Hate To Be Rude: Media advice for Bubba

Bubba Watson is interviewed in the media center during practice for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana.

Bubba Watson is interviewed in the media center during practice for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana.

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Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

Bubba Watson accomplished the hard part. He won the Masters.

Now comes what should be the easy part. Handling the trappings of success.

The self-taught Watson, of course, is a playful character who can drive a golf ball 350 yards (or more) and curve it 50 yards (or more) left or right.

He is fun to watch.

What’s more, he happily is a new adoptive parent. He is a born-again Christian who in the last couple of years has tried to evolve and become a nicer person and less the temperamental sort who over the years has rubbed some the wrong way. He makes it a point to contribute to charity.

“Golf just helps me get that avenue out there where I can raise more charity dollars,” he said Tuesday from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, where he is making his first start since the Masters.

In other words, there is a lot to like. In the process of all that, he has become a fan favorite, particularly post-Augusta, and something of a media darling.

Yet there was something a bit concerning about his news conference in The Big Easy. Watson went out of his way a few times, sometimes playfully, to poke “the media.” One sensed an undercurrent of distrust or dislike.

The headline could have read, “Freshly minted media darling bites the hand that helps feed.”

To wit, Bubba-isms:

• “The media writes (Lee Westwood) can’t win (a major), can’t do all that. None of us (players) think that.”

• “It doesn’t matter what the media said about you. The media is going to say bad stuff because negative sells.”

• “(Boo Weekley, Heath Slocum and I) played at the same high school, but the media, again, said we played together in high school, but they’re way older than I am.”

• “The media sometimes says (winning) should happen right away.”

• “The media is not friends with me right now. Well, right now they are, but in a couple of weeks they probably won’t be.”

• When a reporter correctly identified that his first New Orleans appearance came in 2002, Watson joked, “That was 2004, right? You can’t trust that media ...”

Though I’ve been in the business nearly 40 years, I’m not sure what the broad brush stroke of “the media” means anymore – though it doesn’t sound positive coming off the tongues of many, such as Watson’s on Tuesday. What with the social outlets of Facebook and Twitter and the like, not to mention the basement bloggers and pajama typists, everyone seems to be “the media” these days. That includes serial tweeter Bubba Watson himself.

For certain, history says good public relations is helpful to athletes. And it’s not difficult to do.

Watson said Tuesday that he “hates” being told what to do. But he would be well served to cease “the media” rhetoric immediately. It serves no positive purpose, particularly for him.

That’s not just my friendly advice.

I remember interviewing the late Al McGuire in his Milwaukee office on a cold winter day in 1978, a year after Marquette won the NCAA basketball championship in his last season as coach. Among other things, the colorful McGuire said this:

“People who don’t get along with the media have their heads in the sand. I figure the media was responsible for about 25 percent of income.”

This year, in early March, I had the privilege of visiting with Arnold Palmer in his Bay Hill office in Orlando. Palmer knows a thing or two about the human touch. His take follows.

“All you have to do is get in a squabble with a writer or broadcaster and you’re putting a mark on your life. They can make you feel like a (jerk) the rest of your life. There’s no point to it. What’s the point of my arguing with you? I don’t get any place ...

“Point is, you can be congenial and nice, and it’ll work. That’s all I’ve ever done. My father always said to me, ‘Don’t be nasty. To anybody.’ ”

At that point, Palmer pounded a fist on his desk for effect. Then he added, “So I practiced that, treating other people like you’d want to be treated.”

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