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Bubba Watson Makes Olympic Debut In Rio

Bubba Watson

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are underway, with much of the focus during this first week of competition on swimming and gymnastics. Two local athletes are among those competing for Gold.

Justin Gatlin, a graduate of Pensacola’s Woodham High School, is back in Track & Field. And, Bubba Watson, a Milton High grad, is making his Olympic debut.

Watson will represent the U.S. Men’s Golf Team, along with Ricky Fowler, Matt Kuchar, and Patrick Reed. 

In a prelude of sorts to the Olympics, Watson was paired with Reed for all four rounds of this past weekend’s Traveler’s Championship in Hartford, Conn. He finished 7 under, tied for 25th. And, as he and Reed wrapped up play on Sunday they were given an Olympic send off by fans, which cheered them and serenaded them with chants of “USA, USA, USA....”

“A nice send off, Peter,” said Jim Nance of CBS Sports to his announcing partner Peter Kostis, who then commented on how Watson appeared to be emptying his golf bag.

“He won’t be taking that bag to Rio. He’ll be playing with the U.S. Olympic logo on his bag, and golf balls, gloves; everything,” Kostis said.

During the tournament, Watson showed off his USA golf gear and team outfit on his Facebook page.

This opportunity for Watson and his teammates is thanks to the return of the sport of golf to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years. The only previous appearances of the sport at the Games were in 1900 in Paris, France and 1904 in St. Louis, Mo.

In an interview on the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive show, Watson said he’s planning to make the most of it.

“Just have fun out there, that’s the main goal and represent our country in the right way,” said Watson. “You know, the U.S. is the best country in the world and for me to be a part of it and to represent it, you know, I’m gonna try to do it with honor and respect.”

The weeks leading up to Rio have been a whirlwind for Watson.

Before the Travelers, he played in the PGA Championship, and before that he was on hand for the grand opening of his new candy store and ice cream parlor, “Bubba’s Sweet Spot,” in downtown Pensacola. During that celebration, Watson took time to address local reporters’ questions about his first Olympic experience.

“I can’t tell you right off hand what it’ll feel like, but I know it’ll be amazing,” Watson explained.

“I mean, I know what a Ryder Cup feels like. I know what a President’s Cup feels like. Um, I played on the USA team in South Africa when I was in college, so I know what that feels like. But, I don’t know when I get around the other athletes and there’s roughly 10K athletes give or take. So, there’re going to be other athletes I want to see; I want to meet and hang out with.”

Watson says once he’s done competing, he wants to be a fan. And, that includes cheering on fellow Pensacola area native Justin Gatlin in his quest for more medals in track & field.

“Well, for sure, I can’t wait,” he said. “It’s amazing to me when I think about him, and he’s 34-years-old, and in that sport, that’s not supposed to happen, right? There’re these new guys coming up, the younger guys coming up, and he keeps impressing. He keeps doing things you can’t believe, so I’ll definitely be supporting, want to hang out and talk to him.”

Gatlin will take the track for the first time in the 100 meter prelims on Saturday.

The first round of Men’s Individual Golf competition begins Thursday.

Other top US golfers Jordan Spieth and Dustin pass up on the Olympics. But, for Bubba Watson, accepting a spot on the Olympic team was a dream opportunity, with personal meaning for his family. 

And, despite global concerns about the Zika virus, he was not worried enough to let that stop him.   

“As soon as they said, ‘you’re on the Olympic team’ or you have the chance for the Olympics, I said ‘I’m in,’ exclaimed Watson. “My wife, she made the team for women’s basketball in Canada and then got hurt, so, she didn’t get to do it. So, she missed out. So, as long as I made the team, I was trying not to miss out. So, there was no fear (of Zika) or anything on my side.”

In just a few short days since arriving in Rio, Watson already seems to be enjoying the experience, posting pictures of himself with U.S. Trampoline athlete, Logan Dooley, and with fellow members of U.S. golf contingent at their team dinner Monday night.

Watson begins Olympic competition on Thursday, set to tee off at 9:14 a.m. Pensacola time.