Webb Simpson finds spark in time to make run at Tour Championship

Webb Simpson Tour Championship AP Photo/David Goldman

Webb Simpson finds spark in time to make run at Tour Championship

PGA Tour

Webb Simpson finds spark in time to make run at Tour Championship

ATLANTA – Webb Simpson spent a couple of late afternoons at East Lake Golf Club earlier this week simply walking the golf course – one day with short-game coach Pat Goss, one day with caddie Paul Tesori – just hitting a few pitches and putts.

After getting to the Tour Championship in four consecutive autumns (2011-2014), Simpson hadn’t been to East Lake for nearly three years, and he told a friend this time around, he was quite thankful to be here this week.

“It’s hard to get here,” said Simpson, who turned 32 last month. “I feel like the competition on the PGA Tour’s better every year. Purses are bigger, there’s FedEx Cup points, guys are hungrier than ever. And next season starts my 10th season, so I’m not that young anymore.

“So yeah, it felt a lot more special this year after missing two in a row, and knowing that I had a tough mountain to climb.”

Simpson climbed nicely on Thursday, shooting an opening 4-under 66 that was bettered by only one player in the field, Kyle Stanley (64). He made an eagle and three birdies against a lone bogey at the par-3 second hole. After two years of struggling (he had only two top 10s last season), Simpson owns top-10 finishes in three of his last four starts, including two playoff stops (Northern Trust, BMW). His six top 10s on the season mark the most he’s had since 2014. He seems to have found a spark in his game, and it has energized him.

“Two things,” he said. “I’ve been putting better, and I’ve been thinking better. Add those two things up, I haven’t hit it great this year but I’ve hit it good enough, I guess, and the ballstriking is coming.”

Play long enough – and Simpson was a top amateur and college standout at Wake Forest before he turned pro – and a player is likely to endure some valleys in the game of golf. Simpson knew he would, his father having prepared him for it mentally years ago. Still, that doesn’t make handling it easy when it happens. it’s difficult to put in all the work and not see better results.

“Like any job,” he said, “you put in the work, you want to see fruit from it. When you go quite a few weeks, quite a few months without seeing fruit, it can be tough. But, you know, my dad taught me from day one that I’m going to hit stretches like I’ve hit, maybe not as long as I wanted, a couple years it seems like of poor golf, but you’ve just got to hang in there. … I think if you get too down you’ll miss those opportunities to capitalize when you play well.”

Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, was accustomed to playing in all the big tournaments and playing on U.S. national teams, making four consecutive Ryder/Presidents Cup teams. But next week, when the Presidents Cup begins at Liberty National, Simpson won’t be part of things for a third season in a row. You have to go back to 2014 for the last of his four PGA Tour victories.

In fact, Simpson getting into the Tour Championship is huge in terms of scheduling, as his five-year exemption into the majors from his U.S. Open victory ran out at Quail Hollow, where he is a member, at last month’s PGA.

He admits that it’s been hard not to get too down with poor results, but these days he seems to have more confidence in a plan on how to become more consistent in his game. Before, the plan was something he lacked.

“I feel like my mind has always been a strength, but I feel like the last two years it’s been my glaring weakness,” Simpson said. “I had to start asking myself, what are my goals out here, what am I trying to do, how am I going to get better?

His improved short game, for instance, is a byproduct of a mission he undertook to change it. He always believed Luke Donald had the best short game out on Tour, so he asked Donald who he worked with, and that led him to Goss, who coaches at Northwestern, in the fall of 2015. Simpson is 13th in strokes gained: around the green in 2016-17.

“I never questioned what type of player I was,” he said, “it was more just trying to figure out trying to put the puzzle back together. How do I get back to being in these great tournaments like this tournament and in the majors and on those team events? I haven’t figured it out, but I definitely am in a better direction than I was.”

Thursday at the Tour Championship was another good day in his climb. 

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