JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Bubba Watson’s big adventure to Paris wasn’t a complete disaster.
He was there long enough to take photos of that big tower (Eiffel). He rode around in a circle at some archway (Arc de Triomphe). He stayed in a beautiful hotel next to a castle (Versailles). And he gave the tabloids plenty to write about.
Too bad it wasn’t about his golf.
Watson lasted only two days at the French Open, missing the cut with rounds of 74-74. He said there were too many cameras, too many phones, too much of everything except ropes and security.
“It’s not a normal tournament,” he said.
Watson, who after one day at the French Open said this would be his last time playing in Europe, clarified his remarks upon missing the cut by saying he would be at the British Open next week, but only because it’s a major. Then he said he would spend another day of sightseeing (maybe he meant that museum that starts with an “L”) and get home “as fast as possible.”
He might have done the Americans a favor. This next generation of U.S. golfers is showing signs of being more willing to travel the world. Watson at least served up an example of what not to do.
It sure got the attention of his peers on the PGA Tour.
Saturday morning on the practice range at Aronimink, the chatter was endless about Bubba’s behavior in France. The words “ugly American” came up on more than one occasion, accompanied by a lot of head shaking.
Stuart Appleby famously said a decade ago, back when the World Golf Championships were actually played around the world, that “Americans are like a bag of prawns on a hot Sunday. They don’t travel well.”
The Australian couldn’t resist weighing in on Twitter.
“Rumour has it that Bubba Watson has had surgery to mouth to make it smaller so foot won’t fit with as much ease, hope it’s successful ???” came the first tweet from Appleby. That was followed by, “I’m not perfect all the time, but is not acceptable to come to another tour and more than once show a lack of respect.”
Watson gets the message.
He lost an opportunity to experience a great city, a different culture, and to bring his game to a growing fan base. He let it turn into a working vacation that felt like too much work. These things happen. If this is all Watson is known for at the end of his career, he will not have had much of a career. The hunch is this will be forgotten before long (unless he makes the 2018 Ryder Cup in France).
Not long after he returned home, Watson was busy apologizing on Twitter to more than 150,000 followers.
In a series of tweets about his “rough week,” he said he was sorry if he offended anyone and that it wasn’t his intention; conceded that he played poorly and it was not the fault of the fans or the tournament; said he had a great time seeing Paris and Versailles (previously known as the castle); and that he would play the Scandinavian Masters and an exhibition in Germany.
Watson remains somewhat of an enigma.
When he first made it to the PGA Tour, he had a pink shaft inserted into his driver. On the driving range at Doral, he would look around to make sure people were watching when he bashed drives over a teaching center on the far end of the range. He started a Twitter campaign, complete with video of his uncanny skills, in a successful bid to get on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
And then he would try to explain that he only plays golf for the love of the game, not to get any attention.
He wept when he won his first PGA Tour event last summer in Hartford, Conn., and it was endearing to listen to him make fun of himself for not being able to get through a sentence without crying when speaking about his family, especially his father, who died last year of cancer. Without prompting, Watson wrote a check for $50,000 this spring to help with relief efforts in Japan.
He has worked hard to grow the brand that is Bubba. He is blossoming into a star. Rare is the golfer these days who can curve the ball any direction to get where he’s going, who has no formal teacher and tries to keep golf simple. Bubba is fun to watch.
But all it takes is one week of bad behavior for people to question whether he’s for real.
The tower? The building that starts with an L?
It sounded as though Watson tried to copy Boo Weekley, his old high school teammate from the backwoods in Florida, who charmed the kilts off the Scots in 2007. Playing with Paul Lawrie the week before the British Open at Carnoustie, Weekley asked the 1999 champion how he qualified for the Open.
Boo was delightful. Bubba was distasteful.
Maybe there’s a reason for that.
Watson clearly loves the attention, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What he has to recognize is that he can’t flip a switch and make the attention go away when it doesn’t suit him.
Perhaps he should have followed his script from two weeks earlier at the U.S. Open. Watson was atop the leaderboard in the first round of the U.S. Open, lost three shots coming in for an even-par 71 and refused to talk to anyone.
When a reporter caught up to him in the locker room and asked for a comment, Watson replied, “If you can’t say anything good, don’t say it.”
That would have been better than what he had to say in France.