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LORAN SMITH COLUMN: UGA's Watson enjoys life on the PGA Tour

Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

SANDWICH, England -- The maturation of Bubba Watson, formerly of the University of Georgia, is a work in progress, tweaked by trial and error and brushed by ups and downs but with a priority given to simple basics: Man, I am trying.

Not here to offend or insult but please recognize that no two artists paint the same picture of the same landscape and that the whole thing is influenced by the notion that everybody has an opinion, and perspective, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

"If I write a column," he said earlier in the week, "I would probably choose different words and comment from the next guy. Everybody says things a different way."

Most of all, lest anyone forget, the reason for being here is to win a major championship. Moving on is the order of the day. Danny Ozark, the one time manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, put it this way: "Let a dead horse rest."

Exasperation is not holding sway, but Bubba's body language politely reflects that enough is enough.

He'd like to talk about the Open. Let's play golf and have some fun. Let's move on from the flap in France at the French Open, where he was misunderstood when he casually referred to the Louvre as that "museum that starts with an 'L' " and called the Eifel Tower "that big tower."

Most folks, especially those in Bagdad, Fla., where he is from, would agree that Bubba was being descriptive, not insulting with his remarks.

After his trip to France, Bubba flew home to his place of respite in North Carolina and had no idea what he had left behind. When you mean no harm, you are a little chagrined when you learn you have landed in controversy.

When he realized that feelings were fractured, he promptly called the organizers of the French Open and apologized with what should be a consoling caveat.

"Invite me back next year. I want to be there for the tournament," he said.

That he has had to readdress the French episode is something he has met with honest and disarming commentary, anxious to spend more time talking about birdies and bogeys, more of the former of course.

Playing in the Open is something he approaches with agreeable anticipation.

It comes down to an appreciation that this is the country where his favorite game originated, and he is energized by the challenge to master the art of the bump and run game.

"There are no flop shots over here," he said.

In the last yardage zone -- a hundred yards -- on the U.S. tour, he uses a lob wedge but this week is trying to run the ball to the hole with a nine iron.

When he finished high school, Bubba was invited to play golf in Ireland and found it to his liking. While he has missed the cut in the last two Open championships, he finds the opportunity to win his first major alluring. His awareness is refreshing.

"Golf is tougher today than ever because everybody is so good," he said. "You don't look at where a player is from. You just want to beat everybody in the field, but it's not easy."

The challenge of winning a major has heightened with the number of players capable of claiming first prize.

"There are only four majors a year so you can understand how hard it is to win one. I'm not good at math, but if you think about it, there is not a lot of opportunity," he said.

Bubba sees himself as an aspiring golf professional whose focus is to win championships, but he also wants to enjoy life.

This week he is staying at nearby Deal, which has a gem of a golf course that all too many fail to discover when they come to this part of the United Kingdom. Friends are important to him and so are his affiliations.

When he joined the "Old North State Club" in New London, N.C., he told the membership he wanted to compete in the club championship. He did and won with a 66-63.

He led the tour in driving distance in his first three years and finished second to J. B. Holmes the last two years. When you take a hard look at his statistical portfolio, you quickly note that his short game has to complement that distance if he is to win majors. He currently ranks 107th on tour in driving accuracy, he finished 124th in sand saves last year and was 185th in scrambling, getting up and down 47.1 percent of the time. (The tour average is 56.7 percent).

His per-round putting average is 29.98, and the tour average is 29.16, which means he is taking about three putts more per round than the field.

Meanwhile, he is having fun and has no axe to grind. You can see the sincerity in his eyes and easily conclude he is enjoying life on the tour, with his wife Angie by his side, and knows that in spite of all the challenges the tour brings, all it takes is one good week to win a major.