Bubba Watson: Golf, God and Greatness

Interviewed for Risen Magazine

Risen Magazine: You’re a golf superstar, winning two masters competed in the Olympics. And while most of the world knows you as this incredible golfer, there’s an important distinction between that being what you do, and golf not being who you are. Will you talk to me about that?

Bubba Watson: Yeah. I think that the world puts labels on people, and they put labels on people, what they do for a living. Like my accountant, he’s my accountant. We put that title on him. And people know me as a golfer. Even my wife says, “You’re a golfer.” And I said, “Well, if you’re saying I’m a golfer, you’re limiting who I am as a person.” And so, yeah, these are the hard things as an athlete, or as a CEO, or a doctor. You’re labeling that person, you think that’s all they want to talk about and that’s all they want to do. And that’s a hard thing to try to change in your own mindset because you hear it so much.

RM: I imagine, you have this dream and you work your whole life to achieve it. And you get there, and you’re getting everything that you had hoped for and dreamed of, but it feels a little different sometimes when you’re up there. The closer you get to the top, sometimes the more isolating it can be, and a lot of pressures sneak in and that can change your mindset. Talk to me about achieving your goal, and then what it’s like being on the top?

BW: So, as a kid you dream of winning, it doesn’t matter what that sport is, it doesn’t matter what that business is. Your win, is being the person you want to be. And when I say that, the job you want to have. And so, at 12 years old, I’d won the masters many times, practicing and dreaming, but then when you win it for the first time (for real), it’s way different because your dream always stops. Your dream is like you win, that’s it. You go home, right?

But now you’ve got cameras, you’ve got fans, you’ve got sponsors, you just got stuff. And then on top of that, you have to be a husband and a dad. And so it’s a learning process that takes a long time. And I haven’t perfected it. I’m still trying to learn. And so that’s the hard part. The hard part is, you get there and you do all these great things, or you think are great things, but then the world actually comes at you. Not in a bad way, but you handle them, or I handle them in a bad way. And I was letting it eat me inside and distract me from where I needed to be and who I needed to be. And that’s the learning that I’m trying to do.

RM: I love your book, Up and Down, and the vulnerability and the authenticity that you share, especially when it comes to your anxiety. I feel like so many people within the last 18 months probably have had a heightened level of either wanting to control the uncontrollable, or having to manage a ton of missed expectations. Share how you feel when your mind starts racing, and what you’ve found to work when it comes to calming some of that anxiousness?

BW: There’s moments in the day that happen and those moments can be anything. It could be, the kids wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. My wife has an idea of how the day’s going to look, and I have an idea how the day’s going to look, and they don’t match. And so then you throw in golf, that golf decides to beat me that day, and I’m not playing that well. And then it’s like, I have to go do this, or I have to go do this, or something happened at one of my businesses where we’ve got to try to help it or fix it. And just things start coming at you. And then the pandemic hits… it’s just stuff always left and right coming at you.

How do we deal with it? And that’s where I’m learning. But for me personally, when I went to my darkest hour in 2017, what revealed to me, is that as a man I want to hide it. I want to hold it in. And that’s really bad. I was losing weight, I got down to 162 pounds. I’m normally in between 190/195, and I got down to 162 last time I checked my weight. And I felt like I was dying basically. And when I got off the floor from my knees begging for help, I realized that I needed to go share, and I had to share with my wife. My best friend, why would I not want to share with her? And so I had to take off this man coat and tell her the truth.

And that was so freeing for me. It was so freeing that I could share with somebody and not worry about it. I was already at my darkest point, so I couldn’t get any lower. So I was like, well, might as well go ahead and tell the world. And so I told her, and then told my friends, and it just kept growing. And then I kept coming out of this hole. And I can catch it now, I can see when I don’t have enough sleep, or I need to stop, take some deep breaths and do different things. And then the pandemic happened. And that’s when I felt like I should share with the world, not only my friends and my family, needed to share with the world so I could try to help other people. But the breathing, the sharing, definitely, I catch it before it gets to a low level again. So yeah, I’ve learned different techniques to deal with it.

RM: I love of the way that you paint the relationship that you have with your wife, and how you talked about getting down on your knees. I know you didn’t grow up in the church, and you credit your wife a lot with helping develop and bring you to your faith. What did your relationship with God look like early on, and what does it look like now?

BW: In Baghdad, I went to a local church when I was a kid because of donuts and orange juice, let’s just be real right? And so, they were the best free donuts. How would you not want to go to church? I didn’t learn anything there, even though they were teaching me great things, I just, I was a kid who wanted donuts. And so at age 17 or 18, I’m guessing 18 would be the better number, a girl that was our next door neighbor, our backyard’s touched, she asked me to go to Wednesday night service, youth service, youth program. And she said, “A lot of your friends go there from high school.” And I said, “Really?” And so I went. And man, that hit me like a ton of bricks listening to the message.

It was people in t-shirts, it wasn’t people in suits and ties. It was more a friendly atmosphere. It was people I knew, but the message hit home, where I needed to change, I wanted to be better. And I wanted to live the right way and realize that God is the way. And so that was a seed that was planted. Fast forward a few years in college, there’s this beautiful girl that I wanted to talk to, and I heard her talking to some friends. We went and played golf. I asked her how she grew up, and so she talked about the church. And I said, “Well, do you go to church here?” And she said, “No, away from my family, away from my home, I just didn’t really find a church.” And I said, “Wow.” I said, “Well, why not?” And then we just kept talking.

And then I said I didn’t grow up in the church and told her that somebody planted a seed. And I asked God into my life, but that was really it. It just, happened in a moment, and then I didn’t really water that seed. And then she’s talking about it. We grew together. When we got married, we got baptized together the day after Christmas in 2004. And that’s the moment where her belief, and her wanting, made me want more. Wanted me to grow more. And seeing that, watching her, her being a light, her being in the Bible every day, her reading books every day. I don’t like reading by the way, but I had to start. And when I started, it was a couple minutes here, a couple minutes there.

Now it’s grown into about 20 minutes in the morning to get my quiet time. And so I know now that I can’t read at night, because I lose it when I go to sleep. I want to start my day with it so that I can carry that over throughout the day and hopefully be the person I should be, or at least better than I was going to be if I didn’t read. And so my growth is still there. I’m still trying to grow, still trying to learn. And this book helped me get free a little bit with my own anxieties and different things. But yeah, still a work in progress. I’m human, so I’m still trying to get out the bugs there.

RM: We all are. I don’t think we’re ever going to reach that perfection. And that’s part of the journey and the growth. I feel like there’s times in your life where there’s huge life shifts. It can be winning the Masters, it can be a relationship with the Lord. And for a lot of people, that’s beginning a family. I love that you’ve been very candid about your adoption process with your children. Talk to me a little bit about fatherhood…

Bubba Watson: Our first date, she [wife] said, “I can’t have kids.” And I said, “No worries. God will provide a family.” And the stigmatism in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s-ish, adoption, that wasn’t a manly thing. So nobody wanted to talk about it much. And now it’s freeing, people talk about it now openly, it’s an easy subject. And now I think we’re digging into the subject of a man sharing his issues. And so that’s another thing we’re working on. And as a father, I have to share. My kids know. My kids know what I wrote the book about, my kids know about they’re adopted, my kids know how dad fails. I apologize to them when I react a certain way, apologize to my wife if I react a certain way, or I don’t do something she asked because I forgot.

So yeah, my kids get to see the light, they get to see good and bad, but hopefully they see more of the light of me trying to be a certain way or wanting to be a certain way. Being a father is amazing. It’s an amazing journey. Now I know what my dad went through when he tried to teach me. And my dad always said, “I want you to be better than me when you grow up.” And that’s the same, I tell my son, but also my daughter, it’s like, “I want you all to do more than me, more than me and your mom.” But yeah, so I get to show some things like that. And hopefully they do, hopefully they see the light. And being a father is that opportunity. I don’t want to be their best friend, I want to be their parent. And that’s the whole goal.

RM: In our last minute here, I’d like to have you respond to five golf favorites:

RM: Favorite golf course…

BW: Wherever I won!

RM: Best answer ever. Favorite golf movie…

BW: Caddyshack is by far the best. That started everything right? The gopher, everybody wants the gopher, right?

RM: Favorite person to golf with…

BW: Wow. You’re going to stump me here. My wife, for sure.

RM: Favorite piece of golf advice…

BW: Practice, which I don’t do very well.

RM: You’ve reached a level where you might not have to. And then lastly, a favorite golfer that you looked up to…

BW: Oh man, there’s so many things that popped in my head right here. Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum, they were the high school golfers when I was a young kid. So in Milton, Florida, those were the two guys that I dreamed to be like when I got to high school. And they both won on tour, on the PGA tour. And so I’ve been able to win on the tour. So I got to live up, I guess, to my idols that I looked up to.

UP & DOWN: VICTORIES AND STRUGGLES IN THE COURSE OF LIFE IS AVAILABLE NOW

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