IT’S one of the great golf shots in recent memory. Bubba Watson, on hole two of a sudden death play-off for the US Masters in April this year, finds himself lost in pine trees off the tee. He hits an almighty hook shot that loops out of the trees, turns right and lands 10 feet from the hole. From there, it’s an easy two-putt to victory.
“I grew up shaping the ball in a lot of different ways, and playing with buddies that shot was no big deal,” Watson says when we sit down at the house he’s renting near Royal Lytham and St Annes for this week’s Open. “But in that situation, with that much pressure and all those people around, I guess you could call it amazing.”
I guess you could. Many people have called it a lot more – a wonder shot, the shot of a lifetime. For 33-year-old Watson it brought not only the green jacket but validation in the golf world that he was more than “the goofy guy from Bagdad, Florida called Bubba” (as he happily describes himself) with an Exocet tee shot. He was a world-class talent who had come of age.
It will have been a sweet moment also for Richard Mille, the Frenchman whose ultra-high-end watch brand created a remarkable timepiece for Watson: a futuristic white tourbillon, the RM038, that’s as light as a feather and as strong as an armoured car.
If Watson, a self-taught, shaggy-haired lefty, is something of an anomaly in the golf world, he’s even more unusual in the refined domain of luxury watches. He cheerfully played up to his hick image in Golf Boys, the spoof boy band he formed for charity with a trio of other young players – in their video Watson raps and dances shirtless in dungarees. He recently made headlines too for buying the original General Lee car from the Dukes of Hazzard in an auction.
But Mille has a penchant for being a few steps ahead of the pack – he invited Rafael Nadal to wear his watches [see page 18] when the Spaniard was still coming up through the ranks. In Watson’s booming swing – he’s the PGA tour’s longest hitter – Mille spied a challenge. After all, most golfers don’t wear watches: for one, they’re an encumbrance, and if they’re mechanical the G-forces involved with a golf swing will gradually wreck the internal workings.
“He said it was the challenge to make a watch stand up to the speed and impact of my swing,” Watson explains. “I can swing it at 125mph and it still works, and it’s so light and comfortable you don’t even know you’re wearing it.”
That’s all down to complex magnesium alloy materials and front-line engineering that add up to a cost of £389,000 if you want to own one. Though the newly-released, non-tourbillon RM055 “Baby Bubba” comes in at a mere £69,000.
It’s one more element that marks Watson out as different to the other players. In the clean-cut, monotone ranks of PGA pros, the guy with a white magnesium-alloy watch and bright pink driver (which he wields to raise money for charity) is a breath of fresh air. But he’s also a player you can root for – a mercurial character with admitted weaknesses.
“I’ve got issues in my head!” he jokes. “My mind wanders – there’s so many shots I’m thinking of – and calming down is always my struggle. I have to grow up in that part of the game.”
Whether Watson can tailor his big-hitting style to links golf this week we’ll find out over the weekend, though he was in good shape for a -3 score yesterday. Don’t bet against another major win coming soon.