The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open gets underway Thursday at its regular haunt, the TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas, Nevada. At just 7,255 yards in the high desert and warm air, the scores will be low even though it’s a par 71. Last year, Webb Simpson tied the course record of 260 (Ryan Moore in 2013) which means he averaged 6-under 65 every day.
Simpson has four PGA Tour victories: the 2011 Wyndham Championship and the Deutsche Bank; the 2012 U.S. Open and last year’s Shriners Hospitals.
Simpson sort of faded towards the end of the year which put him in the position of having to be a Captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup. It was one of those deals where the more you want something, the further away it seems to move from you:
“You know, I think a lot of it was fatigue at the end of the year for me. I think I played too much golf last year. I was really trying to make the Ryder Cup team, so I played an event that — not normally wouldn’t play, but this past year I was not going to play if I made the Ryder Cup team on points”
And so he went to work on the inconsistencies he saw in his game:
“But inconsistency sometimes can be something very specific that you can figure out and work on, and other times it can be just the way the game goes. As I look back, that’s kind of — I got into a swing funk kind of March and April. It took me a while to figure it out, and I finally did and started hitting it better. I putted really well the first half of the season, struggled a little bit towards the end, so I kind of flip‑flopped those two parts of my game.”
“But what I needed was to get away from the game. I needed a break. I needed to decompress, and I feel like I always play well after a break. If you look at my track record, good start in Maui seems like most times, and Memphis I had three weeks off before, finished third.”
“I always seem to be more hungry and prepared when I have some time off. So I think just time off in general helps me.”
Even though he ended up being a pick, he made $3.5 million; he just didn’t make them soon enough, that is, through the PGA Championship when the top-9 points winners made the team.
Because of not playing all that well at the end and being a pick, it’s fair to say that most people wondered about him as one of the three picks and whether he was settled enough to make a contribution to the team. Watson must have had the same thoughts because he only played him in two matches, the Friday morning Fourball which he and Bubba Watson lost 6&5 and Sunday’s Singles which he halved with Ian Poulter. So it didn’t make for the best playing experience for him:
“It was kind of — I had two experiences. The golf side was a terrible experience because I only got to play two matches. I showed up in Scotland really ready to play and excited to play, and when you sit three matches in a row, it’s tough. So the golf part stunk for me. I’m not going to lie. I mean, if I said golf was great, you could call me a liar, and we didn’t win. If I sit three matches and we win, I’ll have a different answer.”
“But you know, I had my wife there. We don’t get many chances to be together without kids, so we had a great week. I had a great week with the teammates and the wives and the captains and so forth. Apart from golf, it was a great week. They’re always memorable weeks. So kind of a bittersweet taste in my mouth Sunday night, especially having tasted success on the Presidents Cup teams and knowing how good it feels to win team events, and two Ryder Cup teams we’ve lost that I’ve been on.”
But he doesn’t dwell on the loss that long:
“All in all, I think a lot of people make it out to be so important, but at the end of the day, it’s a competition, it’s the Ryder Cup, it’s supposed to be fun. So I don’t let it linger as long as some people may.”
That’s not to say that he doesn’t have some views about the controversial way that the team was managed:
“I think when you get in a situation like what we’ve seen at the Ryder Cup, I think there’s so many different people and moving parts who have opinions of what it should be, you’ve got fans, you’ve got past captains, you’ve got media, players. You’ve got so many moving parts that all feel that it should be done a certain way.”
“So I think the PGA’s move to consult the players is really smart. I feel like players should be consulted more on certain things, like the rules, for example. Or golf course design. If we have a tournament we play every year and the course gets remodeled I feel like they should talk to a couple players who have been at that tournament for 20 years and say, before we make a mistake what do you think about this. I think getting players involved in the process is a good thing. I really do.”
So he was asked what ideas he had on the matter. He spoke to the tactic many players use in stressful situations: they try to make their experience as “normal” as it would be in any other tournament. Make the moment normal so that it doesn’t become outsized in their minds:
“My idea is just an idea I heard Paul Azinger talking about, was just trying to make the team environment and the captain, whoever he may be, just make it all more consistent [rather than] you show up at one Ryder Cup and it’s going to be done a completely different way than the previous one or the next one, and I think that makes sense for everybody. I mean, we want — all golfers want to feel normal”
“Paul [his caddie] and I this week are going to act no different to each other than we would at another tournament. We want to make it as normal as possible, and I think that would be good for the Ryder Cup, to know what to expect, to know more about kind of who’s going to play, when, and all that, and I think that would be good. I think we all would want that.”
He doesn’t blame Watson for this, rather he’s glad that the PGA is talking about finding a way to gather leading candidates to make the team so that there is more of a team feeling rather than a cog feeling:
“But again, I don’t think it’s the captain’s fault. I just think there’s no real opportunities for the players to collectively get together and say this is what we think would be best for us. So it sounds like PGA is creating that right now, which is great.”
As to this week, he’s ready:
“Yeah, I definitely think the game is ready. I’m excited. You know, fundamentally, my game is as good as it’s been, and so it’s just a matter of hopefully I won’t be rusty tomorrow as I tee it up. But again, getting into my game plan, last year I didn’t tee it up Thursday thinking I had to shoot 20 something [-24] under to win, one hole at a time. Last year’s win will help me. There’s things I learned last year about the golf course and staying patient that will help this year.”
For us, it always comes down to seeing the twists and turns of how the player manages to realize all his positive thoughts and potential. “Or not” is sometimes just as interesting. It’s why we watch.