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Not all fun and games

Before he teed off on Thursday, Bubba Watson played games on his phone and playfully bugged his good buddy Rickie Fowler. A few hours later, he was dead serious – and in a tie for the first-round lead.

Bubba Watson

Bubba Watson now puts as big a premium on having fun off the course as he does on his game. (Getty Images)

KOHLER, Wis. (AP) -- While other players waited out the fog delay on the driving range or putting green, Bubba Watson played games on his phone and threw things at Rickie Fowler while his good friend was trying to sleep.

There are, Watson knows all too well, more important things to get worked up about than a round of golf.

Even at a major championship.

The fun-loving Watson earned a share of the early lead at the PGA Championship on Thursday, shooting a 4-under 68. Afterward, he choked up talking about the difficult year his family has endured, with his father battling cancer and his wife having a scare of her own.

"It's kind of emotional now," Watson said, stopping several times to compose himself. "The first doctor told us the wrong diagnosis, but we didn't know that at the time, so it was scary. Why do I want to go hit a golf ball around? So that's where the emotions come from."

It wasn't all that long ago that Watson had a different outlook on life. A fan favorite for his booming tee shots and pink-shafted driver (his favorite colors are pink and lime green), he missed five straight cuts last summer, starting at the British Open. Usually good-natured, he found himself getting angry every time he stepped on the course.

Finally, his longtime caddie -- and good friend -- Ted Scott pulled him aside. Watson needed to take time off, quit, anything to change his attitude.

If not, Scott said, Watson could find a new caddie.

"There's nothing outside the ropes that bothers me. But inside the ropes, I was letting everything bother me," Watson said. "When he sat there as a good friend of mine and told me that he was going to quit because of my attitude, you've got to change it."

Instead of getting worked up about his game, Watson is having fun with it.

The week he won in Hartford, Conn., he and wife Angie passed a billboard advertising a water park and talked about how much fun it would be to go there. But what professional athlete blows off practice to play at a water park?

Watson did. A few days later, he'd won his first tournament.

"The win just showed me that we're onto something, the right thing. Let's have fun with our lives and let's have fun with golf," Watson said. "That whole week, I just never thought about winning."

Now Watson puts as big a premium on fun as he does on his game. Since arriving at Whistling Straits on Sunday night, Watson and Fowler have been tossing the football around, playing basketball. They even rode scooters with some of the kids in the neighborhood where Watson is staying.

Of course, if any player could use some off-the-course levity these days, it's Watson. His father is battling cancer and when Watson and his wife were visiting him at Christmas, Angie Watson checked herself into a hospital with a severe headache.

"She's a professional athlete who had surgery on knees, shoulder, everywhere possible," Watson said of his wife, a former WNBA player. "So when she wants to go to the hospital, I know something's wrong."

She wound up only being dehydrated. But doctors told the Watsons that, during the course of their tests, they'd found a tumor in Angie Watson's pituitary gland.

"Two months went by and we did some more tests -- man, this is hard," Watson said, stopping to compose himself.

Finally, doctors at Duke University told them Angie Watson did not have cancer. Like many taller women, her pituitary gland was enlarged.

When Watson won in Hartford, the emotions of everything he's gone through this last year spilled over.

"I do this because I love it," Watson said. "When I've been angry, my wife has yelled at me a few times and said, `Why are you angry? This is what you love to do. When you're home, when you're not playing golf, you're playing golf with all the boys back home. So you love to do this. So why not just go have fun and do it.'"