It’s a weird thing to talk to athletes about their top accomplishments. People who are motivated, ambitious and energetic have an easier time remembering their failures than whatever success they had. There’s a specific kind of memory that sits close to the surface, protecting them from ever making the same mistake twice.
On the other hand, there’s also a kind of memory that allows those same athletes to recall every single detail immediately after performing at the highest level. For golfers, it not just the club they hit and the yardage, it’s the blade of grass in front of the ball, the bee that was on the green, the puff of wind they felt in mid-swing and even the smell of, well, whatever they were smelling walking 18 holes.
That was Webb Simpson after the second round of this year’s PLAYERS Championship. And eagle on two and three other birdies on the front had him make the turn in thirty-one. A simple par on 10 seemed unremarkable, but then everything started to go on the hole.
“Obviously when you’re out there competing in a big tournament, you’re as focused as can be,” Simpson said after tying the course record with a 63 on Friday. “But then at a certain point, maybe on 13 today, you start just — like a kid, just kind of laughing. Everything is going in. You feel like no matter what, you’re going to make it,”
Anybody who plays golf knows it comes and goes, even at the highest level. Ben Hogan famously said, “If you think you’ve found it, don’t go to sleep.” One day everything is easy, the next, not so much. For Simpson, the challenge is to stay in the moment.
“I mean, yeah.,” he explained. “That’s the challenge is you’re hitting all your shots exactly where you’re looking, and so the temptation is to start aiming more at the flag. But I didn’t do that. I mean, every — you’ve got to isolate every shot and every putt and just ask yourself, what’s the objective here. Although I’m hitting it great, on 13, I aimed 30 feet right of the hole. 14, I have 9-iron in my hand, I’m aiming 15 feet right of the hole.”
There’s a lot of talk in golf these days by the players about, “us” and “we.” The entire team is part of the success of any player and the caddie is a big, big part of that. Simpson’s caddie is St. Augustine product Paul Tesori. Paul was an accomplished player himself, played at the University of Florida and qualified to play on the PGA Tour. But after not finding enough success as a player, he found a career carrying the bag and consulting with other players. Somehow he worked with Vijay Singh for a while and also caddied for Jerry Kelly and Sean O’Hair. But his success has come with his good friend Webb Simpson. Both men of tremendous faith, their bond goes way beyond player/caddie.
“I think it’s massive,” Webb said Friday. “:You know, to work with somebody every day for eight hours, nine hours a day, and you really like them, and you have a friendship outside of golf, I think it’s pretty special.”
Playing on the PGA Tour is an adjustment for anybody. It’s not just about the golf. The travel, the schedule, the grind, the food, all of it plays a part in a player’s success or lack thereof.
“You know, there’s a lot out here,” Simpson noted. “I get lonely because my family is at home, and there’s ups and downs of the year for performance, and so he knows — as a friend he knows me better than just a coworker, so he knows how to handle me if I’m in those bad places. So he’s been a huge, huge piece in my career.”
“Outside of the majors, this is his favorite tournament,” Webb said of Tesori, normal since he’s from here. “It doesn’t put pressure on me, but it’s always a place you think, like Charlotte for me, it’s a nice place to play well. He’s got so much support out there, more support than I do. It’s been fun the last couple days seeing all the people coming out for Paul.”
If not handled right, it could put a strain on their relationship. In reality, Simpson is the player, Paul is the “guy on the bag.” But in this case, Simpson rolls with it.
“Oh, yeah, I call him the mayor. He can’t get from the putting green to the range without getting stopped a few times. Everybody loves him.”