Date: April 14, 2014
Author: Mike Clayton /

Clayton: the shape of Bubba’s unorthodox flair

The emphasis of modern golf teaching has been based on a classical style where the lines of the swing follow the basic geometry of planes and angles. The more consistently the club can move up and down an angled plane line the more reliable the golf one is likely to play. Under the pressure of a major championship, giving yourself the maximum time to make the minimum compensation is a nice base from which to play. These last two weeks, at the first women’s major championship in Palm Springs and now at Augusta, we have seen winners come from a much different finishing school. Lexi Thompson and Bubba Watson are the longest hitters on their respective tours and both bludgeoned their way around golf courses with great power and one could never say they did it with great technical form. If Adam Scott is the modern model of power and grace, Thompson and Watson are the models for playing with feel and instinct alone. Watson himself admits to never having had a golf lesson. Instead he plays with an imagination not seen since the heyday of Seve Ballesteros and shapes the ball as Ballesteros did to suit the hole and the shot he is seeing. Sometimes his drives swing as much as thirty or forty yards in the air and he is hitting shots the others aren t even imagining. It is a game most likely to work at a course like Augusta National or Royal Melbourne where architect Alister MacKenzie gave players space and the opportunity to play with great flair and boldness. So long as your nerves hold out you are bound to be a contender. Watson had played an ordinary round on Saturday and finished it by scrapping a couple of pars out of the final two holes for a 74 and at the start of the final day he was tied with Jordan Spieth, the twenty-year old kid from Dallas who many think is the next American star. Watson made something of a mess of both the 2nd and 3rd holes on Sunday, managing to only par the 2nd and then driving so close to the 3rd green he left himself with an extraordinarily difficult short pitch and from there he conspired to make a bogey. Then came an amazing exchange at the long par three 4th. With no one getting anywhere near the flag Watson drilled a brilliant iron to eight feet while Spieth found the short bunker. With a two shot swing the most likely result Spieth holed the long and difficult shot from sand only to be followed in by Watson for a birdie of his own. The tournament however was decided a few holes later. Spieth took a clumsy pitch and three putt six from forty yards off the 8th green as his opponent made a birdie and then at the next Spieth made the Greg Norman mistake and spun a short iron off the front of the green. Watson turned the knife, pitching close and holing for three and then watched as Spieth missed a short but difficult putt coming down the hill. They say the Masters begins on the back nine on Sunday but in retrospect it was all over by the time the final group arrived at the 63rd tee. If it wasn t over by the 10th it was when the kid s nine iron came up a few fatal paces short of the 12th and inevitably rolled back into the creek. There was one final stunning shot to come from Watson. It wasn t one to decide the tournament but rather a window into his power and his unique way of playing. Taking a driver off the par five 13th tee he flew a staggering tee shot up and over the corner trees and within pitching distance of the green. The 13th was a hole MacKenzie had designed as a dangerous par five where players deliberated over the choices of playing short of, or over, the creek with long clubs and here was a man pitching to the green from barely more than a hundred yards. Teaching will continue to emphasize classic lines and form but Watson showed at Augusta this week there are alternate ways to play the game. Maybe it won t work so well at the US Open where mechanic type golf as Ballesteros called it is needed but it is a lot of fun to watch. It surely would have delighted Alister MacKenzie as this was exactly the golf he aimed to encourage with his amazing courses.