Everyone on the PGA Tour is long off the tee, but in seven years on the tour, Bubba Watson has never finished a season ranked lower than second in the driving distance statistic. Last season he finished first for the fourth time with an average distance of 315.5 yards.
Watson’s recognizable pink Ping G25 driver is easy to see in person and on TV as he lashes at the ball, but what most people fail to notice is that his grip is as big as a Sequoia.
“When I first met him in 2000,” says Matt Rollins, Ping Golf’s senior PGA Tour manager, “he had eight and six.”
By that, Rollins means Watson enlarged his driver’s grip by putting eight wraps of tape under the bottom half and six wraps under the top half.
“That was homemade and done by the Bubba Watson family. It just sort of came about by him and his Dad,” Rollins says. But the four-time Tour winner and 2012 Masters champion didn’t stop there.
“As we got going, Bubba said, ‘Gosh, I wish it was a little bigger,'” Rollins says. “So we made it a little bigger. ‘Man, I wish I didn’t hook it as much.’ So we made it even bigger. Finally we got to 12 and 10, and it’s been there since 2004.”
Aside from his putter, which has eight wraps of tape under the grip, all of Watson’s clubs have that unique 12 and 10 wrap build up except his lob wedge—it has 13 wraps under the bottom half and 11 under the top.
To put Watson’s massive grips into perspective, Rollins says, John Daly uses the second-largest grips on the Tour, but he only uses six layers of tape under his grips. Rollins is unaware of any professional golfer who does anything like Bubba.
Watson enlarges his grips so much because like a lot of big hitters, he fears hooking. Larger grips discourage rotating your hands and shutting the face on the downswing, so they promote a fade. Conversely, a club with a smaller grip encourages a draw because it lets golfers rotate their hands more easily and close the face.
Daniel Udd, Ping’s master tour technician, is the person who does the work on Watson’s equipment at Tour events. He says that Watson has his clubs re-gripped only twice a year, once in October and once shortly after the U.S. Open. Watson uses a Ping Gold grip, which is 1/32″ larger than a standard-sized grip.
When he re-grips Watson’s clubs, Udd cuts the old grips off carefully so he doesn’t damage the tape underneath. Re-taping a club isn’t hard work, but it adds about three to five minutes per club to the job (40-45 minutes for 13 clubs), so re-using an old tape job saves time.
Watson’s decision to switch to a cordless grip a few years ago also helps Ping save time.
“Years ago, Bubba played a full-cord grip,” Rollins says. “For us to put a new set of grips on a set of his clubs, so we’re talking about 13 clubs, we’d need about 20 grips because the cords would pop. The build-up was just so big. Over time, and because his game evolved, he’s gone to a rubber grip, which has made our lives a lot easier.”
When you hold Watson’s driver in your hands, it feels like an axe that Paul Bunyan would have used to clear a forest. With Bubba Watson morphing into a folk hero after his win last year at Augusta, that seems appropriate.