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Simpson Geared Up for Arnold Palmer Invitational
Webb Simpson has an affinity for this week's PGA Tour stop. After all, the North Carolina native and Wake Forest graduate will be playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, whose namesake is one of the Demon Deacons' most famous alumni.
Simpson, No. 7 in the most recent World Golf Ranking, enjoyed a stellar 2011, notching the first two victories of his career - in the Wyndham and Deutsche Bank championships - and made the largest one-season earnings jump in Tour history when he went from $972,962 in 2010 to $6,683,214, an increase of $5,374,391. He finished second to Luke Donald in total earnings.
So far this season the 26-year-old Raleigh native has three top-10 finishes and taken home $799,300, placing him 20th on the money list.
On Tuesday from tournament site Bay Hill in Orlando, Simpson met with reporters and discussed his season to date and what it means to play in the popular tournament overseen by "The King." Here's what Simpson had to say.
MODERATOR: Webb Simpson joins us here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Webb, first of all, I know this is a good week, a neat week for you, with the Wake Forest connection and Mr. Palmer. Just talk about what he means to you and about your preparations for this week.
WEBB SIMPSON: Absolutely. I met Arnold for the first time probably ten years ago. And I was later - my first year at Wake was 2004 and I was lucky enough to be on his scholarship during my years at Wake. So incredibly grateful to him still. I got my first chance to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2006 as an amateur and again in 2008 as an amateur. Every year I like to go up to his office and say hello to him. He's been so good to me and my family over the years. It's always special to come back here. I was thinking about it this morning; this is my sixth Bay Hill or sixth Arnold Palmer Invitational, which is a good amount more than any other tournament I played. So it's always nice to be back and feel like, you know, this is home.
MODERATOR: Talk about your season up to this point and your expectations for this week.
WEBB SIMPSON: My season up to this point, I finally I feel like getting into a nice rhythm. I took a lot of time off in January, February, and so my schedule was somewhat choppy. I was a little rusty at a couple tournaments. I played well last week despite being sick, and you know, I played okay this year, three top 10s, but you know, we are working on the right things. My caddie, Paul, is happy; so I know when he's happy, we are doing some good stuff.
Q. Sounds like a variation of a mama's happy, everybody's happy. Is that the way it works with Paul sometimes?
WEBB SIMPSON: Absolutely. I can shoot 6 under, and if he doesn't like something in my swing, he'll tell me and we'll go work on it. But we are working on similar things to what we did last year. My body is changing a bit and we are moving in the right direction.
Q. Okay. The direction you're moving, now that you're a proven winner out here, and up there in the money list and up there in the World Rankings, what's the final piece of the puzzle in winning major? Where do you think you have the most work to do to fulfill that goal?
WEBB SIMPSON: I think holistically, my game is improving. I would not single out a part of my game that needs improving to win a major. I think it's just experience. I got to play three majors last year. This will be my first Masters. So I think more than anything for me, I would be happy if it could come like a Martin Kaymer where one of the first times he was in contention in a major, he was able to win at Whistling Straits. But I think more than anything, it's experience on the back nine. If I'm in contention, I'm sure the pressure is going to be, you know, far beyond what I feel at a normal PGA Tour event. And so I'm excited for that opportunity. I want to get in that position, and you know, I don't want to say it can't happen this year, but I think the more experience I have, the better chance I'll have to win.
Q. Majors aside, let's talk about something else that's going to happen later this year called the Ryder Cup. I know that you're probably a dead solid lock; you played in your first Presidents Cup last year. And you look at the World Rankings, and oh, my God, look at all those guys from Europe that are up there. What do you think of going into a Ryder Cup as a rookie, and maybe the underdogs, even though you're playing in Chicago.
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I think you look at their team, Rory, Lee and Luke, they are all playing great golf over the last couple years. But I think a few of us Americans are playing good golf, as well. I think what I noticed in the Presidents Cup was there was a unique bonding on our team that I think will help us in the Ryder Cup. Because I think that's one of the common criticisms of the U.S. Team is that we don't bond as well as the European Team during the Ryder Cup. And like you said, it's in Chicago; so I think we'll have the crowd on our side and hopefully the bounces on our side. I'm sure it's going to be great no matter who wins.
Q. Augusta is two weeks away. What is your thought process? Have you been up there to play a few rounds? What do you like about that course?
WEBB SIMPSON: I've been three occasions. I played four rounds over the past month and a half. I love it to death. It's a course I first played when I was 12, fell in love with the place.
From what I hear from most guys that have played in the Masters, it's obviously a lot softer. Ball is not going as far and the greens are a little slower right now when I go play. But I'm just trying to really learn it. I think there's a lot more to know about that course than other courses, just with how quick the greens get, different pin locations. My caddie, Paul, I think this might be his 11th or 12th Masters, so I'll be relying on him a lot during the week and just in my prep. We are going to go Monday after Bay Hill for hopefully about a six hour practice round and really try to knock out a lot of work then, as opposed to tournament week.
Q. You were 12 when you first played?
WEBB SIMPSON: My head pro at my course growing up, Ted Kiegiel, was a pro at Augusta for ten years. So when he came to my home club, he took me down and got to play it.
Q. Do you think those hallowed grounds are ready for somebody using a long putter to win there?
WEBB SIMPSON: We'll see; hopefully. You know, those are the type of greens I grew up, bent greens, and so when I go, I feel really comfortable. I putted really well there the rounds I played, and I know they are different during the tournament, just in terms of the speed. I do feel really comfortable on those greens, and hopefully I can make some putts.
Q. And over the past year as you're rocketing up the World Rankings, do you find yourself looking like every Monday to see where am I this week, and on that same topic, do you understand the math that's involved in how those rankings are arrived at?
WEBB SIMPSON: I understand the math. I question certain tournaments' points at times, but that's a whole other issue I guess. But I do look a lot and I like to monitor the results. I like seeing the zeros get off my two year chart of missed cuts. I do look at it a lot and I think most players do.
Q. Is there any sort of special perks from being a Palmer Scholarship recipient, more than just a normal Wake Forest scholarship golfer has?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I think the ambassador that Arnold Palmer has been in the game is second to none. Wake Forest, golf aside. Wake Forest community is a real small community and tight knit group; when I was there, undergraduate was 3,800 students. So going back to the Pro Am this year was so cool to see how many golfers came back; and Chris Paul came back, and it's just a family, it really is. You know, that's probably when I look back, that's probably my favorite thing about Wake, Arnold still having such a huge impact on the school and the golf.
Q. What's it like for a 12 year old to play Augusta? It's a pretty big course. How did you tackle it?
WEBB SIMPSON: My eyes were wide open the whole day. I shot - that was when the Scotty Cameron twirling putters came out and I walked in the shop and asked my dad if I could get one. They were 350 bucks and he said no. And to cheer me up, he said, "If you break 76 today, I'll get you the putter." So I was 8 over going into 18, so I'm obviously not going to do it. He tells me if I birdie it, he'll give me the putter. So I hit driver, 3 wood to the Sunday pin, about four feet, and I miss. And I was so upset. But he ended up getting the putter for me.
Q. On a more modern topic, seemed like every week on the Tour, the difference between guys who win, guys who lose, is this much, you have three way playoffs, four way playoffs; what do you make of that, why is that and how do you feel about that?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I think to win a golf tournament, you look back and you have to have a couple good bounces, a couple lucky breaks, and you've just got to make a few more putts. When I look back at the tournaments I've won or tournaments I've contended in, it's usually when you make those few extra five to 12 footers, maybe make a 30 footer here or there. But like you said, there's that fine line. And the only guy, Tiger Woods, he's basically the only guy in the last 15 years that's kind of defied that idea of you've got to get kind of lucky here or there. He was able to win on a week to week basis. But now, so many guys can compete and win, that a little luck involved and you've got to play well at the same time.
Q. Trying to remember, you got your card initially through Q School?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah.
Q. What are your thoughts about the policy board; they met last night and today, and looks like the plan to overhaul Q School has been validated and green lighted. The way you got here is no longer going to be the avenue that's open to other guys. Wonder if you have any thoughts on that.
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I was just speaking with Davis (Love) about it in the locker room. I turned pro in 2008, my first event was Memphis and I got five starts out here. I didn't really do much. I made a couple cuts. But then I went to the Nationwide Tour, I Monday qualified, top-25ed, ended up playing eight events going into Q School. I did get through Q School my first time in 2008. But I don't think I would have gotten through had I not played those few events out here and then eight events on the Nationwide Tour, because all summer long, I'm going about myself, renting cars, playing practice rounds, doing everything by myself. I think when you get out on Tour, it's a little skewed because you've got a lot of people helping you out and doing things for you.
So overall, I think it's going to be a great thing. Is it unfortunate for the best players out of college? Maybe a little bit, but you know, if you're good enough, you're going to get out here and whether it's delayed a year, I don't think it will really matter in the grand scheme of things. But I think something that I'm seeing in all these meetings - I'm on the PAC boards, is it's in the best interests of the PGA Tour and the best interests of the Nationwide Tour. And they have logged so many hours looking at which way is better, how can we promote the game better globally. So I can see how people don't like it and I can see how people do like it. But I think, you know, speaking without any bias, Tim Finchem is so smart, he knows what he's doing, and I think guys are starting to buy into it a little bit.
Q. You talked a little about last year and everything; looking at this year, did you change anything in terms of your preparation or anything like that?
WEBB SIMPSON: Well, you know, as I look back at the end of 2011, things that did improve and things that did help me be a better golfer, I think one of the main ingredients was working out. So this year, I've partnered up with ge and they have a huge health initiative with the PGA Tour for better living, better health. I was able to go do a body scan and body testing to see body mass, fat, muscle, and you see all these things, and it really gives you a great idea and understanding of where you're at now with your body and where you need to go.
So I'll take these results that I have now and I'll take them to my trainers. We'll assess them and see how we need to change our workouts, because right now, my right side, leg and arm, is a little stronger. So we are able to team up together and try to figure out how that affects my golf swing. I think golf is moving in that direction; that the younger players are coming out, they are more in shape, they look more like athletes than they did 25, 30 years ago. And I think now, it's just more, everybody is doing it, instead of just a few guys. So it's really helped me just to kind of understand my body and try to get more healthy.
Q. Just to go back to this Augusta visit that you had, where is Ted Kiegiel now?
WEBB SIMPSON: He's the head professional in Raleigh at Carolina Country Club.
Q. Do you remember what you shot that day?
WEBB SIMPSON: Which one? When I was 12? 80.
Q. And do you have any idea, I don't remember ever hearing someone 12 years old playing Augusta National before. Have you heard of anybody ever playing it that young of age?
WEBB SIMPSON: I haven't. But yeah, I don't know, maybe. Members' kids probably have played.
Q. Who played with you?
WEBB SIMPSON: My dad and Ted and a member, Haley Roberts.
MODERATOR: Any strokes stand out that you left to get in the 70s that day?
WEBB SIMPSON: 18, I still think about that putt that I missed for that putter, even though I got the putter. (Laughter) But it was fun. The next time I played was eight years later when I was 20. I shot eight strokes better, 72. So that's a fun kind of fact.
Q. Going back to the putter situation, at the point you were making the decision to go to the belly putter, did you have any soul searching about, a, some people still think it shouldn't be a conforming piece of equipment; and b, was there anything in the way of a macho attitude, geez, I'm this young, I don't need to be like one of those guys on the Champions Tour who go to this. Did you have any moments like that before you put it in play?
WEBB SIMPSON: Not to the first point. The first point about it being illegal, that was 2004 was kind of when they first - not many guys were using it. Maybe Stewart Cink, Paul Azinger and maybe Vijay, but I don't think anybody else was using it. And putting has always been my strength, ever since I was little, even at the time I switched. But I was always kind of a nut in wanting a putter - I used to switch putters every week. I just wanted something that looked new. So when I grabbed the belly putter, honestly when I first grabbed it, it was more of a joke. I'm like, this thing looks terrible, I would never use it. Took it out on the putting green, messed around, made a few putts and took it to the back nine with my dad that day and made everything. I almost put it back; I can't switch to that. But I stuck with it and started putting a lot more consistent than I was that first semester at Wake. Since then, I haven't switched putters.
Q. Did your old man buy that, too?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I probably charged that. I still charge stuff to him when I go down there. (Laughter).
Q. If you had that belly putter when you were 12, you wouldn't have missed that one on the last green at Augusta.
WEBB SIMPSON: Probably not.
MODERATOR: Webb, we appreciate your time. Play well this week.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.