Bubba Watson had a phone call to make after the second round of the U.S. Open to cancel a flight.
Watson, 41, strung together three consecutive birdies on the front nine and signed for a 1-under 69 at Winged Foot Golf Club’s West Course in Mamaroneck, New York, to improve to 1-over 145 and lurking at a major where he’s experienced limited success. Watson, a two-time Masters champion, had missed the 36-hole cut at the U.S. Open in five of the last six years.
“I had my plane ready to go home today just in case,” Watson said. “But now I’ll have to cancel the flight. So that’s a good problem to have, I guess, cancel the flight and be home late Sunday night hopefully.”
Watson also was anxious to get home to check on his family and community back home in the Florida Panhandle, where Hurricane Sally made landfall on Sept. 16, with ravaging winds and submerged some parts with more than 2 feet of rain.
“My friends and family are all OK. My house, my mom’s house, our friends’ houses are all OK,” Watson said. “I know there’s a lot of boats that got messed up. I haven’t heard about my businesses yet.”
Watson grew up in Bagdad, Florida, (population 3,761) in that northwest sliver of the state that is part of the greater Pensacola area, on the Gulf of Mexico, and about 13 miles from the Alabama border. He lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Orlando earlier in his career but returned to his roots in 2016.
Ever since, Watson has made a large impact in his local community. For starters, he donated $2.1 million to Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart in Pensacola for an expansion of the facility where he was born and where there’s now a street known as Bubba Watson Drive. Watson also opened Bubba’s Sweet Spot, a candy and ice cream shop in downtown Pensacola, a car dealership, Sandy and Bubba’s Milton Chevrolet, a driving range, and is co-owner of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, a Class Double-A minor league baseball team. Watson said he’ll assess the storm’s damage next week.
“When it hit on Wednesday, the first text I sent my wife is, ‘Should I come home?’ Because again, golf is golf and life is more important than that,” Watson said. “Just trying to focus on this right now, but when I get home, obviously me and my wife, my family will do something. We can help Pensacola. We’d love to do something like (Houston Texans defenseman) J.J. Watt did a few years ago for Houston. Something like that would be tremendous. Just anything like that in that direction, just to help the community, lift the spirits of the community because I know there’s some people hurting for sure.”
Watson and his family experienced a previous natural disaster in 2016. They own a second house and 11 acres in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, part of the Greenbrier Resort’s sporting club. Watson was there the night a 100-year flood dumped 11 inches of rain in just 5 ½ hours. He donated $250,000 to the relief effort and got his hands dirty as part of a local cleanup team.
“Sometimes in the midst of tragedy, in the midst of bad things, that’s what pulls it out of us the most, that good spirit and we a definitely witnessed it tremendously through the few weeks we were here helping and volunteering,” wife Angie Watson said ahead of the 2017 Greenbrier Classic, a former PGA Tour event there.
Watson said his family’s generator has made his Florida house a popular spot and friends have been staying at his guest house.
“People have been coming over for ice and different things to our house, just trying to keep the kids safe and everything,” he said. “Right now I’m trying to stay focused on a very difficult golf course instead of the very difficult situation at home, but my wife is holding the fort down pretty nicely, and again, we’ve been so lucky that we have a bunch of different families. We have a guest house and different things where we can bless people and help them as much as we can so far.”
It makes finishing his round with a double bogey on Friday easier to accept. Watson has been mired in a slump, recording only one top-10 finish in his last 14 starts and remains winless since notching his 12th PGA Tour title at the 2018 Travelers Championship. He was pleased with his ball striking, including ranking second in the field in Strokes Gained: Off-the-tee and fifth in SG: Approach.
“Even though I made a double bogey on the last hole, I still played good golf at a U.S. Open,” Watson said. “There’s so many bigger things out there right now, but I’m going to keep battling as much as I can.”