Featured Golf News
No Time Off for U.S. Open Champion
Webb Simpson didn't go back home to North Carolina to revel in his victory at last week's U.S. Open. Instead, the 26-year-old took a redeye flight Sunday night out of San Francisco and headed east to Connecticut, where this week's PGA Tour stop - the Travelers Championship - will begin Thursday at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
Simpson didn't take a break because he feels loyalty to the organizers of the tournament after receiving a sponsor's exemption in 2008. He'll be paired in the first round with reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson and 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley.
Needless to say, Simpson will be thrust into the spotlight in the Northeast after closing with two straight 2-under 68s at a tough Lake Course at Olympic Club to finish at 1-over 281, one stroke under the totals of Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson, to win his first major title.
On Wednesday, the Wake Forest grad sat down with reporters and discussed his big victory on Sunday, and the whirlwind week he's experienced. Simpson also talked about his allegiance to the Travelers and his plans for a comeback at Bradley's caddie, Steven "Pepsi" Hale, who he suspects of putting bananas in his golf shoes before the Open's final round. Here's what he had to say.
MODERATOR: Okay. We'd like to welcome Webb Simpson to the interview room here at the Travelers Championship. Thanks for joining us for a few minutes. So anything new?
WEBB SIMPSON: Not much.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks again, and congratulations on a remarkable victory last week.
WEBB SIMPSON: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Obviously I'm sure things have not settled down much for you to give you time to catch your breath, but if you can kind of encapsulate the last few days for us, why don't you do that as you're heading into the week here at the Travelers.
WEBB SIMPSON: My hands are starting to slow down from shaking a little bit. But no, it's been a good couple days. I went home on the red eye Sunday and just spent the day with my wife and son and came up here yesterday, but haven't had a whole lot of time to reflect on the week. Last week was pretty special even before I won because my wife came out, and our boy was at home, and so we had a week together. And what was really cool about Sunday for me is I just kind of had a peace all day that, hey, even if you don't win this thing, it's been an incredible week already, got some great quality time with my wife and we did some fun things in San Francisco, so I think ultimately that kind of took some pressure off there on the back nine. And I still can't really believe it, but it's been exciting, and I'm glad I'm here. You know, Travelers offered me a spot here in 2008, and I love the people here. I love coming to this town, and I think it's actually going to be good for me to get back in the ropes and play this week.
MODERATOR: Okay. With that we'll take a few questions.
WEBB SIMPSON: It's been great. I've gotten so many texts on messages on Twitter. I got some emails from older guys who I've looked up to my whole life that I didn't expect. So that kind of just congratulatory reception from them has been great. And I've got a couple of emails from older golfers that I'm probably going to print out and frame and guys that I've respected so much in so many areas of life. They've just given me invaluable advice through these emails that I didn't expect.
WEBB SIMPSON: Tom Watson wrote me a great email. Greg Norman left me a message on the phone and some other guys, Hale Irwin, who I've never even met before. Just guys that are legends of the game that have told me some things that I would have paid for.
Q. What about Arnold?
WEBB SIMPSON: Arnold did. He sent me a note, and I was on the morning drive yesterday and they had him on at the same time, so I got to talk to him a little bit.
Q. Webb, something like this you could look upon as kind of a life altering event. A tournament such as Travelers kind of hold their breath hoping that the U. S. Open champion comes. Did you have any thought of withdrawing or why did you keep your commitment with so much kind of like, oh, hitting the fan?
WEBB SIMPSON: I mean like I said earlier, in 2008 they gave me a spot, and when you got guys like Andy Bessette and Mr. Fishman behind Travelers, behind this event, it's kind of hard to call up an Olympian and tell them I'm not coming. But I've always loved coming here. Besides Bay Hill I've played more times here - this will be my fifth - than any other tournament. So I feel comfortable here. I've never played great here, but I've always kind of played okay.
And you know, my wife and I never even talked about not coming. It was always, you know, I'm probably always going to come to Travelers. And you know, it's a great week for me to kind of unwind from the U. S. Open, but be able to kind of put my focus elsewhere and kind of get away from just reflecting and thinking about it and trying to put my focus on trying to win this golf tournament.
Q. You talked a lot Sunday about just how surprising you were that you ended up winning the tournament. I'm just wondering if it's sort of had a chance to sink in yet and kind of what you took away from it, what you learned from it.
WEBB SIMPSON: It hadn't really sunk in. I mean it has a little bit, but you know, I was asked a lot about did I think I could win, and what I said was I didn't expect to win a major that soon, but I never put it out of reach. I'm kind of a happy go lucky guy, so I like to just prepare and go out and see what I can do. And you know, my caddie asked me before the week started, he goes, "would you take second place this week?" And I said, "I'm not going to lie. Of course I would." I mean I've never contended in a major championship, and if we're all about trying to get better, a second place is only going to allow us to experience what it's like in a major in contention. And so of course I would. So I was just happy on Sunday that I was near the lead and feeling what it's like to try to win a major.
Q. Did you think the 68 would get it done sort of going into the day? Did you have a number in mind?
WEBB SIMPSON: I didn't really have a number in mind, but I figured, you know, I think I was four back, if I shot under par, unless Graeme or Jim or one of the other leaders really went low, I'd be right there. And it played hard Sunday. I mean luckily the weather was somewhat damp and overcast. If it had been sunny again, it would have played significantly harder, just with the greens already so firm. So yeah, I mean I figured 2 under would kind of be there. And yeah, I didn't look at any leaderboards, so when I got done, I realized I was tied.
Q. Webb, after Friday's 73 and you're six back, five over, was your mindset, yes, I'm still in contention or was it just what do I have to do to maybe move up over the weekend?
WEBB SIMPSON: I figured, you know, I was still within striking distance if I had a great weekend. But the course is so hard that it's hard to kind of put your mind around trying to shoot a couple 68s or 7s. All I was really worried about was trying to go out the next day and make as many pars as I could. And again, this is only my fifth major, so I wasn't really overly obsessed about trying to win, just trying to have a great tournament and gain experience.
Q. You talked about preparation. What did you do exactly (inaudible)?
WEBB SIMPSON: Paul, my caddie, flew home with me and my wife and my son Saturday morning after missing the cut at Memorial, and I had just worked on something the two weeks prior in my back swing that I kind of perfected what I was working on, but it created another bad habit, and that's what we saw at Memorial, and I hit it everywhere. So he was really adamant about coming home and trying to fix that, and he spent a couple of days. We just practiced at Quail Hollow and kind of ironed out that kink that I had created.
And then the next week I started a trip last year with some of my buddies just going down to Pinehurst, and we just play a bunch of golf, and I did it last year before Chicago and I played well in Chicago, and I thought you know what, I could beat balls at home all week trying to get ready for the Open or I can kind of clear my mind and go play golf, which what I love to do, and it worked, I guess.
WEBB SIMPSON: My old caddie, William Cane, was there and then just some other buddies I grew up with, and the pastor at my old church in Raleigh was there.
Q. One of the stories we seem to hear often with first time major winners is their game falls off and it's blamed on distractions and commitments seems to be the two words we always hear. First of all, are you concerned about that, and now that you say that, I don't think the average golfer knows. What are the distractions and commitments now that are going to face you for the rest of the year?
WEBB SIMPSON: It is a concern, but a good concern. I mean I feel fortunate that I experienced a little bit of that last year when I won for the first time. You know, the extra attention in the media was new to me, but I just I'm a guy that has a great team around him to kind of coach me and help me through the challenges that come with winning a major. And I'm a people pleaser, so I'm going to have to get used to saying no, which is tough for my personality. But I think it's just a matter of me trying to continue to focus on the main thing and trying to continue what I do on a daily basis and not try to ignore it, but just embrace it; and really, it's just kind of altering my day to day priorities and activities. And just accept it that, you know, for a while until the next British or the next major or two, that there will be more attention on me. But in terms of my game falling off, I mean I'm going to continue to work on the things that I think will make me better, and hopefully I can continue to play well.
Q. Can you share a little bit about your recollection of getting the exemption to come play in this event and also how much did that experience make you believe that you did belong out here?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah. I mean I turned pro right after the National Championship in May of 2008, and I think I got five or six starts on the PGA Tour. And this one was my second one after Memphis, and I came in, I think I finished 38, but it was a great experience for me just to kind of play in a four day event as a professional, make a little money. And it just really kind of grew my love for wanting to play on the PGA Tour. And that summer was really good for my maturity, I think traveling by myself, and I switched over and played the Nationwide Tour. And I think had I not gotten the starts on the Tour and played a few Nationwide, I don't think I would have gotten through Q School my first try. So it was a pretty invaluable experience.
Q. Did you write a letter?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I wrote a letter just basically saying here are my stats. I want to play. I love what you guys do. So that was it.
Q. Webb, as you talked about, getting an exemption in 2008 I think is one of the reasons why you were able to keep that commitment. There was concern with this tournament being after the U. S. Open and what about when it's on the West Coast are the guys going to come. Obviously that's not really a concern anymore. Do you kind of see where guys talk amongst themselves, maybe someone who hasn't played here before, does this kind of show they've done some things right here because now guys are willing to do that even when it's on the West Coast?
WEBB SIMPSON: Absolutely. The commitment Mr. Fishman has put to the PGA Tour given the economy the last few years, I mean it's tremendous. So not only do us players have a responsibility to respond to that and in a way thank the guys who stay behind the PGA Tour, but all that aside, I love this event. I love Hartford. I love playing this golf course. I don't think we play more courses where the back nine is as exciting as it is with 13 and 15 and coming in on the last couple of holes. So there's some events out here that are tough courses or tough weeks just logistically and this is one of those that's easygoing, great fans and it's an enjoyable week.
Q. Kind of two questions. One, have you had a chance to watch a replay or at least the highlights of the U. S. Open, and what did you think of the final round, and secondly, how tough was it to decide to skip the British Open, and by that I mean did winning there sort of create an extra thirst maybe that you didn't have? Obviously you want to win, but did it create an extra sort of thirst or belief that you could compete in a major championship?
WEBB SIMPSON: I haven't seen the replay. We have it recorded, but I haven't watched it. I'll watch it next week when I have a week off. I'm excited for that. But you know, I'm a guy who loves my family, and we're probably only going to have a couple more babies, so I have the rest of my life to play in the British Open. I don't want to miss the birth of the second child. So it's an easy decision.
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 and grand scheme of life it's a decision that I know I'll always be happy that I made. Because 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.
Q. Did your trophy, the U. S. Open trophy fly first class? And where is it now, and also, is your wife here this week and will she walk the course? It's going to be hot this week.
WEBB SIMPSON: Last week was the last week that the doctor cleared her to fly, so she's at home. And the trophy did come back with us, but we put it with all our other bags. It was secure in the trunk. And my father in law wanted to take it the first day to his office just for a little while. So he had it a little bit. Now it's back at home. But we'll figure out a good place for it.
Q. Webb, you had mentioned all those other legends of the game, Palmer, Watson, Irwin, Norman who had sent emails or called you. What is it like to hear from them, and also, do you feel like you've joined sort of an exclusive club in your latest victory?
WEBB SIMPSON: I do. I reread the email from Tom Watson last night, and coming from a guy who's won - I think he's won eight majors, but just the things he told me and as a good friend will do, just kind of encouraged me and warn me against feeling certain things I think are really going to help me because obviously I've never won a major. I don't know what to think or expect, but it's something I'm going to try to put into practice and try to remember. And what was the second part?
WEBB SIMPSON: Oh, yeah. I do. I mean I was telling some guys after Sunday that one of my thoughts on 14, I went to the restroom and I was just thinking that, man, this is fun. I'm nervous. All these emotions right now and then I thought how did Tiger Woods win 14 of these already. I mean this is hard. Hard enough being in contention and making a cut in a major, but my respect for guys that have won majors grew through it. And guys that haven't won a major that have been great players, I don't think it has anything to do with the fact that they're not winning majors, it's just a major comes four times in a year, and it's just hard to win one of four events. Yeah, so I feel very I mean I'm just thankful that I'm a part of that group.
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I was going to I got asked to do a couple of shows this week, but I had a commitment from one of my sponsors, GE, who's also a sponsor of the Tour that I made a couple months ago and I wanted to keep that. That was yesterday. And I didn't really have time if I wanted to get here and get prepared. And so we just basically told them, you know, we appreciate the offer and interest, but I had prior commitments. And then in terms of other guys like Bubba, I mean those guys have always been good to me. I even talked with Zach Johnson yesterday for a few minutes just about what advice he could give me after what he went through winning the Masters. And I'm a guy, I like to learn. And I have no clue really what I'm doing or what to expect, so I'm going to reach out, hopefully, and get some advice from the guys who have won a major and just see what to do and what not to do after.
Q. You're playing with two of them tomorrow, Bubba and Keegan. I know you probably won't have a lot of time to talk about. But what do you think of the pairing and will you pick their brains when you're waiting on the 15th tee or wherever about the experience?
WEBB SIMPSON: I've talked to Keegan already about it. I haven't had a whole lot of time with Bubba because he hasn't played as much, but it's probably something I won't do during the round because we'll be trying to beat each other. But I have all their numbers, and probably when I know they're having a week off and I got a week off, I'll probably call with some questions and just see what to do.
WEBB SIMPSON: Pairing, yeah, I got excited. Bubba texted me yesterday saying we're playing together, and I love playing with him. My Presidents Cup partner. He's so laid back and I'm good friends with his caddie, Teddy. And Keegan and I have been paired together a lot this year, and I think it was his caddie Pepsi who put bananas in my shoes Sunday, and it was a brand new pair of shoes. And I washed them and the smell is still in there. So I'm going to get him back with something. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm going to get him back.
Q. I'd just like to ask you about a couple of holes on the back nine. The 15 hole you mentioned a couple of times is drivable. Can you go through the club section on that hole and your strategy? Do you try to bust it on the green or do you put it to yardage and try and hit wedge there?
WEBB SIMPSON: 15, we always go for the green. With the four corners they put the pin it's too hard to hit a wedge there on the right level. So we'll hit I usually hit driver 3 wood and if it's downwind, I'll hit 3 wood. Kind of one place we don't want to go is long or left. So if we're downwind, I'll scale back a 3 wood. But definitely always trying to hit it on the green. It's a hole where you can make a 5 but you can make a 2 as well. So it's one of the better drivable par 4s on Tour for sure.
Q. And then the 17th hole is only 420, but tactically it's pretty tough. It ranks as the fifth toughest hole on this golf course. What's your attitude and strategy as you go into that?
WEBB SIMPSON: In years past I've always hit a 3 wood or 5 wood, and kind of the goal is to pick a conservative line on the tee shot, but swing aggressively. And second shot ends up being anywhere from a 9 iron to a 7 iron. It's a hole where I'll take four pars right now and not play it, but certainly I've made a couple birdies there in the past. Starting with really 13 it's a great finish. A lot of birdies to be made, but there's some trouble lurking as well.
MODERATOR: Okay. Congratulations, Webb. Thanks for coming in.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.