It’s the Monday of the week of the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and all the talk has been about who won’t play, rather than the tournament itself, and the strong field it does have. And all of that talk has been focused on Bubba Watson’s decision not to play. Big deal.
Big deal, that is, not because Watson, the Masters champion and the game’s most newly-minted star - well, at least until Rickie Fowler won his first PGA Tour event at the Wells Fargo Championship on the weekend - has elected to take a month off. It’s a big deal in the opposite sense of the term: not a big deal at all.
Watson, like every PGA Tour player, has the right to tee it up when and where he wants. He must play 15 PGA Tour events annually to retain his membership in the society of golfers known as “independent contractors.” He is beholden to nobody and no enterprise except himself, except for the requirement to play a minimum of 15 tournaments. He’s decided to spend time with his wife Angie and their two-month-old son Caleb. That’s his right. They adopted Caleb only two weeks before the Masters.
So yes, big deal. Not.
There are those who believe Watson is obliged to play this week above all weeks, because the Players is the PGA Tour’s flagship event. There are those who believe Watson needs to compete to say competitive, and to reach the heights his outrageous gifts for hitting any shot he means to hit. He doesn’t always succeed, but he did come up with the goods when he snap-hooked a wedge from some 160 yards out of the woods and onto the 10th green of his Masters playoff against Louis Oosthuizen. Two putts later he’d won the Masters.
Now, Watson may well have run himself ragged in the immediate aftermath of winning his first major. He flew up to New York City and appeared on one show after another, breaking bread and telling stories with David Letterman, Piers Morgan, and many others who hold major championship status in the world of celebrity interviewers. He was everywhere.
Watson’s next tournament after the Masters was the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, two weeks later. He’d won the tournament the previous year and must have felt obligated to play there. Watson tied for 18th, and soon decided he didn’t have enough gas in the tank to keep playing, even at the Players.
“The Players is one of the best weeks of the year, but bonding with my son and wife is what it is all about right now,” Watson said. The PGA Tour in a statement said it was “admirable” for Watson to make his decision, and that it looked forward to seeing him again soon.
The chat rooms, talk shows, and Golf Channel analysts examined his decision until there was nothing left to examine. Didn’t he owe the PGA Tour an appearance at its main event, a tournament that many players and golf-watchers consider the unofficial fifth major in the game? And make no mistake: It is a huge event, and an important one.
But obliged to play? Not so. Again, PGA Tour members are independent contractors.
But wait. Was Watson undermining his chances of becoming the best player he could by not going up against one of the best fields in the game all year, and on one of its most challenging and entertaining courses?
The answer to that is a question: Who knows?
Wait again: Didn’t Watson owe it to his fans around the golf world to play the tournament? They’re helping make him a rich man. They supposedly crave a superstar, and particularly one who plays creative, untutored golf. Watson is everyman, right? Yeah, sure, as if “everyman” can bend it like Bubba and win a Masters.
Bottom line is that Watson could decide not to ever play again, and that would be just fine. He has that right, and to suggest anything else is wrong. He’s part of no team, except team Watson. That’s the way it is in golf, an individual and not a team sport.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein