Bubba Watson was outside New York city preparing for the first round of the U.S. Open when Hurricane Sally made landfall on the Florida Panhandle, where he grew up and now lives again.
“The first text I sent my wife is, ‘Should I come home?’ Because golf is golf and life is more important than that,” he said on Friday after shooting a 1-under 69 at Winged Foot to improve to 1 over for the tournament.
“Right now I’m trying to stay focused on a very difficult golf course instead of the very difficult situation at home,” Watson said. “But my wife is holding the fort down pretty nicely.”
Two people died in Alabama and a Florida kayaker is missing after Sally slammed into the Gulf Coast early Wednesday morning with wind of more than 100 mph. Hundreds of thousands remained without power Friday.
Watson said he was ready to leave the club in Mamaroneck, New York, if wife Angie asked him to. But it wasn’t clear whether he would even be able to fly into Pensacola during the storm, and the mobile home he stays in at tournaments would require a two-day drive.
“If boss lady said, ‘Come home.’ Or if there have been some more damage to my own house, I mean, I’d have been down there as fast as I could get down there,” Watson said, adding that after an opening round 72 he thought he might miss the cut and be able to leave Friday night.
“My focus was I had my plane ready to go home today just in case because I wanted to get home and be with the family and be with the community. But now I’ll have to cancel the flight,” he said.
“That’s a good problem to have, I guess,” Watson said. “Cancel the flight and be home late Sunday night, hopefully.”
A two-time Masters champion who tied for fifth in the U.S. Open in 2007, Watson started the second round tied for 57th — just inside the cut line. He knocked in three straight birdies before making the turn and was still 3 under before a double bogey on the final hole when his third shot — a putt from the fairway — rolled back off the green, farther back than he started.
Watson was in 20th place when he signed his scorecard, but he sensed that he might move up — and he did.
“It’s not getting any easier out there,” he said.
Watson said his family is all OK, and his house escaped the worst of the damage from the hurricane. Friends have been staying at his home, which has generators, and others have been coming by for ice and other essentials.
Watson also has three businesses in the area: a part-ownership of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos minor league baseball team, a car dealership and an ice cream and candy store called Bubba’s Sweet Spot. There was some damage to the Wahoos’ stadium and the car dealership; he hadn’t received a report on the candy store.
Watson’ said that when he gets home he would like to help Pensacola the way J.J. Watt helped in Houston after Hurricane Harvey flooded the city. The Texans defensive lineman raised more than $37 million and helped rebuild more than 1,000 homes.
Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has offered to help.
“Something like that would be tremendous,” Watson said. “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.”
A self-proclaimed “head case” who is easily distracted — he burnished the reputation when he backed off a tee shot three times at Doral in 2016 — Watson said he can’t blame the hurricane for distracting him from the tournament.
But nor did the devastation back home help keep golf in perspective. Even after making three birdies in a row, he said he was still worried whether he was going to make the cut.
“I’m telling you, I’m still a head case,” he said. “You would think it would relax me a little bit.”
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