Bubba Mania shows no signs of subsiding, no hint of hibernation. Newly-jacketed Masters champion Bubba Watson is making the rounds, and keeping pace is like trying to match one of his long drives. Impossible.
Eventually Bubba will get back to golf, and the official stuff begins next week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, where Watson is the defending champion. That will be the start of three tournaments in a row, and perhaps somewhere along the line, Watson will be asked about the Grand Slam.
He is, of course, the only player who can do it this year, although the notion of winning all four majors in the same season is so remote that very few Masters champions are even asked about it. Watson will attempt to add a second straight major at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, where the U.S. Open will be played June 14-17.
Just winning the Masters and U.S. Open consecutively has proven to be quite the task, going back to the first Masters in 1934. It hasn’t happened in 10 years and has occurred just six times, accomplished by five players.
Fittingly all of them are — or will be — members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Craig Wood (1941), Ben Hogan (1951, ’53), Arnold Palmer (1960), Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Tiger Woods (2002) are the only players to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. Woods’ Hall invite will come after he turns 40.
Only Hogan, in 1953, was able to add the third leg of the Grand Slam — although nobody referred to it that way then — by capturing the British Open. Woods is the only player to hold all four professional major championship trophies at the same time, having won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship in 2000, followed by the Masters in 2001.
A year later, Woods won the Masters and then followed up by winning the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
AP Photo/CBS/Jeffrey R. StaabBy virtue of his Masters victory, Bubba Watson is the only golfer with a shot at the Grand Slam in 2012. How hard might that be to accomplish? Only five golfers have ever won just the first two majors of the year.
“It’s all about peaking four times a year,” Woods has said on several occasions.
And there’s the problem.
Doing so is quite difficult.
Last year, nobody on the PGA Tour won more than twice. In 2010, only Jim Furyk could muster three victories. In all of 2010 and 2011, just one of the major champions (Keegan Bradley) was a multiple winner on the PGA Tour during that season.
And yet we wonder if they can win all four majors? Or even the first two?
The concept of a modern Grand Slam never really took root until 1960, when Palmer won the Masters and the U.S. Open.
Seven years earlier when Hogan won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953, no talk of a Slam existed. Qualifying for the British Open then overlapped with the PGA Championship. It would have been impossible to play in all four.
The concept was even more remote in 1941 when Wood captured both the Masters and U.S. Open. The Masters was in just its eighth year and the idea of a Grand Slam still centered around the founder of the tournament, amateur Bob Jones, whose slam in 1930 consisted of the British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur.
It wasn’t until Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960 that the idea of a “new” Slam emerged. Somewhere on the way to the British Open at St. Andrews, Palmer and golf writer Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Press discussed what it would mean if Palmer won the Open Championship and later won the PGA.
“I said, ‘Wouldn’t this be unique to have a Grand Slam of Golf?’ And Bob wrote about it and it’s gone on from there,” Palmer said. “That’s how it really got to be what we know now as the modern Grand Slam.”
Palmer lost that British Open by one shot to Kel Nagle.
“But in the ensuing years when I won the Masters [1962 and '64], there was no question about the fact that it was in the back of my head all the time,” he said.
Nicklaus was the next to win the first two majors in the same year, doing it in 1972. Like Palmer, he failed at the British Open by a shot. Lee Trevino won.
“I felt fairly confident going over there and playing,” Nicklaus said. “That’s part of the deal. I always liked that. I was the only one that could win [all four].”
Due to a scheduling quirk, Nicklaus held three majors at the same time. He won the ’71 PGA when it was played in February, so he went to the ’72 Open at Muirfield with a chance to claim all four trophies. “Nobody ever brought it up,” Nicklaus said of a possible Grand Slam.
For all his greatness, however, Nicklaus had difficulty overcoming disappointment at Augusta. If he didn’t win, it was a huge letdown. The idea of capturing a Grand Slam was clearly on his mind.
“That is what I thought about every year, that was my whole goal,” Nicklaus said. “And I hurt myself several times if I didn’t win Augusta; my year was shot. I just didn’t even want to play the rest of the year. I finally started kicking myself in the rear end. I said that is sort of stupid.”
Nicklaus won the Masters in ’63, ’65, ’66, ’72, ’75 and ’86, but other than ’72, he was never much of a threat to win the Slam. In fact, Nicklaus won 18 majors, but won two in the same year just five times (’63, ’66, ’72, ’75 and ’80).
Woods has won multiple majors in the same year on four occasions (2000, ’02, ’05 and ’06). He won three in 2000 but it was in 2002 when he had his only shot at the calendar year slam. Woods entered the third round at Muirfield for the British Open just two strokes off the lead, but played the majority of the day in a brutal storm that saw him blow up to 81 — his worst score in a major.
“I played well all week,” he said afterward. “Just Saturday was a brutal day.”
The only player who has come close since is Phil Mickelson — going into the Hall of Fame next month — who won the 2006 Masters and then led the U.S. Open at Winged Foot by one stroke with a hole to go, only to make double-bogey and miss a playoff by a stroke.
Since then, only Mickelson has had a legitimate shot at the double. Zach Johnson (2007) was 45th at the U.S. Open played at Oakmont, Trevor Immelman (2008) tied for 68th at Torrey Pines, Angel Cabrera (2009) tied for 54th at Bethpage Black.
After winning the Masters in 2010, Mickelson again had a chance at the U.S. Open, finishing tied for fourth at Pebble Beach, three strokes behind winner Graeme McDowell.
So what do we make of Watson’s chances of doing the Masters-U.S. Open double?
He’s played in the U.S. Open just five times, with his best finish a tie for fifth in 2007. Two years ago, he didn’t qualify and last year he was not a factor, finishing tied for 63rd.
Neither Watson’s U.S. Open record, nor history, suggests he will be able to do it. And yet, he is the only player with the opportunity.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.