Number-crunching 2011: Simpson up, Furyk down
Editor's note: Webb Simpson (up) and Jim Furyk (down) kick off Golfweek’s annual in-depth look at who rose and who plummeted in the past year. For a look at more players who made significant moves – up and down – this season in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, visit Golfweek.com daily through Dec. 26.
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UP: Webb Simpson
In remarkable fashion, Webb Simpson high-stepped to the upper edge of golf’s ladder in 2011. As world golf focused on several other twentysomething players, Simpson, 26, steadily elevated from a distant radar, finished second on the PGA Tour money list, got into Player of the Year conversation and showed superstar ability.
“The last few years watching guys my age or just older win golf tournaments, it pushed me to want to get to that level,” said Simpson, a 2007 Walker Cupper and three-time All-American at Wake Forest who rose 170 spots this season to No. 5 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
Long a short-game wizard, Simpson climbed from 70th and 94th in money his first two Tour seasons, respectively, largely because of improved ballstriking, a switch in putting routine in August and increased comfort and confidence.
Thanks to work ethic, a new fitness regimen, more width in his swing and help from longtime coach Ted Keigel and first-year caddie Paul Tesori, Simpson improved from 156th to seventh in ballstriking. He went from 170th to 24th in total driving, improving his average tee shot 10.8 yards to 296.2, and rose from 121st to eighthin greens in regulation (69.84 percent). His scoring average dropped almost a stroke and a half.
Simpson had six top 10s in his first two Tour seasons combined, then 12 this year. His esteem rose with two second-place finishes in the spring. Then he broke through and won twice after mid-August (Wyndham, Deutsche Bank) before adding another runner-up finish. His first victory, at Greensboro, gave him the belief he could win and that he belonged, he said. Simpson was 3-2 for the victorious U.S. team at the Presidents Cup.
Simpson has an unconventional, handsy swing and has had the habit of moving his head and body off the ball during the backswing. To fix the sway, he’d have his caddie daily hold a shaft approximately 1 inch behind his head. “It allowed me to stay more centered over the ball,” Simpson said, “and transfer my weight through the ball easier.”
But it was the slight alteration in his routine on the greens that elevated his putting from “average all year” and triggered his success late in the season, he said. He noticed at the PGA Championship that he took a half-second or longer to aim the blade in practice, when he putted better, than in tournament rounds. So he slowed down over the ball and watched more putts disappear.
“(That) is really helping,” he said. “The balls are starting more on-line more frequently than they were.”
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DOWN: Jim Furyk
Ranking/movement: -58 (No. 10 to No. 68)
Why the fall? Inconsistent putting and driving. The 16-time winner’s putting rank (strokes gained) dropped from 26th in his three-victory 2010 season to 150th, his scoring average rose more than a half-shot and his driving accuracy dipped from 71 percent to 68 percent. Add it up, and Furyk, 41, made almost $3.3 million less. He fell out of the top 50 in earnings (53rd) after finishing in the top 17 in his previous 13 full seasons.
Furyk said he did a poor job matching his irons with his driver. When his irons were on, he was hitting his driver left. When he got his driving straightened out, his iron shots hung right. He felt he wasn’t making the same swing with his driver and 5-iron as a result.
He switched from cavity-back to blade irons in March-June and then back because the ball was going left. Admittedly stubborn, he finally changed driver shafts in August to better match his driver head and started driving better. He also switched to a belly putter in August and felt more consistent, confident and able to hit more putts solidly down the line.
Furyk says: “It’s difficult to play against the best players in the world feeling you’re not firing on all cylinders. I made a lot of mistakes with my own equipment this year. All of it was good equipment, but I don’t feel I matched it up well in my set. . . . I was stubborn with a few different things.”
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Other number-crunching stories
• LPGA Tour (Dec. 20): Stacy Lewis leaps forward, while Ai Miyazato falls back. Story.
• PGA Tour (Dec. 21): Cameron Tringale makes a big move forward, while Camilo Villegas drops off. Story.
• PGA Tour (Dec. 22): Gary Woodland powered his way up the rankings, while Sean O'Hair dipped considerably. Story.
• LPGA/Futures Tour (Dec. 23): Tiffany Joh jumped significantly in 2011, while Song-Hee Kim had a year to forget. Story.
• PGA Tour (Dec. 24): Kevin Streelman used a no-nonsense approach to move up the rankings while Heath Slocum struggled in 2011. Story.
• European Tour (Dec. 25): Thomas Bjorn surprised a lot of people with three wins in one season to move ahead, but Nick Dougherty and Oliver Wilson didn't have the same fortune. Story.
• Nationwide/Futures Tour (Dec. 26): Danny Lee had a comeback year in 2011, but Kathleen Ekey fell further backward. Story.