There’s nothing like a feel good story in sports. And in American sports, the comeback, feel good story is always the best.
We’ve had all kinds of winners at THE Players Championship. Household names like Jack and Tiger, hometown champions in Mark McCumber and David Duval, and unlikely names on the trophy like Stephen (Ames) and Tim (Clark).
But never a real “feel good” story like Webb Simpson. Nuts and bolts, he won at 18-under par, despite making double-bogey on the 72nd hole. He tied the course record of 63 looked in control the whole time. He’s now one of seven players to have held both The Players crystal and the US Open trophy in their career. He also completes an American sweep of the Majors and the Players, Not done since Tiger Woods held all five.
All from a guy who was about a half a step from quitting golf completely. Simpson had success in his professional career, winning on the PGA Tour and US Open. He found a way to get the ball in the hole and win, despite not being exceptionally long and using a “belly” putter. When that style form of putting was outlawed, his golfing fortunes began to sink.
“You know, I think I had been a pro for eight years, seven years, and you get used to playing at a level that you know you’re capable of, and then for — you go a year or two years playing below that capability, and it starts to get at you,” Simpson said Sunday. “And I actually think it’s easier to work hard when you’re playing well. So it made working hard and staying positive and present that much harder.”
Noting the support he had from his “team” Webb admitted there were nights at the dinner table with his wife that he’d be in tears, ready to give up golf completely. But her encouragement, as well as his relationship with his caddy Paul Tesori kepts him going. Ironically, it was a disagreement with Tesori on the course that convinced him what he needed to do to get better.
Yeah, the lowest point ended up being the turning point. It was 2016 at Barclays at Bethpage Black,” he explained. “I thought I missed the cut by one. I ended up making the cut. But Paul and I got in an argument on the golf course, and it was just frustration pent up in both of us. We go sit in my car for about an hour. I’m so frustrated, I’m over it, and he is, too, and he kind of encouraged me to really do something about it. So call certain guys who maybe have struggled, try out different putters. I was pretty stubborn. I wanted to go conventional as conventional can get, so I just started trying different things and became a lot more open minded.”
Talks with a numerous players about their putting styles and how they came to use them were instrumental in Simpson finding something that worked for him. That “open minded” attitude allowed him to take a lesson from Tim Clark a year ago at the 2017 Players and switch to the “claw grip” with a Matt Kuchar style putter-up-the-arm stroke.
He couldn’t go back to belly putting because it was illegal, and he couldn’t go back to that putter either since he broke it in half to stave off temptation.
“My wife is in the driveway pulling out with the kids,” as he tells the story. “And I tell her this, and I see my bag in the garage, and I see the belly putter, and for whatever reason I had an urge to just break it. And so I go over there and snap it over my knee, and I’m on the way to throw it in the trash can, and she tells me I’d better hang on to it, it’s been pretty good to me. So I put it in my trophy case, both pieces.”
Admitting he putted better in THE Players than he ever had, even Johnny Miller noted a “Tom Watson” like decision make and execution process on the greens. After talking it over with Tesori, looking it over, studying and stepping away, Simpson takes a practice stroke and hits it. No standing over it forever.
At this point, Simpson’s relationship with Tesori is well documented. Paul’s history in his hometown, his family’s story, his steadfast faith and faith in Simpson all are part of this feel good story. Webb even calls Tesori “The Mayor.”
“Paul has been just a great friend through all this, a great coworker,” Simpson said in the post match press conference. “(He) is such a great caddie with such a great resume that I never thought once that he would quit and go work for somebody else.
“But through that, I expected him to be frustrated at times, and he never was. He never got frustrated. He stayed positive on my worst days. He would try to give me a pep talk. I think to go through that, you need someone more than a caddie, you need a friend, and he definitely was that for me.”
Add to all that with final Players win on Mother’s Day, just six months after Simpson lost his father. Webb’s dad is the person who introduced him to the game, to a rare disease.
“I thought about him all day,” Simpson said when asked about his dad. “I think it’s been an emotional week for my mom and sisters and my brother. We miss him like crazy, but I really wanted to do this for my mom. She’s been praying for me a lot.”
Hard to get a better “feel good” story than that.