The Feel Field Test would soon begin. He didn't seem too edgy. He joked with two kiddie golfers who were hanging around, one, in knickers, a ringer for Payne Stewart, the other a junior Rickie Fowler, with the hair and the flat-brimmed Puma hat. "Aaron Baddeley and I are very close," Watson said, referring to the Tour player. "Our wives are good friends. We go to the same church. But when Aaron starts talking about shaft tip points, I have to leave the room."
You do not talk to Watson about tip points or butt width or any of that stuff. But if Matt Rollins, Ping's Tour rep and the man in charge of fulfilling Watson's idiosyncratic club requirements, slides on a grip that's crooked by a hair, he'll hear about it right away.
"Take his 60-degree wedge, which is actually bent to 63," Rollins says. "He doesn't want the center line on the grips pointing to a square face." That would be conventional, and Bubba doesn't do conventional. "He wants it pointing to an open face, so what he thinks is square is actually open, making the 63 more like 66. Then he plays it with an open face, and that makes it more like a 70."
Rollins and his colleagues at Ping have developed a system that assures Watson's grips will be centered to seriously open faces. At a gripping station, the Pingsters have marked up something that looks like a protractor to show Watson's preferred open-face positions. From there the grip goes on straight, using a laser line to assure it is centered. It's all very scientific. Naturally, Watson's eye will occasionally override the instrumentation.
"See, I'm a feel player," says Watson, who lost the PGA Championship to Martin Kaymer in a playoff last year. "I'm trying to trick my body and my mind into thinking my clubs are square when they're actually open." Watson doesn't like to play any straight shots. He finds it easier to curve a shot than to hit it straight. That's his art. Hooks and slices and stingers and moon shots.
Nobody on Tour has grips like Watson's. He starts with extra-thick ones. Then he has Rollins put 10 wraps of tape underneath the top half of the grip and 12 underneath the bottom. In the January Feel Field Test, Watson was blindly given three nine-irons, two of which weren't wrapped to his specs. He rejected the impostors in seconds. They were two wraps from standard.
Later in the FFT, Watson was given seven wedges, with lofts of 60, 58, 56, 54, 52, 50 and 47 degrees. The shafts were all the same length. The clubs were jumbled. He could not see the loft markings. He was asked to order them. It was batting practice. Watson went 7 for 7 without a hiccup. If you think it's easy, test yourself the next time you're at your neighborhood Golfsmith. Your correspondent, formerly proud of his eye, went 3 for 7, and his complaint that southpaw clubs all look the same to a righthanded duffer elicited no sympathy from Bubba. "Thing is, once you get one wrong, you got two wrong," he said cheerfully. His logic was flawless.
Early in the FFT, Watson was given two eight-irons and told to report to the committee what was different about them. He hit one 190-yard shot after another. "I'm going to get this, I'm going to get this," he said. Finally, he gave up.
"They seem the same," he said.
"They are the same," Rollins said.