Webb Simpson went from 13-year-old standard bearer in Tom Watson’s group at the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst to the 2012 champion at Olympic Club at age 27.
Now, as the sixth-ranked player in the world, Simpson is one of the favorites to contend in this week’s 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York. How does his game compare to the Simpson who hoisted the silver trophy in 2012?
“I was kind of wide eyed and didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully I was able to get the W,” he said. “I just love the moments of getting into contention and trying to win. Whereas, I think then I was extremely nervous, not really knowing how to handle myself. So now I really, I look forward to that, that’s where I hope to be on Sunday afternoon, and I think all around through the bag my game has gotten better and more solid and, yeah, just feel good. I’m getting older, I got my gray hairs, but I feel young inside.”
Simpson’s game isn’t as flashy as World No. 1 Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas, but Simpson has all the tools to be just the type to float under the radar this week. No less than Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee calls Simpson the best combination of length and accuracy off the tee, not to mention being an underrated putt since converting to an arm-lock putting style combined with a claw grip in 2016.
There’s no debating that Simpson is in the midst of playing some of the best golf of his career. For the recently completed season, he won the Byron Nelson Award for the Tour’s lowest scoring average (68.978). His marks in Scoring Average – Actual (68.06), Back-Nine Scoring Average (33.96) and Par-4 Scoring Average (3.89) were all lower than any recorded from 1983 (when the Tour began tracking hole-by-hole data) through 2019.
He also led the Tour in Birdie Average (4.67), Par Breakers (26.50 percent), Front-Nine Scoring Average (34.10), and Putting Average (1.691). He was also inside the top 20 in a number of important statistical categories, including greens in regulation percentage (70.83), driving accuracy percentage (67.31) and strokes gained putting (.589). In other words, he didn’t just win twice last season – he played like a stud through and through (eight top-10 finishes in 14 starts). And Simpson’s game is built for the U.S. Open.
“I love the idea of patience matters here,” he said.
Here’s one more stat that should serve him well at Winged Foot: Simpson led the Tour in bogey avoidance. He had this to say about the A.W. Tillinghast layout that he played in the 2004 U.S. Amateur:
“This is a classic U.S. Open setup where it’s brutally hard all day, but there’s no tricks to it, you got to drive it in the fairway. And I’m sure the guys are saying the same stuff that if you’re not in the fairway it’s hard to score and I do think this will be a higher winning score U.S. Open than we have seen in a while.”
But Simpson isn’t one to hide from a challenge. To hear him tell it, he prefers these weeks where any weakness in one’s game is likely to be exposed.
“I like for it to get as hard as it can get without them losing the golf course,” Simpson said. “We have seen a couple U.S. Opens where it might have gotten away from them and when something, when a golf course gets away from you, you’re bringing in luck. We don’t mind it to be really hard, we just don’t like for luck to play a huge part. This is the epitome of a golf course where it’s just hard, it kind of in your face all day, especially that finish, where the best golfer will win this week.”
Simpson, who was a finalist for PGA Tour Player of the Year honors, has been able to succeed despite being one of the Tour’s shorter hitters off the tee. His average drive of 289 yards ranked just 145th on Tour last season, but that hasn’t stopped him from beating Tony Finau in a playoff at the Waste Management Phoenix Open or outlasting Bryson DeChambeau at the RBC Heritage.
“I’m certainly not near as long as some of those guys you mentioned, but length on a week like this doesn’t matter as much. It always helps but it doesn’t matter as much,” Simpson said.
And there’s another stat, an unofficial stat but an intangible that may be more important than an extra five yards this week, which Simpson is known for, according to his U.S Presidents Cup teammate Xander Schauffele.
“If there was a strokes gained statistical category to rank attitude, Simpson would be No. 1 by miles,” he said. “He’s always waking up on the right side of the bed. Even when he doesn’t, I think he just decides to roll over to the other side. I love that about his game.”