- Webb Simpson dishes on his career struggles, dealing with a Tiger charge and his dominant 2018 Players victory.
Picture this: You’re a major champion but haven’t won on the PGA Tour in four years. You wake up on Sunday, for the final round of a tournament, with a seven-shot lead, just 18 holes away from snapping a winless drought. That was the plight Webb Simpson faced at the 2018 Players Championship. That, and Tiger Woods making a birdie-fueled charge at him at TPC Sawgrass.
Simpson was able to hold on, comfortably, for his first win since 2013, and it was a win that kick started a huge season for the 2012 U.S. Open champ. As Simpson returns to Ponte Vedra Beach and the Players, SI.com’s Ryan Asselta had a chance to catch up with him.
Ryan Asselta: Webb, you’re heading back to the Players Championship as the defending champion. 2018 was kind of unique Players as you began the final round with the largest lead ever on Sunday, a seven-stroke advntage. Was it more difficult playing with that big of a lead?
Webb Simpson: It was interesting. I felt like I had to go out on Sunday and keep trying to make birdies like I had been doing all week and then kind of have a mini reassessment in the middle part of the round to see what other guys were doing. If you ever scale back and play away from trouble and play away from pins, it usually leads to trouble, so I tried not to do that.
RA: When you reassessed the situation, you became aware of Tiger Woods. Tiger went out in 32 on the front nine and was making an early charge. What was it like trying to hold that lead while hearing the Tiger roars, which tend to be unlike anything you hear on the golf course?
WS: I was pretty aware that he had made a bunch of birdies, but at the same time, the kid in me was thinking “this is really cool. Tiger Woods is making a run at me!” I don't know if I've ever been able to say that. Tiger made it relevant. So it was one of those moments where I was thinking, I'll be able to tell my grandkids that I was battling against Tiger Woods.
RA: Tell me about the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. Is it easier or harder than it looks on television?
WS: I think it's about the same. It really is a small green, but it's a short enough shot where fans can see it's only the sand wedge or a pitching wedge. The only time it gets really hard is when it's windy. If it's not windy, it's not bad, just put it in the middle of the green. You just need to be able to focus on what you want your ball to do, versus what you don’t want your ball to do. I’ve seen some bad shots on 17 where guys miss by two clubs, but what people can't see on TV is maybe a wind gust. That can change in a heartbeat.
RA: Does it get in your head knowing that all of that water is surrounding the green?
Webb Simpson:I think it depends on what guys are trying to do. Trying to just land it 10 yards on, in the middle of the green, can be difficult sometimes. I feel like most guys would take any ball on the green, because if you mis-hit it or you’re short it’s trouble, and the shot from the drop zone isn’t any easier!
RA: The win at the Players started a big year for you. You ended up with top 20s in all four majors and the win ended a four-year drought. You’ve dealt with some tough times off the course, and had to adjust to the putter-anchoring ban as well. Was a year like 2018 even sweeter, knowing what you went through?
WS: The win at the Players was the most satisfying because of the drought, because of the struggle. This was a huge feather in my cap because of the struggle. I was able to come back from it and that gives me hope for future times when things aren't going as well as you want them to go.
I had to have a lot of faith to get through it. A lot of talks with my wife at the dinner table and honestly just inviting my family into the struggles that I was going through. Showing them, my kids, I was having a tough day at work. The victory is sweeter than if everything was going exactly how I wanted.
RA: You’ve been a pro for over a decade…did doubt ever set in?
WS: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, I don't think into the future much when it comes to that kind of stuff, but yeah, the battle is not believing, and thinking we might never win again.
Its funny though, once you start playing well, it seems like you can ride the wave for a long time. So that's kind of what I did.
RA: With the successful season, you earned your way on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Being a part of the loss in Paris, what’s the one thing you think the U.S. team needs to change?
WS: We simply have to play better. There was plenty of camaraderie, plenty of communication. We just got outplayed. I don't think that gets talked about enough: How well the winning team plays. The Europeans didn't play poorly at Hazeltine in 2016, the Americans just played better. I think we could say the same thing in Paris. They played great.
RA: You’ve been on the PGA Tour since 2009. What’s he biggest misconception about being a professional golfer?
WS: There's certainly a lot of things that are great about what we do, but I don't think people take into account how hard it is living out of a suitcase for half the year and being in different cities every week. It takes a toll on your family. If you have kids, it's really, really hard
My wife always says, “I don't care if you're at a tournament, but you have to separate the work and home.” When I'm at the course, I get my work done and get it done in a timely fashion and kind of shut the golf off when I get home.
RA: Last thing, you’re a Wake Forest guy…Greatest basketball player in Demon Deacons history? Tim Duncan or Chris Paul?
WS: I went to school with Chris Paul. Tim Duncan was great, but I never met him. So I'm going with Chris Paul. We don’t keep in touch, but I watch plenty of Rockets games on TV.