It was not a reaction to Phil Mickelson’s decision to swipe not once but twice from the wrong side of the ball or to Louis Oosthuizen’s missed opportunities down the stretch. The groan came from golf instructors across the country at Bubba Watson’s revelation that he had never taken a golf lesson.
That’s right, the newly crowned Masters champ in his new green jacket has never had the keen eye of a golf instructor analyze and dissect the position of his hands at address, the angle of his shaft at the top of the back swing or the position of the club face at impact. The only word that comes to mind is inconceivable.
It would have to be the ultimate fluke, wouldn’t it?
Tiger Woods has had three swing coaches in the past 10 years, going through a complete swing overhaul each time, and he’s widely regarded as the best player of the past 30 years.
How does a guy named Bubba do it with nothing but the feel in his body?
“Every round of golf is a lesson,” said my old friend John Ortega, a PGA teaching professional at Costa Mesa Country Club. “The last time I played, I realized I needed more lessons.”
His sentiment is simple and accurate. Every round is a lesson, and we could all stand to play more. We learn what works and what doesn’t work during the course of each round, but I’ve spent enough time at country clubs to know that there is a whole gaggle of people that plays golf eight days a week that yet will never even to sniff breaking 80 - let alone win a green jacket - with their mechanically flawed golf swings, no matter how many practice rounds they play.
What can we learn from Bubba’s style? For one, feel is a lost art of golf for many amateurs, and Bubba seems to play with a ton of it. As a golf society, we’ve become dependant on magazines, TV shows and video cameras to tell us where the club should be throughout the swing.
We’ve become so consumed with the technical positions of the club during the swing that we become a bunch of stammering, glitching robots. We move with the rhythm of an accountant at a disco. It’s not natural. If you can’t move freely, you can’t make an athletic swing. If you can’t make an athletic swing, you can’t play golf. It can become paralyzing.
We have also become dependant on GPS technology to tell us exactly how far it is to a flag or hazard. Admit it, you check the golf cart for yardage or reach into your pocket for a mobile device. You might even have an app on your phone.
We even use it when we don’t need it. We can’t get away from it. I once watched a friend stare at his handheld GPS while standing on top of the 100-yard marker and then walk over to the cart to triple check. Can you say co-dependant?
The course I grew up on had no markers aside from some large juniper trees that were nothing more than approximate 150-yard markers, give or take five to 10 yards. It forced you to feel the distance with your gaze and select the right club based on that feel.
For your next round, make a pact with yourself.
1) Leave all the swing thoughts on the range. Go to the golf course au-natural, free from the baggage of instruction and make the most athletic swings you can muster.
2) Shut off all the GPS devices and don’t go hunting for sprinkler heads. Play using your eyes. You’d be surprised with the feel you develop for distance and control of your golf ball.
Don’t be completely fooled. Bubba Watson played golf at a major college and currently employs a world-class caddy. Someone is watching him swing the club and giving him feedback.
What’s real is the natural motion he uses to move the ball around the course and the feel he utilizes to be one of the best players in the world.
It doesn’t happen by accident.
In Bubba’s case, it seems to happen naturally.