Rude: Simpson is a true throwback champion
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
One of the beauties of the 2012 season is that bows have been taken by players with customized, idiosyncratic swings instead of those with range-robot, cookie-cutter action.
Simpson, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner have won big this year with their own unique motions. It’s like a throwback to the old days, when you could spot top players’ swings from 100 yards.
The top of the U.S. Open board was more of the same. Besides Simpson, the unorthodox swings of Graeme McDowell, Michael Thompson and Jim Furyk didn’t come out of the same laboratory.
Simpson has an unconventional, handsy swing and has fought a tendency to move off the ball. When his second-year caddie, Paul Tesori, first got a glimpse, he figured Simpson’s mind was strong because he had “some of the worst action I’d seen.”
Wake Forest coach Jerry Haas recalls Simpson having a “terrible swing and bad, slappy action and terrible grip” when recruiting him. But he watched Simpson, up near a back bunker lip and having to aim way left, blast to about 3 feet from the hole.
“He’s always had the ability to turn 5 into 4 and 4 into 3,” Haas said.
You might say that works well at an Open.
• Six players have won the U.S. and British Opens in the same year. Simpson won’t be the seventh.
He confirmed Tuesday at the Travelers Championship that he won’t play next month’s Open Championship because his wife Dowd is expecting with their second child.
“I don’t want to miss the birth ... so it’s an easy decision,” Simpson said. “After winning, it’s certainly a little harder not to go because I’d love to go and try to win another major. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a decision I know I’ll always be happy that I made. The first experience watching my first son being born was one of the greatest experiences I think a person can have. And I don’t want to miss it again.”
Sounds like a young man who has his priorities in order.
• Simpson was a most deserving Open champion if for no other reasons than he shot 136 on the weekend and then vaulted into the mix by birdieing four of five holes in the final round, highly rare for Open Sunday. He seemed to be hitting fairways and greens when others played out of trouble.
His missed cuts at the Players and Memorial aside, we could have seen a success like this coming – eventually anyway. Last year, Simpson elevated himself to the short list of young players with superstar potential. It wasn’t just that he won twice in three starts late in 2011 or that he finished second in earnings and FedEx Cup points. It was also because of his complete arsenal. He led the Tour's all-around statistical category in just his third season.
The 26-year-old merely took another step at The Olympic Club.
Long a short-game wizard, the Wake Forest graduate rose largely because of improved driving, not to mention comfort that comes with experience. Thanks to work ethic, a new fitness regimen, more width in his swing and help from his longtime coach (Ted Keigel) and Tesori, Simpson soared.
He improved from 156th to seventh in ball-striking last year and 170th to 24th in total driving. His average tee shot increased 11.4 yards. Hence, he had 12 top 10s, double the total of his first two seasons combined.
Tesori has said Simpson has the best mind of anyone he has worked for, and he looped for Vijay Singh.
Travis Wadkins, a Wake teammate of Simpson's, recalls his friend shooting 59 three or four times while in college.
“Some of the shots he pulled off were amazing,” said Wadkins, now on the Nationwide Tour. “He’s always had the ability to go low, he’s a magician around the green and he’s a phenomenal putter. So yeah, we basically saw (Tour success) coming eventually, for sure.”
• You win a major these days and your mailbox fills up fast with unexpected glitter. Simpson said Tuesday that he received congratulatory messages from the Hall of Fame likes of Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson (via email), Greg Norman (voice message) and Hale Irwin.
Simpson said he plans to print and frame at least a couple of emails from legends. “(They) have told me some things that I would have paid for,” he said.
• The winners of the past three major championships are paired together at the Travelers: Keegan Bradley (PGA), Watson (Masters) and Simpson.
Such a pairing is a big boost to a tournament held the week after a major. And it underscores how good of a move it was on the part of the PGA Tour earlier this decade to fix at least a couple of pairings for buzz reasons, rather than go by blind draw.
• Speaking of Simpson and Bradley, I was having a conversation with a couple of other writers recently about which player will end up with a better career. He said Bradley, I said Simpson.
Of course, nobody knows. We’ll know in 20 years.
Making long-haul prognostications is highly risky business. In the late 1970s, a Jacksonville, Fla., columnist wrote that Larry Bird would be a bust in the NBA and Terry Labonte would never win a NASCAR race.
Those didn’t work out too well. Bird would go on to win the Most Valuable Player award three consecutive years and become one of the game’s best players ever. Labonte would win 22 times in the Winston (Sprint) Cup series and capture two season championships.
At the 1994 U.S. Open, on a national radio show I hosted, I asked Hall of Fame golf writer Dan Jenkins: Who will have a better career, Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els?
Acting as if there were no question about it, Jenkins emphatically said, “Els, of course.”
Well, the two men are now 42 and in the Hall of Fame, and there still could be debate about who has had the better career, with Mickelson probably getting the edge from most observers.