SAN FRANCISCO -- There's a lot to like about Bubba Watson beyond the way he launches a golf ball into the stratosphere with such complete and utter authority. The unashamed tears. The unabashed love for his wife and the couple's adopted son. The almost child-like way he embraces life.
But make no mistake. Watson is a competitor. He proved that in April, when he beat Louis Oosthuizen in a sudden-death playoff to win the Masters and become the only man with a chance to win the Grand Slam this week as the season's second major is held at The Olympic Club.
Watson admits that in the aftermath of that career-defining win he lost a little focus. He made the rounds of the New York City talk shows, putting that gift of gab up against the likes of Piers Morgan, David Letterman and Charlie Rose, turning men who make their living verbally sparring with their guests into adoring fans. He threw out the first pitch in a minor league baseball game back home in Florida and hosted his "Bubba Bash" of Christian rappers to raise money for the medical center he and his wife are building in Kenya.
And most importantly, he began to learn to be Caleb's father.
"Being there for my son, who never had a man's voice, never had a man around, I needed to be there for my son," Watson said firmly. "And hopefully later on in life he understands that, that I won the Masters, but I was there for him and I talked about him a lot."
Watson's agent Jens Beck cautioned his client that when he returned to competition, golf -- not the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that attended that Masters win -- needed to be his focus. And Watson found it wasn't easy to put those blinders back on.
He nearly missed the cut in his title defense at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, making birdie on the 17th hole Friday to finish on the number and then riding Saturday's 65 to a tie for 18th. And Watson did leave prematurely in his next start at the Memorial Tournament, falling two shots shy of playing in the final two rounds.
"It's been a tough road trying to get back to golf, trying to get back to focusing on golf," Watson acknowledged. "Now after missing a cut a couple of weeks ago, I got mad enough and started practicing."
So after he missed the cut at Muirfield Village, his first early exit of the season, Watson went back to Scottsdale, where he has a home, and hit the range. He said he was simply a little "rusty" at the Memorial, his wedges off, his putter uncooperative, the latter of which was of particular concern.
"Didn't make key putts to keep the momentum going," Watson explained simply.
Over the last two jam-packed months, Watson, who went several weeks without even touching a club, found that he actually missed the game. So in a weird way, the extended layoff worked in his favor as he contemplates the season's second major.
"It got me ready to play golf again," he said. "... You set your goal to play good in the majors. Me and my caddie, the whole team this winter set our goals to play good in the majors and then winning the first major -- now we've got to reset our goals. Now we're challenged. We're going to hopefully play good in the rest of the majors and hopefully make the Ryder Cup team."
The latter is all but a done deal. Watson currently leads the standings for the U.S. team Davis Love III will take to the matches that will be held in September at Medinah. The rest, the major legacy, is up to Watson.
At first glance, the Floridian would appear to have a game well-suited to a U.S. Open. He ranks first in driving distance on the PGA TOUR and second in greens in regulation despite clocking in at 99th in accuracy off the tee. But once he gets to that green, Watson is a distant 166th in strokes-gained putting. He's also 96th in scrambling, an area of everyone's game sure to be tested at The Olympic Club.
"Obviously this week everybody is going to have trouble hitting fairways and out of the rough," Watson said. "I think with my length, with my so-called strength I can hit irons out of the rough that people can't hit as far. If I can just putt. If comes down to putting and chipping. The short game is the key around this course. Anytime in the U.S. Open putting is the key. It's always short game."
Watson tied for fifth in the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, a course many consider to be the toughest national championship test to date -- and one that likely will be rivaled at Olympic on the Pacific coast. He said he sees an 80 "lurking" this week, but as long as he doesn't shoot one, he'll like Olympic "all right."
"Oakmont was probably the toughest course I've ever seen," Watson said. "The way it was set up. I think here matches it, maybe a little bit tougher. So we know that you can't worry about what par is or who you're playing with or what you're doing. You've just got to worry about how tough this golf course is and about your mental focus. You're going to make bogeys, not many birdies. It's about trying to make par somehow.
"You know the U.S. Open is going to challenge you in all aspects of your game. That's the challenge for all of us this week."
Watson won the Masters on Easter Sunday, which admittedly is a "big day" for the devout Christian. And should Watson be in contention on this Sunday, which is Father's Day, the new dad, who says his son is just beginning to smile and recognize him, will have added confidence to fall back on.
"It's always in the back of your mind that you've done it once, you can do it again," Watson said. "... It does help a lot having that in your back pocket, knowing you've done it before."