if you hit it with the inner part of your foot, on the inside of the ball, it will start to the right and hook to the left. It's the same thing with a tennis ball. You create angles with the racket by hitting across the ball to put spin on your shots.
Other things to like about Bubba's swing
If you look at many great players -- including Bobby Jones, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus -- they get their left heels off the ground in the backswing and they start the downswing by replanting that front foot. I'm a big fan of it because it really helps with the rhythm of the swing.
Not many players do it now. Most contemporary players never lift that front heel, but Bubba, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh are exceptions to the rule.
Also, Bubba creates incredible torque in his swing and has nice width between his shoulders and his hands throughout.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.