Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Bubba Watson is back in the winner’s circle for the first time in two years after some odd physical and mental ups and downs that almost saw him retire from the game. Given that 7 of Watson’s 10 PGA Tour victories have come on familiar courses, two each at Augusta and TPC River Highlands and now three at Riviera, how would you rate his chances for another win at The Masters in 2018?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I thought we’d seen and heard the last of Bubba over the last couple of years. I’m glad to see him win again. I find him a very odd fellow, but he’s one of the few colourful people playing professional golf these days, so his presence on the Tour is welcome (if not so much by his fellow players). I wouldn’t be betting a lot of money on another major for Bubba, but I’d also be pleased if I had him in my Masters pool. If I was a handicapper, I’d put him at 50-1 for the Masters.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): He’ll be alright at Augusta but I don’t see him winning. There are too many other world class players that will be in that field that week for him to beat them all. No offence to Bubba, his game is just too inconsistent, and his attitude isn’t exactly the greatest to do any real damage on the Majors front.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Bubba Watson is an enigma! In an era when the ‘ball’ is designed to go straight he plays every shot to either fade or draw extreme amounts. This manoeuvring is basically a skill from the past and really suits certain courses. Far too often, as the design characteristics of the ball evolved so did course architecture and design. The creativity once required to gain a scoring advantage no longer exists and has been replaced by superb distance control of one repeating shot shape much like shooting a bullet. Whenever the tour events are played on courses where shotmaking is essential, Watson becomes a favorite. Augusta National is one of those places.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Any lefty who is playing well heading into the Masters almost has a leg up on the rest of the field. Augusta National requires that right to left shot trajectory, which just happens to be a very comfortable and repeatable fade for lefties. That is why Mickelson and Watson have both won there on multiple occasions. Now that doesn’t mean that I think Bubba WILL win his third green jacket this year (I’m picking Spieth, like I always do). But at 25-1 odds right now, putting $20 down now on the southpaw would not be a bad bet!
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Well he is certainly a horse for certain courses, and Augusta National is clearly one of them. I still can’t understand why he fares so well at the Masters given how average (or bad) a putter he is, but he is one of the best ball strikers in the game when he’s on, and can overpower a course like few others. And given that he typically picks even numbered years for his Masters wins, I’d say his chances are pretty darn good. But I for one hope he doesn’t win, it’s nothing personal, just count me as one of the many that would never help Bubba out if he got in a bar fight!
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: I don’t always watch YouTube, but when I do I enjoy watching Bubba’s miraculous second shot in the 2012 Masters playoff.
It takes a golf savant to even begin to contemplate hooking a 52 degree wedge 45 yards on a shot 163 yards as a crow would fly through the trees, if it could. According to the lab coats who analyzed the miracle, that amount of hook required 7,200 RPM of spin on that unsuspecting ball. (I said then and will say it again, Bubba could go back into those woods with a small bucket and not make another up and down). Like the other tracks he likes, Augusta National fits his very particular eye. Now that the triple at Riviera has eased his troubled mind he definitely can be a factor.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Because of his incredible creativity and the ability to hit the ball higher than just about anyone else, Bubba is always a threat at Augusta. But to win again, he’ll have to overcome a wonky, inconsistent putting stroke and eliminate some of the mental demons that have been plaguing him of late. Still, I’d put him in a small group (about six) that have a legitimate chance to win.
Phil Mickelson, who will soon turn 48, made another appearance on the leaderboard on Sunday. He finished T-6 which was his third Top 10 in his last three events. Does Phil still have what it takes to win or is this just a late career surge by a player who is essentially done?
Deeks: Yes, I believe Phil still has what it takes, in spades. When you add it all up, his is a remarkable career, and a long one, considering he first won nearly 30 years ago. I think Phil will still be competitive on the main Tour for at least another five years.
Loughry: I think Phil still has what it takes to win, maybe not a Major, but he could sneak out a win here or there. He has the short game to do it, course knowledge, and know how. If he gets that damn driver going he could be back in the winner’s circle he’s sniffing but clearly the window is closing, as he is in the twilight of his career.
Schurman: I am not a fan of the style of play displayed by the two best players in the past 30 years: Tiger and Phil. I much prefer the Hogan, Nicklaus way: fairways and greens. With Phil, you never know what could happen from wonderful, high flying tee shots into the fairway to a PW missing a green by 30 yards followed by a holed out pitch for a birdie. I know the goal of the game is to shoot the lowest score and I know Phil has won +40 times and 5 majors but he isn’t reliable. He is great when he is ‘on’ and very good when he isn’t but how can a player have amassed his record of victories and not be able to reliably hit the ball into the fairway when needed? I don’t think he will win but then again don’t bet against anyone who can sink wedge shots for pars.
Kaplan: It’s a lefty bonanza in the Round Table this week and I love it! Phil the Thrill definitely still has enough in the tank to win! And based on his recent success, his left-handedness, his familiarity with the track, and his 25-1 odds for this year’s Masters, FIGJAM is also a strong dark horse bet to win his fourth green jacket in April.
Rule: Phil is one of those rare talents that can still win in his late 40s. He’s not just getting lucky by putting up some solid finishes, in fact, perhaps he’s unlucky that he hasn’t won one recently. He still hits the ball a long way and can putt the lights out, so he’s a threat any time he tips it up. And if he’s ever in real contention some Sunday afternoon, he has more experience than most to draw on in order to close the deal. I wouldn’t be surprised if he won a tourney in 2018.
Quinn: From his Tucson Open win as a 20-year-old, I’ve loved watching Phil the Thrill whether he’s winning the Masters or missing the cut. Along the way, I’ve admired his dedication to working on his swing and his game, never more than this year. He’s so close, having almost tamed his driver again, that I think (and very much hope) he’s still got it.
Mumford: As much as I’d enjoy watching one last Mickelson victory, Phil is done. Of course, I’m the golf world’s worst prognosticator, so now you can probably safely bet a mortgage payment on his next victory. But I’m with Michael Schurman on this one. It’s always struck me as odd that the two players who have the worst driving records in PGA Tour history are first and second in wins over the last 30 plus years. Tiger is trying to make a comeback hitting about 40% of his fairways in two starts while Phil looks to extend a career with stats that aren’t much better. Against today’s younger players, that kind of inconsistency just doesn’t work. Their ability to recover is amazing but it all adds up to too many missed birdies. Given their considerable length, you’d think they would try to keep it in the fairway with a 3-metal but who’d want to watch either player if they were that boring?
With Bubba’s 10th victory including two Masters, there is talk that he’s headed to the World Golf Hall of Fame. We seem to have these discussions anytime a player hits a milestone or adds more victories to a decent career resume. In your opinion, what should the minimum requirements be for induction to the World Golf Hall of Fame?
Deeks: I don’t know what the current WGHOF criteria are, but I’d say a player — male or female — should have won at least three majors (or two, plus an Olympic Gold Medal in Golf), plus a minimum of 18 PGA/Euro/LPGA Tour events. He/she should also have played in a minimum of two Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup or Solheim or [the Asian Solheim] teams. AND, he/she must also have been selected to their own country’s Golf Hall of Fame before being eligible for the World Hall. As for Bubba, I’d say he should still have a long way to go.
Loughry: I think he’s headed to the Hall. I think he qualifies, and he sits at what I think should be the minimum; 10 victories including two Majors. I do have an alternative, One Major and 14 wins total, or NO Majors and 18 wins. My standards are high, if they aren’t it devalues the Hall and real superstars that are already in.
Schurman: There isn’t enough space here to write what I think about the Hall of Fame. Since the re-structuring of the World Golf Hall of Fame there is a little more fairness and equality but there is still work to be done. Not that you asked but the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame has a good standard, however the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame needs a complete review! In my opinion, getting into a Golf Hall of Fame should be simple mathematics and non-subjective. Entry into the World Golf Hall of Fame for players who have had a career on the US PGA Tour is: 20 wins, no majors; 17 wins, one major; 12 wins, two majors or 3 majors regardless of other wins.
Kaplan: I believe it should be as simple as two major victories AND double digit professional wins on any of the International Federation of PGA Tours. Not one OR the other! If you cover both criteria, you should get in automatically. That would keep guys like Mike Weir, Keegan Bradley, Lucas Glover, and Trevor Immelman out, where they probably belong (sorry Weir fans!) And I know that under that criteria, you could argue legends like Larry Mize, Fred Couples, Tom Kite, and Craig Stadler would all be getting the shaft, and that we wouldn’t see Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, and Louis Oosthuizen get in either without another major title. But all of those guys, past and present, have only won one major. And the Hall of Fame, in my opinion, should only include the greatest players of all time. If you haven’t won at least two majors, I think it’s fair that your name should not even be in the discussion.
Rule: I have never really agreed with the World Golf Hall of Fame process, however I’m glad that they don’t put it on a points system like the LPGA. If that were the case, someone like Colin Montgomerie wouldn’t be in the Hall, and I firmly believe he deserves to be there based on his impact on the game globally. He was a force on the Euro Tour for years, winning seven straight Orders of Merit, and dominating in the Ryder Cup. Even though he never won on this side of the pond, he belongs in the Hall. So I guess for me it’s more than numbers in my mind, it’s more how much a person impacts the game. As for Bubba, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t belong, but as per my comment above, don’t expect me to attend his Hall of Fame ceremony!
Quinn: Well, given its name, being famous seems to be the key requirement. Getting fame outside the hard core of golfdom requires Major cred, not a Mize-like fluky one-off but a couple to take the rub of the green out if it. To that bare minimum, the resume should also include a set number of non-Majors. Bubba’s life goal of 10 seems to be about right.
Mumford: No player should be inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame unless they were among the most dominant players of their generation – players that won a lot, won majors, won money titles and were regular members of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. There are players with a bunch of PGA Tour titles that never struck fear in the hearts of their fellow competitors. Wayne Levy comes to mind – a decent player with 12 wins on the big tour but most of them in second tier events like the Pleasant Valley Jimmy Fund Classic. (That was a real tournament. You can look it up.) The bottom line is that to get into the WGHOF, a player needs a minimum of 15 regular PGA Tour wins AND at least one major. IMO, anything less is a nice career but not Hall-worthy.