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Bubba’s Back: Watson eyes up back-to-back titles in China

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Two-time Masters champion BUBBA WATSON will be the star attraction at this week’s inaugural Shenzhen International, where his biggest concern is playing Genzon Golf Club for the first time, not jet lag: “I’m the best sleeper in the world.”

 

Portrait AFP

 

April 13, 2015: Bubba Watson’s headline appearance at this week’s Shenzhen International on The European Tour marks his first visit to China since his miraculous victory at last November’s HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

 

The tall left-hander, recently ranked as high as World No. 2, has long been among the longest drivers on the PGA Tour, but is best known for winning the Masters Tournament at Augusta National in 2012 and 2014.

 

Having only won his first PGA Tour title in June 2010 at the age of 31, he won his seventh last November at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai in spectacular fashion, holing a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to force a play-off with Tim Clark, which he won courtesy of a birdie on the first extra hole.

 

It was Watson’s first pro title outside the USA and the three-time Ryder Cup player is now keen to win a second, but admits that playing on a course he has never seen before could hamper his chances. Jet lag, he says, is not a problem.

 

Bubba Watson will be the top-ranked player at The European Tour’s inaugural Shenzhen International. Photo Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images.

Bubba Watson will be the top-ranked player at the inaugural Shenzhen International. Photo Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images.

You’re the star attraction at the Shenzhen International. What will be the biggest challenge – jetlag from travelling to China after the Masters or a course you haven’t seen before?

The only problem I’m seeing is, like you said, a new course; a course I’ve never seen. That’ll be my main issue – a place I’ve never seen. I’ve only seen an overhead view of it, so hopefully I’m looking at the right golf course!

 

The challenge for me is to learn the course real fast. The grass and everything, I’m used to, so hopefully I’m just learning the layout of the course and that’s the only challenge I have. But sleeping and all that stuff – that’s not a problem. I’m the best sleeper in the world.

 

What are your hopes for the week, considering the competition from The European Tour?

Like I’ve always said, at every press conference, everyone in the field has a chance to win. I think there are 156 people in the field. I read that there are 50 Chinese players. I think that at any level, we’re all pros and anybody can win it.

 

My expectations as a golfer are that on Sunday, hopefully with good weather, I’ll have a chance to win, so that means top five, top 10, but at least on Sunday have a chance to have a winnable target. That’s my goal every time I’m playing and I haven’t done that very well – I’ve only won seven. But I’m looking forward to the challenge of learning a new golf course and competing against players I might not have competed against before.

 

How much do you enjoy playing abroad and do you think it’s the duty of a top international golfer to compete around the world?

You know, when I won [the HSBC Champions] in China late last year, I got the taste of winning outside the US. I want to travel; I want to help grow the game. I want to improve this game of golf and China seems like the best place to help grow. So many people live in China, so many young talents are coming out of China, so they can help grow the game even more. So why not come to play in China again?

 

Watson with Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer ahead of last year’s WGC-HSBC Champions. Photo: HSBC Getty Images.

Watson (second left) with Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer at last November’s WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. Photo: HSBC Getty Images.

When you won the HSBC Champions on your last visit to China, you called your wife while holding the trophy. Would you do the same if you won another title in China?

I will definitely call my wife again right away. My wife will definitely be watching on the Internet or the TV or texting some of my team. They’ll be on the sidelines with their phones and they’ll be texting back and forth, so obviously I’ll call my wife right away. And these new iPhones are pretty good – you got FaceTime. For me, we can FaceTime before I go to bed and when I wake up, so that I can see my son and now my daughter.

 

What was so special about China is that we knew we were about to adopt a daughter, so there were a lot of emotions – me travelling, not really knowing what was happening, and worrying about this adoption process we were going through. It was tough, but very exciting, so, yes, I would call my wife in a heartbeat if I won in China again.

 

What do you most remember about playing in China?

I’ve played in China a few times. When I look at the conditions of the course, it’s amazing. The two hotels which we stayed in have been amazing. It feels like we’re in the US, and the fans have treated us with so much respect; they understand the game, they understand a good shot.

 

It’s fun travelling and it’s a learning experience for myself; a learning experience for my team. You get to appreciate somebody’s design of a golf course and so it’s pretty neat going over there and seeing different designs of golf courses. I’m always amazed at how people design golf courses. I’m just a golfer and I like watching and looking at golf courses and how they’re designed.

 

What’s your funniest memory of playing in China?

The one that comes to mind would have to be at the golf course. On the final day of last year’s HSBC Champions, I hit the worst bunker shot you’ve ever seen on 17th and made a double-bogey – and then on 18 I hit the best bunker shot I ever hit in my life. So for me personally, and my friends, I think it’s the funniest thing ever.

 

How has playing abroad affected your game and your development as a person?

I think the aspect of learning as an individual, learning new cultures, learning to travel, to pack my own bag and travel across different continents, and to see different golf courses, different designers, different set-ups, different grasses; that’s going to develop you as a player and make you appreciate the game more.

 

I think that for me, winning in China last year just gives you that much more drive to do it again. I’ve played in Thailand – I like the golf course there – and in Korea and I played in Japan last year as well. It’s fun. You get to see different cultures, different golf courses and I want to do it.

 

The greatest American players in the game have all won many times outside the US. When you get the taste of one, you want another one. I’m trying to travel, I’m trying to grow the game, but at the same time, for selfish reasons, I’m just trying to get another trophy outside the US.

 

Many big events are now held in China, but what about Chinese players? When you see someone like Guan Tianlang make the cut at the 2013 Masters at the age of 14, what potential is there for China to produce top-class players and what do they need to get to that level?

I think that, first of all, as a golfer, we don’t see where people are coming from. We’re looking for great golfers. So obviously, when you’re playing at the Masters, you’re a great golfer. When you talk about the Masters, you’ve done something with your career.

 

With that being said, I think China is obviously the biggest place to grow. So many people live there, so many young kids are there, so I think China’s the one that’s going to grow the game tremendously. I believe that, yes, China can be on the map of golf.

 

I’d say that it’s newer to them, so over time, people learn how to practise, people learn how to play the game. I think there’s going to be more and more talented players coming out of there that are going to win Majors, and have many successful stories and successful careers.

 

There are reportedly more golf clubs closing than opening in the USA. Do you think as a sport, golf needs to regrow and if so, what needs to change?

I believe if it was me looking at it all, I believe that golf is not a bad sport. It is a great sport. They started to build a lot of golf courses really fast and the way I see it, you build too many, there’s too many places to play and if you mismanage it, you’re not managing in the right way … and how you use your money, I think that might shut a course down as well. It can shut down any business.

 

I think with the young players, just over 30,000 kids – double from the year before – signed up for the Drive, Chip or Putt Championship, to try to compete at the nationals, so I think the game of golf is definitely where it needs to be.

 

The PGA Tour is the dominant tour on the men’s game, while The European Tour is like the ‘rest of the world’ circuit. On the women’s side, the LPGA Tour is the clear leader and has a more global circuit, so do you think the PGA Tour should have more events abroad?

I think the situation right now is perfect. I believe the PGA Tour is the best tour and that’s why all the players across the world want to play it. I think it’s the most talented tour, but I believe that now, we go to Europe for the British Open, we go to China for HSBC and the PGA Tour is now in Malaysia (with the CIMB Classic).

 

The European Tour is travelling to so many different countries to grow the game, but to also show different beautiful golf courses around the world. So I think that the way that golf is going is great.

 

You’ve got [Rory] McIlroy, he’s playing pretty good right now, being No. 1 in the world. You got a lot of young talents in the US playing well. You’ve got Henrik Stenson, who’s No. 2 in the world. You’ve got Adam Scott, who’s still a dominant player, maybe top five in the world. So I think the way the game is right now, the way every Tour is working right now, I think everything is in a nice position. I think it’s perfect the way it is.

 

You’re likely to return to Asia in October for the Presidents Cup in Korea. What kind of boost will this year’s event give to golf in Asia?

I think it will be a big move. I think Korea wants to play the tournament and I believe that obviously, you can go to Asia and showcase talents like this. I think the fans will be behind this and the fans will understand the game more. Young people watching this will want to play the game more and want to make teams like this.

 

There’s a lot of young players out there from Asia that are playing well and are producing at a high level. It might be a different team this year and obviously going to Korea, it’s going to create a lot of buzz and excitement for the game, especially for the young people there.

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