Comfortable on the Greens Again, Simpson Wins Players
May 14, 2018 | Liberty Corner, N.J.
By David Shefter, USGA
Five weeks from the 118th U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, another past champion has entered the conversation as a player to watch.
Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, had not won on the PGA Tour in nearly five years, a span covering 107 starts.
But this past weekend on one of the circuit’s most demanding venues – TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. – the 32-year-old Raleigh, N.C., native became the ninth player to win both the U.S. Open and The Players Championship.
At times, Simpson, a member of the victorious 2007 USA Walker Cup Team, turned the treacherous Pete Dye layout into his own personal playground, shooting rounds of 66-63-68 to take a stunning seven-stroke lead into the final round. Although he settled for a 1-over 73 on Sunday for an 18-hole total of 270, Simpson’s lead never seriously was threatened in registering a four-stroke victory over 2017 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele and major champions Charl Schwartzel and Jimmy Walker.
Simpson’s victory also came five months after his father – and best friend – Sam Simpson passed away at the age of 74 after suffering from Lewy body dementia, which has Parkinson’s disease-type symptoms.
“It means everything to me,” said Simpson of his fifth PGA Tour win against one of the year’s strongest fields. “I feel like it’s my first win. I never doubted myself, but it’s a long time. There have been some tough moments along the way, but to come here against this field and put up some good numbers the first three days and do what I needed to do today to get it done, I'm so happy.”
Besides his father’s recent passing, Simpson had also been battling his own demons on the greens. His last two victories, including his one-stroke triumph in the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, had come using a long putter while using an anchored stroke. But when use of that stroke was banned, the former Wake Forest All-American faced the reality of changing his putting style.
To prepare for the change, Simpson switched to a shorter, conventional putter, only to see his putting statistics suffer. He ranked 174th on the PGA Tour in putting in 2015 and 177th in 2016.
Then a tip from past Players champion and 1997 U.S Amateur Public Links champion Tim Clark at last year’s Players Championship became a game-changer for Simpson. Clark showed Simpson that he could continue using his favorite putter while adjusting to a claw grip and using his left forearm – similar to the style 1997 U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar employs – to hold the top portion of his putter.
In the 26 tournaments since receiving the tip, Simpson has missed just one cut and seen his Official World Ranking rise from 65th to 20th after his Players victory.
At The Players, Simpson totaled just 108 putts, leading the field in strokes gained putting and never needing more than 29 in any round.
That was enough to keep the likes of three-time U.S. Open champion and former world No. 1 Tiger Woods from turning a remarkable weekend rally into a title. Woods, who made the cut on the number (1 under par), charged up the leader board on Saturday with a 7-under 65. He was making another charge on Sunday when he bogeyed No. 14 and doubled 17 to shoot 69, tying for 11th at 11-under 277.
“There's no way I would have predicted I would be at this point the beginning of the year,” said Woods, who returned to the PGA Tour in January following a fourth back surgery. “The way I was just coming back and just trying to get a feel for it and then hopefully have a schedule. Didn't know. But now I feel like I've got my playing feels and I'm playing tournament golf and I've got it. I'm not that far off from winning golf tournaments.”
Reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka fired a 63 on Sunday that included a double-eagle 2 on the par-5 16th hole to also tie Woods at 277. Koepka, who was sidelined several months at the outset of the season due to a wrist injury, missed a 9-footer for birdie on No. 18 to shoot the course record. He now appears fit and healthy to defend his title next month on Long Island.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.