SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Bubba Watson is hoping to avoid any sense of déjà vu in his return to Le Golf National for the 42nd Ryder Cup.
Things did not go well the last time Watson came here, back in 2011 for the French Open. He missed the cut, then went off on the galleries for being rude, snapping photos and video during play. He blamed a permissive culture for what he considered to be poor security.
Bon temps? Not so much for Bubba.
To make matters worse in his post-round beef session Watson discussed his sightseeing tour of Paris, referring to the Eiffel Tower as “the big tower,” called the Arc de Triomphe “an arch, whatever I rode around in a circle,” and added “and then what’s that – it starts with an ‘L’ – Louvre, something like that. One of those.”
An ugly look for the American.
Sporting an electric blue golf glove as a team-mandated joke during an interview Wednesday, a raspy-voiced Watson showed a sense of humor and some contrition for his comments seven years ago. He has moved on, even if others haven’t.
“It was sad that people wrote or took my comments or whatever I did — because I don’t really remember, it’s so long ago, but it was sad that they did that because I loved it here,” Watson said. “I’ve always loved it. I love traveling. I mean, that’s why I have played around the world, I love traveling and I love cultures.
“It was sad, but I learned from it. It made me mature as a person and understand that I’ve got to be more mature and more careful how I word things. Hopefully I worded all that right.”
A native of Bagdad, Fla., Watson aims to earn some redemption and bolster the U.S. hopes beginning Friday. How the fans react to him could be a story unto itself.
“You know, the crowd over here has always been amazing,” Watson said. “They understand tough shots. They understand a 30-footer sometimes from 200 yards is a great shot, and so they have been appreciative of us over time I’ve ever played in an event over here, and especially in a team event like this.
“I don’t expect any different. They pull for their people. They pull for their team. But they applaud us and cheer us and appreciate great golf shots, because they understand the game so well.”
A two-time Masters champion, Watson has won three times on the PGA Tour in 2018 (Genesis Open, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and Travelers). But the world’s 14th-ranked player last tasted victory in June. Missed cuts at the British Open, RBC Canadian Open and PGA Championship stunted his year. He finished next to last at the Tour Championship.
Can the 39-year-old pro find his form amid a hostile atmosphere? Fighting a respiratory ailment contracted last week in Atlanta probably won’t help.
“It kind of started through the locker room last week — there’s only 30 guys. So I happened to get it,” Watson said. “I’ve got a weak immune system.”
Making his third Ryder Cup playing appearance, Watson has a career record of 3-8-0, including 3-3-0 in four-ball, 0-2-0 in foursomes and 0-3-0 in singles. He has never played for a winning American team. He served as a vice-captain in 2016 at Hazeltine.
Watson played a practice round Wednesday with Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Webb Simpson. He gave a quick review of the course.
“It’s one of those golf courses where you’re going to have a lot of ball placement, so whatever that club is, it won’t be driver,” the long-knocking Watson said. “It will be a lot of irons, a lot of woods off the tees.
“We are all going to place it in pretty much the same area and try to attack from there. It’s the second shot is where you would try to attack and you would have a birdie opportunity. It’s not going to be — the way this rough is kind of mown toward you or cut toward you, you have to hit the fairways. So even if you’re a long way away, but in the fairway, it’s better off than being in the rough and way down there.”
Watson seems keenly aware of his surroundings on and off the course this time.
His repartee with the galleries, with his teammates and opponents, will be worth watching.
“I had a discussion with Bubba,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk said. “He really enjoyed Paris the last time. He enjoyed being in France.
“I think he has nothing but good things to say, and revisit, it was a long time ago and a much younger Bubba Watson. I think he’s really going to enjoy this trip and enjoy the Ryder Cup and enjoy his teammates.”
Everyone deserves a deuxième chance.