Armchair Golf Pro: Bubba Watson beats Oosthuizen to Win Masters – An Interesting Contrast in Styles

Ahh, the Masters. Greatest theater in golf. This year was no exception as Bubba Watson beat Louis Oosthuizen with an incredible hooking gap wedge out of the woods from 155 yards out on the second playoff hole. Earlier in the day Oosthuizen provided his own theater by making a double-eagle 2 on the par 5 second hole – the rarest shot in golf (far more rare than an ace on a par 3, and only the fourth in Masters history).

The two golfers present an interesting contrast in style: Watson the artist, and Oosthuizen the mechanic. Both styles work, and that’s the Armchair Pro’s take-away from this tournament: the “perfect” golf swing is a swing that fits the player because it is a swing that can be trusted under pressure.

Watson has the kind of swing that would probably make you run for cover if you saw it on a muni course. He’s got every shot in the bag – except straight. He’s never had a coach and if he’s smart, he’ll never get one. No one can teach the kind of artistry that goes into his shots. But that’s the point … he’s an artist.

What I admire about Bubba is the direct connection that seems to exist between the kind of shot he can imagine in his mind and the kinesthetic feel he develops for the swing that will produce that shot. I wrote about the importance of linking feel with imagery when Watson won at Torrey Pines. It’s the same kind of link that arises when we get “in the Zone” and play our best golf. It’s one of the most important skills to cultivate.

The lesson from Bubba is that you don’t have to have a perfect golf swing. What you need is the ability to translate the shot you see in your mind into the feel of the swing, and then the trust that your body will be able to pull it off. Bubba proved that he is a master at the art.

Oosthuizen, by contrast, has a very technically correct swing. It’s practically a model for the idealized golf swing. He’s in great balance, his club stays on plane, and his sequencing is terrific. His swing is simple, and as Steve Jobs said “there is great elegance in simplicity.” I like the elegance of Oosthuizen’s swing.

Earlier in the week I was talking about the Masters with a group of my students and we were all making picks for our favorites. Oosthuizen was on my short list because I like the simplicity of his swing. I had a sense that he would be able to “engineer” a great tournament. He didn’t disappoint. He deserved to be in it at the end, and he had a great tournament.

If you want to know what a great golf swing should look like, watch Oosthuizen’s swing. If you want to understand how to use your imagination to create shots, watch Watson. For each of us we need to strike a balance between being technically correct and artistically creative. The trick is to find the balance that uniquely fits our own style.

Here’s my case in point: Tiger Woods. For reasons I cannot fathom Tiger is on a quest to make his swing more technically correct. At the expense of his artistry. When he was playing his best he too was more artist than mechanic. IMHO he should dump Foley (who is far too technical) as fast as he can and find a way to rediscover the link between his imagination and his feel for the shot. If Tiger stays on his current mechanical track it will be a long haul for him to get back.

And that’s one of the issues I see all too often with my students: they want a more technically perfect golf swing, thinking that is the answer to better scores. It’s not. A better golf swing is part of the answer, but not the entire answer. There has to be a balance between technique and feel, and there has to be a link between shot visualization and feel.

Improving technique is a long and gradual process. It will eventually lead to a better golf game, but that better golf game is in the future. Seeing and feeling a shot is what produces your best shots and your best scores today. You can’t, and shouldn’t, sacrifice one for the other.

I always encourage my students to divide their practice time between making swings and making shots. When they make swings they are focused on their mechanics. When they make shots they are focused on a target. By spending time on both swings and shots they keep their current level of play high and continue to improve over time. When it comes time for tournament play, however, put the mechanic down, be like Bubba and let the artist come through. You’ll have your Masters day in the sun.

The Armchair Golf Pro writes about PGA Tour events. Like you he is watching TV from his comfy armchair, enjoying the competition and drama, but also observing lessons that can be used to play better golf. I’d love to know your thoughts.

Related Posts:
Bubba Watson Crushes it At Torrey Pines

Armchair Golf Pro: Charl Schwartzel, The Masters, McIlroy

2 Responses

  1. Eric;
    I had to refresh my memory with a trip to youtube to look at Bubba’s game winning wedge. I also took the time to watch Wayne DeFrancesco do an analysis of Bubba’s swing. Amazing is all that I can say, technically his swing is “different” in many aspects. He takes the club back way past parallel, his left elbow is “flying”, his feet slide around on his finish. Yet on his downswing he keeps it all together putting all that power into the ball very effectively. The fascinating thing is that for all the other movement he makes, he manages to maintain the basic fundamentals of keeping his head and body centered on the ball with hips and back coiling but not sliding. You call it “artistic”; I call it “reckless abandon.” I wonder if he will be able to keep it up for another 15-20 years.
    That said, I agree with you about seeing the shot and developing a feel for how you want the shape to play out. It really takes a bit of both, I had to develop some core (technical) competence before I could develop any touch or visualization. It took years of flailing around to do so, but now it feels really good when I wind up with the club high over my left shoulder watching the ball sail right down the middle. That is not always the case, but it sure feels great when it is.
    I agree about Tiger, it is sad to watch.
    Michael Brown

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Thanks Michael. Great insights, particularly into your own game. You don’t have to have a perfect golf swing to shoot low scores. Bubba is proof. And Tiger shows just what a trap it can be to focus on mechanics. I also agree that you do have to have a minimum competency level before you can visualize a shot and get the feel for it. Our educational system doesn’t reward experimentation and failure, but that is how we learn what works best for each of us. Keep at it!