Featured Golf News
Webb Simpson Set for First Masters
North Carolina native Webb Simpson is in Georgia for the first major of the year, the Masters Tournament, which starts Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club.
The Raleigh native has never played in the Masters. But two victories in 2011 - in August's Wyndham Championship in his home state and a couple of weeks later in the Deutsche Bank Championship, which helped him become the runner-up to Luke Donald on the season's money list - guaranteed the player, currently ranked 10th in the world, a spot this year at Augusta.
So far in 2012 Simpson has performed well, with three top-25 finishes in seven events. His scoring average is 69.63, and he's accrued $826,950 to rank 23rd in earnings.
On Monday, Simpson met with reporters and discussed his maiden Masters appearance. It's not his first time playing Augusta National, however. Remarkably, that occurred when he was 12 years old. Here's what the now-26-year-old had to tell the media.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. It's my pleasure to welcome you all to the 76th Masters. We also want to thank and welcome Webb Simpson who joins us this afternoon. Webb had an outstanding year on the PGA Tour last year, winning twice and that qualified him for his first invitation to the Masters and he's started off great this year, finishing three times in the top-10. We want to start off with asking you about what it feels like to play in your first Masters.
WEBB SIMPSON: Thank you. I'm happy to be here. It's certainly a dream to be playing in the Masters. Ever since I started playing golf when I was eight years old, I first came here when I was 11 in 1997 when Tiger won and got to play it actually when I was 12 years old. So my love affair for Augusta started when I was a young kid, and, you know, I kind of was pinching myself this morning driving down Magnolia Lane. My wife has been here a few times but she's never driven down Magnolia Lane and experienced the whole thing. It's been fun already. I've been down about five times this year and really kind of soaking it in. But to see all of the people out today is a fun sight, and I'm looking forward to Thursday and getting things started.
Q. This might be hard to remember, but 12 years old, what's it like for a 12 year old kid, to play at Augusta National?
WEBB SIMPSON: My eyes were pretty wide the whole day. You know, I remember it like it was yesterday. I saw the member, actually, a week ago, Haley Roberts, who sponsored us that day. The head pro at my home course in Raleigh, Ted Kiegiel, he worked here for eight years, so he took my dad and I down. It was great. I remember the last hole, my dad told me it was the time when the Scotty Cameron touring putters first came out, and I really wanted one, and the shop here had them before my home club. So I asked my dad if I could get one.
So we get to 18, and he tells me if I birdie 18, he'll get me the putter. I hit driver, 3 wood, and the pin is front left to where it is on Sunday; I hit it to about four feet and I missed it (laughter). We go to the shop and he's feeling bad for me, and he gets me the putter anyways. But it was great. The next time we went back was when I was 20; so eight years later, and I think I shot eight shots better.
Q. What's been the biggest surprise for you now that you're here for Tournament week?
WEBB SIMPSON: I've got a guy on my bag, Paul Tesori, this is his 11th Masters and he's told me he's seen the course in all types of conditions. This year the course is in beautiful shape. The ball is not rolling as far as I thought it would in the fairways as I've seen in the past. The fairways are really healthy, and I think they want the ball to slow down a little bit; makes the course a little longer. There's a big difference in the green speed from yesterday and today. I got on the putting green today and they are a few feet faster. A lot of it, I'm still learning, so today I'm going to go out and play the back nine. A lot of putts I'm going to hit I know are going to be faster than what I've played this year.
Q. At what point do the nerves subside in playing your first Masters? Is it already gone, or is it Thursday morning after the first tee shot?
WEBB SIMPSON: My first major was last year, the U.S. Open at Congressional. I remember I was very nervous and it took a few holes to calm down. And once you hit a good, solid drive or good, solid iron shot, your nerves dwindle a little. I'm sure I'll feel it on the first hole. I think it's helping knowing my caddie and I have talked about it; if I'm 1 or 2 over after five, it's not a big deal, just kind of find your way and hopefully make some birdies on the back.
Q. You had a former Augusta National caddie on your bag on the Nationwide Tour, Tommy Bennett. What do you remember about working with him, and how seriously did you consider bringing him to the PGA Tour when you got here?
WEBB SIMPSON: Well, Tommy, I met him in Pennsylvania at a Monday qualifier. My coach, Ted Kiegiel, knew Tommy from being here for eight years. Tommy is a great guy. We had a great relationship. Early on, I didn't really have any direction which tour I was going to be playing, so Tommy at the time was perfect. I just met him. We had fun together and we got along great. We had some success on the Nationwide Tour, took him to Q School in the fall of 2008 and we got through. And basically talked with my manager, and we both thought it was a good idea to kind of keep things going. We were playing well. I started to notice that I might want someone who is a little younger on a weekly basis, so that was kind of where we split our ways.
Q. Sorry to take the attention away from golf, but in the limited times you've been here, have you ever seen Augusta with so few flowers?
WEBB SIMPSON: No. I figured that was going to be the case, because every time I came, it seemed to be in the 80s. Being in Charlotte two hours north, that course has never been in this good of condition this early from what I hear from all of the Members. The brown stuff is gone and the flowers there are blooming a lot earlier, too, so I figured. It's still pretty gorgeous out there.
Q. Disappointing, your first Masters, you lose some of the color?
WEBB SIMPSON: Maybe more so for my wife. (Laughter). I'm sure when I get out there, I won't be too disappointed.
Q. You won't suffer at all.
WEBB SIMPSON: No, I hope not.
Q. Curious with some time and reflection, do you look back at last year and how things ended at the Tour Championship, coming so close, were there lessons you've learned from that?
WEBB SIMPSON: You know, I don't think - I reflected a lot on the Tour Championship, and it was one of those weeks where I was kind of tired. I just didn't play good golf. You know, Bill and Hunter both played great golf. It was one of those things where I thought I started looking too much into it and creating something that wasn't there. I think a lot of times we can learn from weeks like that, but oftentimes, it's just the way golf is. You have a tough week and there's not a whole lot to learn. I hope I can have that situation again and maybe take advantage of a little more rest. But it was tough for me because I had never played East Lake. I really need to see the golf course, so Monday through Wednesday, my preparation was pretty much seeing the golf course all day and playing full rounds. That might have been what held me back.
Q. I know this is your first Masters. From what you've seen of the course so far, what's the most important part of a player's game to achieve success? Is it driving distance, iron play, putting?
WEBB SIMPSON: When you take a look at who - what kind of players have won here, it seems pretty common that guys who hit it a little further have played well; guys that can hit their iron shots higher. But, you know, a great lesson Phil expressed to Paul's old - he used to caddie for Sean O'Hair. And Phil told Sean a few years ago, that Paul passed down to me, you need to know where you can miss shots around here. It's so hard to be precise on every hole and there are just certain places, front left pin on 1, if you hit it left, you're going to make five or six. There are certain holes where you cannot get it up and down and you just have to know where you can chip the ball close and hopefully get up and down for pars.
I think that's the most important thing, because these par-5s, you're going to make some birdies. And you still have to respect the short holes. A lot of guys step on 13, you think you can make three or four every day, but you can make a six just as easily in my opinion. I think just knowing which pins to get after and where to miss it.
Q. I saw you yesterday working a lot on your short game on the front nine and the holes you were playing there, going on the back today, same sort of approach in terms of working a lot around the greens and working a lot around the chipping and putting?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I wanted to see each side of the course in the morning and in the afternoon, because in the morning, chipping is much easier. You know, certain bump shots, I call them bump shots, where you chip it low, hit it into a hill in the morning, it just skips every time. It's really consistent. Yesterday afternoon we were working on that, and the ball grabs a lot harder. So it's a lot trickier to chip in the afternoon. We are trying to see each side morning and afternoon and seeing how much further the ball is going late in the day.
Q. You're not that far removed from your amateur days, and I don't know how much you thought about perhaps turning pro earlier or staying in school, but some of these young amateurs now, when they are weighing those options about turning pro or whatnot, in your mind, what are the biggest questions they need to be able to answer in terms of whether they are ready to go or not?
WEBB SIMPSON: For me, when I got to Wake Forest, I had in my mind I wanted to stay two or three years because I was gung ho about turning pro. But through two years, I had not won yet, so I think maturity and my thinking, I realized, if I can't beat these guys, how can I expect to be successful on Tour. I think getting to a place where you really feel like you can play on this level, I don't think anybody wants to turn pro knowing that they are going to struggle. So by the time senior year came around, I was winning a few times in college, winning some amateur tournaments, and I thought maybe I could have a chance. I think guys just really need to understand their potential and whether they are ready or not to compete.
Q. Do you remember the scores from 12 and 20?
WEBB SIMPSON: 80 and 72.
Q. You spoke about playing Congressional last year, your first major; was there one particular lesson you took away from that week about how to handle the pressures of a major?
WEBB SIMPSON: You know, I think the tough thing for me that week was I didn't really know what to expect because I had never played in one. Having played in that one and the British and the PGA, started to get a good feel for the amount of people out there; the amount of cameras, media and those things, that are just exponentially greater than a normal Tour event. So I think that will help me. I think for me to improve, it's all about experience. For me, it took me a while to win. I kept getting into contention but I couldn't really get over the hump of winning. All of that kind of experience of being in the hunt and having a chance to win on last few holes really helps. So I think that goes, as well, with playing a major championship. Just the more I can play, the more comfortable I'll feel.
Q. Curious who you're playing with this afternoon, and what your plans are for tomorrow, and also Wednesday with the Par 3 in terms of morning and what side.
WEBB SIMPSON: I'm playing - I think I'm playing with Zach Johnson and Scott Stallings this afternoon. Tomorrow I'm playing early on the front and I don't have any plans. And then Wednesday, I'm playing early on the back with Tiger, and 2:08 in the Par 3 with Scott Stallings.
Q. Back on the pressure of majors. There are certain pressures inherent to the Masters that are not present at other majors, such as the incredible amount of noise that bounces off everywhere. You heard that from - you've heard it here. What do you think it will be like playing in it?
WEBB SIMPSON: It will be great. The closest thing I've come to those types of roars was the final round of the Walker Cup when there was 10,000 people out there and we had a huge lead and Great Britain and Ireland made a huge run on us and every minute seemed like there was a huge roar. The atmosphere is so fun, even practicing, I told my caddie, "I've never heard roars like that on a Monday morning." I'm looking forward to it. Being here, certain tournaments in the past and hearing it, it will be a lot different to experience it inside the ropes.
MODERATOR: Webb, thank you very much. Good luck this week.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.