People of Northwest Public Radio
Mon April 9, 2012
Here's How And Why Bubba Watson Hit The Shot That Won The Masters
Hours and hours of hitting little plastic golf balls and learning to make them twist and turn and bend and bounce in almost any direction.
That's one reason why golfer Bubba Watson was able to hit a shot Sunday that most duffers could never make — and do it to win this year's Masters Tournament.
But there's another reason why Watson was able to hit his ball so that it flew between two rows of spectators, under some trees, up into air, turned right and hooked toward a green about 155 yards away — all while under the intense pressure of a second sudden death playoff hole with opponent Louis Oosthuizen:
Watson, according to Golf World editor-in-chief Jaime Diaz, "sees connections where other people don't see connections. ... He solves problems in a more unique and complex way." The 33-year-old golfer from Florida, as Diaz has previously reported and as Watson himself believes, almost surely has attention-deficit disorder.
"Those really creative, different, unique shots are the product of ADD," Diaz told All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel earlier this afternoon.
As you've likely heard by now, Watson's recovery from trouble — his tee shot flew to the right of the fairway on that second playoff hole and ended up atop a bed of pine needles under some trees — was one of the most remarkable golf shots of recent years.
The swing Watson used, Diaz said, had an "inside-out-path" that produced the hook (his backswing was "inside" a theoretical straight line through the ball, while his return swing went to the outside of that line). At the bottom of the swing, Watson was able to "rotate his hands in a way he's not thinking about," to add more direction to the ball's flight, Diaz said. And it was all happening with "exceptional" club speed.
And how did he learn to do that? Not from lessons. Watson has been coached, at the University of Georgia, but is really self-taught. He learned, Diaz said, by hitting plastic balls around his back yard as a boy — "curving the ball, shaping shots," making it fly as he wished.
Then there's the ADD. In a 2009 profile of Watson, Diaz wrote about the way ADD affects the golfer and why it could be a factor in his success:
"Psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell is a leading expert on ADD. ... Hallowell suspects that some of the greatest minds in history — including Einstein, Edison, Shakepeare, Mozart — had the condition, and that it enhanced their creativity. ... The reason, says Hallowell, is that people with ADD live their everyday existence in a state of jagged disorder — including a general restlessness and inability to sustain concentration — and thus hunger for structure in life. When they find an enjoyable endeavor that provides structure, they often take to it with a passion that leads them to excel. Because they are so used to adapting to disorder, they develop a heightened ability to make connections, which when unleashed within a structure can lead to extraordinary insights, solutions and innovations."
So, a combination of boyhood experimentation and a unique way of thinking about the problem he faced produced Sunday's magnificent shot. As Watson said afterward, "I've never had a dream go this far, so I can't really say it's a dream come true. ... I don't even know what happened on the back nine. ... Nervous on every shot, every putt. Went into a playoff. I got in these trees and hit a crazy shot that I saw in my head, and somehow I'm here talking to you with a green jacket on."
Haven't seen the shot yet? There's a clip of it in on the Masters' website. Not all of the ball's flight was captured by the cameras however, as Real Clear Sports explains, because Augusta National Golf Club doesn't allow those shots from blimps or camera cranes that would give good views from up high.
Much more from Robert's conversation with Diaz will be on today's All Things Considered. We'll add the as-broadcast version of the interview to the top of this post later.
Note at 8 a.m. ET, April 10: Earlier, we pointed to an ABC News video that included a clip of Watson's shot. That clip is no longer at the location we pointed to, so we've edited the post to point to the Masters' website.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
SIEGEL: Here's one measure of the difference between golf as it's played by some great professional golfers and the game that ordinary people play with golf clubs and golf courses. Ordinary people swing the club and hope that they neither hook nor slice. That is, they hope they neither pull the ball sharply nor send it spinning away from them like a foul ball into the seats on the opposite of the field.
Great professional golfers, on the other hand, look at their lie and ask themselves, do I need to hook, slice, draw, fade, hit it straight? And then they do whatever is required.
Yesterday, on the second playoff hole of the Masters, Bubba Watson, who typically hits the ball over 300 yards with his driver - that's another measure of the difference - succumbed to momentary ordinariness when he hooked his drive into the woods. He then proceeded to hit a hook on purpose that landed almost perfectly near the hole.
Golf writer Jaime Diaz, the editor of Golf World, wrote a profile of Watson for Golf Digest in 2009 and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.
JAIME DIAZ: Thanks for having me. Thank you.
SIEGEL: And the question that all my non-golfing colleagues want to know is how did Bubba Watson make the ball go up between the trees and hang a right onto the green?
DIAZ: Well, Bubba is exceptional in his creativity and with his hand-eye coordination. He learned to play golf actually hitting wiffle balls around his house in Milton, Florida, plastic golf balls, basically, which he curved by extreme amounts. He doesn't play like an ordinary professional. He plays with more movement in the ball than anyone and the way he can do that is primarily through the club-head speed that he achieves. It's exceptional. He has a very big arc, a lot of speed, a body that produces a lot of fast twitch muscles and, at the same time, he's got great hand-eye coordination and he can, you know, sort of manipulate the ball at the bottom of his swing more than most professionals.
SIEGEL: This is a golfer who, as you wrote in your profile of him, has never taken a golf lesson in his life.
DIAZ: No. He's a throwback. He's much like Sam Snead or many of the great old players from the '20s and '30s. He's almost completely self-taught and I think golf for Bubba is a lot of fun. If he were playing a more regimented game, he probably wouldn't enjoy it as much and he probably wouldn't play as well.
SIEGEL: Professional golf has been hurting to some extent since Tiger Woods' dry spell began. He recently won a tournament, then he played disappointingly in the Masters and I guess every time somebody wins, the question arises: Could this golfer - in this case, could Bubba Watson bring the mix of talent, unusual play and personality, charisma that might actually help carry the game for a few months, if not a couple of years?
DIAZ: Well, I would sort of disagree a bit that golf's in trouble or – certainly it misses Tiger at the top of the game, but in his absence, you know, there's been a greater appreciation for the players that have filled the void. You know, Rory McIlroy, for one.
And I think Bubba has this sort of almost folk hero kind of aspect to his game because it is so big and unique. And I'm not saying Bubba's going to carry the game because I think he would have a hard time feeling that kind of obligation. At the same time, I do feel that people love him and he's going to have a lot of fans.
SIEGEL: So here's a guy who has now won a couple of tournaments on the PGA Tour and now he's won a major, as they say, the Masters Tournament. And he is this wonderfully spontaneous, creative - but, as a result, perhaps also inconsistent - golfer. What does your gut say? Does he have the stuff to repeat and to win another major tournament and keep on winning or is he someone who might be, you know, satisfied enough with where he is now and not have the same juices flowing? What do you think?
DIAZ: I think before, he would just get too emotional about the disappointment and sort of, you know, just keep it at arm's length. I think, though, this is going to convince him that I really am that good. I think the issue was he didn't know how good he was and I think now he does.
SIEGEL: Well, Jaime Diaz, thanks a lot for talking with us about Bubba Watson.
DIAZ: My pleasure. Thank you.
SIEGEL: Jaime Diaz is now the editor of Golf World. He wrote a profile of the new Masters champion for Golf Digest back in 2009. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.