Bubba Watson in France & an Era of Big Personalities

June 30, 2011 - Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Europe

The biggest story in golf this weekend will probably end up being the one about Bubba Watson's behavior in France.

The fractious Floridian has assumed the mantel of golf's newest newsmaker... following in the footsteps of Tiger’s Knee and Lucas Glover’s Beard... because of a "rant" he launched upon missing the cut at the Alstom Open de France.

The remarks which began with his observations regarding the on-course ambiance in Paris, which is decidedly less structured than one typically finds at US events:
"It's not a normal tournament. There's cameras, there's phones, there's everything. There's no security. I don't know which holes to walk through. There's no ropes."
he then clarified, admitting: 
"I'm not used to that, I'm not saying it's bad. It's just something I'm not used to, I'm not comfortable with. It's very strange to me. Just very uncomfortable."
So, why did this become such a buzz-worthy, socially-shared, thoroughly reported... and re-reported... news story?  Probably because in addition to the fairly matter-of-fact comments above, Mr. Watson made a multitude of remarks that seemed almost totally scripted to reinforce/exaggerate his "unworldly, small town American good ol' boy persona":  he supposedly called the Eiffel Tower, "that big tower",  described the Château de Versailles as, "the castle we're staying next to" and dismissed the Arc de Triomphe as "this arch I drove round in a circle".  There were also reports of condescending behavior towards European fans and European Tour players.

The result was a virtual tsunami of Bubba Watson coverage.  A multitude of independent golf blogs picked up the story as did golf's most esteemed publications. Where it appeared, a lively debate generally ensued in the comments sections.  On Twitter, "Bubba Watson's French Misadventure" has inspired... and continues to inspire... a river of tweets from from a cross section of golf media types, tour players and fans.

At face value... particularly on Friday afternoon... this incident seemed to be a clear negative for the three time PGA Tour winner,  but with the passage of a few days, and with an apology that came via @bubbawatson on Twitter,  I'm not so sure about that.

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal's John Paul Newport wrote about the return of Big Personalities to professional golf, contrasting a generation of robopros with some of today's more visible and distinctive up-and-comers such as Rickie Fowler, Ian Poulter and... Bubba Watson. Ultimately he concludes that there may just appear to be "more characters in pro golf as a result of players' newfound awareness of the power of personal branding and their ability to express themselves through social media".

Oscar Wilde said "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about" and that's  probably truer than ever in these days of audience fragmentation and short attention spans.  Given the fact that with a decent reputation management agent and an established social media presence one can control the fallout from an incident like l'affaire Bubba quite effectively and possibly even use it to enhance the brand.

And today's click-hungry media environment only makes such a strategy more effective.

At the 2007 Open de France

Editor's Note: When I attended the awesome Open de France a few years ago I was delighted surprised to find out that cameras, video recorders and cell phones were allowed all over the course throughout the tournament. I've got to admit it did cross my mind... as I discreetly took photos and shot video... that it had to be a bit distracting for the players. ~ At one point, as Colin Montgomery was leaving the green after a narrowly missed birdie putt, an amateur paparazzi got a bit too close and received an angry scowl and raised fist from surly Scotsman. Whoopsies.