A piece of shrapnel behind Bubba Watson’s tears at the Ryder Cup
KAPALUA, Hawaii — Bubba Watson is known for crying after he wins. Even with three victories last year, his biggest tears were after a loss.
And it really didn’t have anything to do with losing.
The source of his tears at the Ryder Cup in France can be traced to a piece of shrapnel Watson had removed from his father when he died.
Gerry Watson was a lieutenant in the Special Forces during Vietnam. Watson says his father was injured by a grenade and removed one piece of shrapnel from under his eye. The other piece was too close to the kidney, so it stayed there until his death from throat cancer in October 2010.
That was 12 days after Watson played in his first Ryder Cup.
“It wasn’t important (to remove it), but I figured why not?” Watson said. “His whole thing was to be cremated. He didn’t serve many, many years, but they fold the flag, and they gave the flag to my mom. She has it, and the shrapnel is right next to it in a little container. My son is very interested. We go over, it’s the first thing he wants to look at. He always looks at it.”
That’s why the Ryder Cup is so special to Watson.
He is proud of his father’s service in the Army, and Watson always said the closest he could come to experiencing national pride was to play for his country. After he lost in a playoff to Martin Kaymer in the 2010 PGA Championship, Watson was overjoyed because that runner-up finish qualified him for his first Ryder Cup.
Fast forward to France.
It wasn’t a particularly good week for Watson — the Ryder Cup rarely is. He was sick when he arrived at Le Golf National, and he was on the losing side for the fourth time in his four appearances. The final loss was on Sunday to Henrik Stenson, 5 and 4, moving Europe closer to a certain victory.
As the Swede celebrated, Watson wrapped his mother in his arms and was bawling.
He never thought he would be at the Ryder — at least not as a player — at the start of the year. Watson had gone two years and one health scare since his last victory. He had thought about quitting, and then he won three times in four months and qualified for the U.S. team.
Standing on the 14th green, he couldn’t help but think there might not be another one.
“I held my mom right after I got beat by Henrik Stenson in singles,” Watson said. “The game of golf is different for me. The Ryder Cup meant more than golf, more than winning and losing, because it was the last time my dad watched me play.
“I remember the time my dad hated it that I chose golf over baseball,” he said. “It’s funny, the whole history of our family and golf is how he hated it. And then he loved it, and then the Ryder Cup. So he got to watch that. For me, that was the most memorable moment. I can remember crying, trying not to look at the crowd. The crowd was like, ‘He’s crying because he got beat.’ I wasn’t crying because I got beat. I was crying because it might be the last one.”
Watson turned 40 in November and he is trying not to look too far ahead.
He still doesn’t discuss exactly what happened to him in 2017, when he dropped more than 20 pounds and fell out of the top 100 in the world ranking until that victory at the Genesis Open — his third at storied Riviera — got him back on track.
Watson now has 12 victories on the PGA Tour, including his two Masters titles, a career record he never imagined. He once joked that he would retire if he ever reached 10 victories, but all that has done is raise the bar for whatever else he has left.
“My new goal is three more, see if I can get to 15,” he said.
Watson opened with a 70 in his first round of the new year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, leaving him four shots behind Kapalua newcomer Kevin Tway. He plans to play the Sony Open next week for the first time since 2010.
The last time he was in Honolulu, he had yet to win on the PGA Tour. The Ryder Cup was just a dream.
Watson hopes France wasn’t his last time in a U.S. uniform. He wonders if he’ll play in another Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, but he desperately wants to be part of it. He was No. 7 in the world in 2016 when he was left off the Ryder Cup team, and then he asked U.S. captain Davis Love III if he could be an assistant.
Now, he’s already lobbying to be an assistant at the Presidents Cup in Australia at the end of the year.
The captain will be Tiger Woods.
Watson says he has playfully pointed out to Woods that the last two times the Americans won the Ryder Cup (2008 and 2016), neither of them were on the team.
“That’s our joke,” Watson said. “So I’ve told him, ‘Man, listen, I’ll do anything to help you if you want me. If you don’t, that’s fine.'”
If not, Watson will always have the memory of his father watching him in 2010, and the hug he shared with his mother last year.