Webb Simpson’s conservatively aggressive approach paying dividends

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Webb Simpson’s conservatively aggressive approach paying dividends

PGA Tour

Webb Simpson’s conservatively aggressive approach paying dividends

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Nothing in Webb Simpson’s run-up to the 2018 Players Championship suggested Greg Norman’s record 264 score was within reach. His previous four starts: T-29, T-20, T-5, T-21.

Where did 19 under and a record seven-stroke Players lead come from at a tournament where Simpson has never registered a top-15 finish?

The answer lies in a new, conservatively aggressive approach. Or is it aggressively conservative? The technical explanation from Simpson and caddie Paul Tesori is an aggressive approach to conservative targets.

Given the numbers – two eagles, 20 birdies, one three-putt and a field-best 5.371 strokes gained around the greens – Simpson’s philosophic change warrants explanation.

The magic started last month at Augusta National.

A Masters final-round 67 featured back-to-back eagles but also two bogeys late that prevented a better result than the T-20 that Simpson posted. To Tessori, the round has since become “career changing” because of a different mindset to attacking green complexes guarded by trouble.

Simpson’s inspiration was Phil Mickelson and a second-round, 1-over 73. He went through his card and noted way too many approach shots on the “wrong side of the green.”

“It taught me that I’m going to have plenty of rounds where I play pretty good and shoot even par at Augusta, but to have any chance of shooting low, you’ve got to miss it in the right spots,” Simpson said.

Even Simpson concedes this is hardly deep stuff.

“It sounds simple, but to be out there with a 9-iron aiming 20 feet one side or the other is pretty hard, but I think that’s why Phil has had so much success there,” he said. “Because he knows every hole where he can miss it, and his short game is good enough he’s going to pitch it close to the hole.”

Tessori explained the concept: Identify the insurmountable trouble around the green, aim to the safe green area away from the trouble, but take an aggressive swing playing to that safe location.

For Simpson, the approach has proven agonizing at times given how well he’s hitting the ball. But on a course where short-siding is just as dangerous as at Augusta National, his TPC Sawgrass approach is clearly working.

“You’ve got to isolate every shot and every putt and just ask yourself, ‘what’s the objective here,’” Simpson said of his refined approach. “Although I’m hitting it great, on 13, I aimed 30 feet right of the hole. 14, I have 9-iron in my hand, I’m aiming 15 feet right of the hole.”

There were chinks in his Saturday 68, believe it or not.

“I just didn’t give the wind quite enough credit,” Simpson said of a few holes where he short-sighted himself with 5-wood approaches. “I just didn’t do that the first two days at all, and I did it a couple times today on the front. I’ve just got to be a little smarter, I think.”

With 356 feet of putts made, a seven-stroke cushion over Danny Lee and the new-found approach, Simpson seems uncatchable. At least, that’s the conservative take.

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