NORTON, Mass. – The physical tools? Bubba Watson knows he can hit all of the shots.
It’s the mental part, at age 41, that he finally wants to start addressing.
On Monday, for the first time, Watson began working with a breathing coach in an attempt to match up his breathing and heart rate in a relaxed state. Meeting over Zoom, Watson hooked up various devices to his finger and around his waist, diving into exercises that he says should help calm a mind that’s been racing a million miles an hour for the past 15 years.
“We’re trying to figure out how to get into that relaxed state quicker,” he said, “and then we’re going to work on the brain a little bit after that.”
Watson said his off-course personality is nothing like the “headless” – his word choice – fidgety, two-time major champion we see between the ropes.
“The best way to say it is it’s some form of mental issue where you feel like you should perform like these guys week-in and week-out, and you don’t do it,” he said, before adding: “As I get older I get smarter, and I realized that maybe I should work on it. I work on my putting and chipping. Maybe now I can work on the mental part.”
Not much went wrong Thursday in the opening round of The Northern Trust, where Watson opened with a 6-under 65. Rather than dwell on a missed green or poor putt, he found himself focusing on his new exercises.
“You start taking deep breaths and – I won’t tell you my secrets completely – but you start breathing differently and focusing on those things instead of focusing on this over here,” he said. “You kind of deflect a little bit. We all know the world has proven that breathing properly can definitely calm you down and relieve some stress or anxiety.”
It’s been a quiet past two years for Watson, who has now slipped to 65th in the world rankings. He tied for seventh in the restart event at Colonial in June, but since then he hasn’t recorded any finish better than 25th. That led Watson to recently ask swing coach Claude Harmon III to take a look at his unique swing. Their time together was short.
“He fired me,” Watson said, laughing. “He said, ‘Man, you’re so mental, we can’t even work together.’ I always thought it was not physical, that it’s mental, and after two weeks, I said, ‘Hey, it’s mental.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, it’s mental.’ That was it.”
And so Watson sought out his new specialist.
“Now I’ve got my breathing down,” he said, “so hopefully we’re off and running.”