Apr 15

Bubba, Body Language and the Masters

Bubba’s Body Language Interested Me

if you needed Tiger to be there for the Masters to mean anything, I’m sorry for you. I think you’re missing a lot of the point. This year’s tournament was a hoot for entirely different reasons, and Woods didn’t make the event what it’s become through the years. Love for the game of golf, beautiful courses and intensely competitive majors provide their own justification for existing, and the contradictions on last week’s leaderboard make for a fascinating study about what kind of person wins the Masters.

fred 3Right off the bat, it’s interesting when a man named Bubba wins the green jacket, or even more interesting when he wins two of them…and yet more interesting, the way he won the last one.
As armchair psychoanalysts, we spectators have torn Bubba’s personality, swing and culture apart in a search for what makes him different. Imagine, someone who still practices the ancient art of caddie flogging, grousing at the fans and going to the Waffle Shop to celebrate a victory – We have lost sight of the fact, however, that he’s not different, highlighting the light and dark sides of his personality as if everyone else on the planet only has one.

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Granted, his swing is a little out of the mold, and he claims to be a natural, not taught. He falls away from the ball on the follow through, and I think of the incredible slices, duck hooks and occasional wiffs that would get me (I have enough of them as it is). It was Bubba’s body language, though, that interested me, a mix of study, heated intent and facial twitching that made him look like a mad scientist putting together the perfect formula. When it went well, he looked grimly straight ahead, with perhaps a faint upturn at the end of the lips. When it went poorly, his eyes cast about for someone to blame, like tennis players who blow a shot and check the laces for a minute before continuing. Fortunately, he hired someone to take all that on his shoulders, and the noble caddie accepted it graciously.

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fred 2 I truly believed, at one point, that Jordan Spieth was going to run away with it, but I noticed the very spot where his body language changed, and his overall tempo with it. He was cruising relentlessly toward a green jacket in a mature, studied manner, then suddenly and without warning acted his age, with all the extra strokes that come with it under international pressure. He lost his smoothness, darted from the bag to the ball and back again, took quick, jerky practice swings, hit very quickly, lost his game face and started slamming things, which spells loss of focus for any golfer, weekender or champion. All in all, in watching Spieth, it looked like someone sped up the tape, and I could tell that it was over, even before it was.

The saddest body language of the day, for me, was that of Fred Couples. I couldn’t tell whether his expression said “the day didn’t come through for me,” or “I didn’t come through for the day,” or perhaps something entirely different. Regardless, it looked as though he surrendered to what people expect from his age, when he didn’t really need to after playing so well for three days in a row. Or, he might have just played an unspectacular round of golf – I’ll never know. His disappointment, however, wasn’t released in thrashing, twitching or caddie scowls, but stuffed down and suppressed, easier to do for fully-grown men than twenty year-old hopefuls, but hard to do for everyone. I know that ball in the water hurt, though, the moment at which his tournament ended.

fred 1 No matter what the profession or venue, high performance pressure in front of peers is sure to bring out the characteristics of each person’s personality. As for those of us who watch, we do a lot of reflecting of ourselves onto their canvas. I’ve certainly done my share of twitching, darting and stuffing.

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