Webb Simpson: Returning to the short putter ego intact

As pretty much all the golf world knows, anchored putters have been banned beginning in 2016. There has been great consternation about those players who have been using anchored putters for years; Tim Clark, Bernhard Langer, Adam Scott, Carl Pettersson, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson to name the first ones that come to mind.

In Clark’s case, it’s a real problem because of a disability he was born with, his forearms don’t supinate. Keegan Badley made the switch back in May of last year. What was interesting about that is that Bradley was so self-conscious about making the switch that he recruited Michael Jordan to play 36 holes with him in Jupiter and asked him to make him uncomfortable to see if he could overcome it. 

And now comes Webb Simpson’s U.S. debut in the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii and you’d have to say that it went well. He shot 8-under 62 to end up T1 with a resurgent Paul Casey.

Casey gave up his card on the European Tour to play full time on the PGA Tour this year. For the last 10 years — except for the year he had a dislocated shoulder — he’s been in Abu Dhabi this time of year. But fatherhood has caused him to want to travel less, so he’s in Hawaii.

It was amazing how nervous Simpson was on his maiden voyage with the short putter:

To be honest with you, I told Dennis I was really nervous starting the day, my first round with the short putter.  Just a lot of anticipation.  I used it in Japan at the Dunlop Phoenix in the fall, but I talked to my wife this morning and she gave me a couple verses to think about today.  Honestly, I know religion gets thrown around a lot, but I couldn’t have done it today without God and without scripture.

All that to say it was a good day, and on this golf course if you drive it in the fairway like I did on the front, you’ll have plenty of opportunities, and the fairways are firm right now.  You drive it well, you’ll have short irons in.  I just started rolling some putts in, and sooner or later I realized I had made four or five in a row, and just tried to keep it going.

But for all that trepidation, it went a little better than he ever hoped:

It was one of my best putting rounds I’ve ever had to be honest.  I’ve been putting well with it, but it’s easy to putt well at your home course playing with your buddies.  So today there was a lot of pressure and didn’t sleep that great last night, but had a good morning, talked to my wife, and good warm‑up, and it was big to see a few putts go in early.  Real thankful for just how the day unfolded.

But he did it by walking on egg shells in the early going:

Yeah, you know, I made a good putt on the first hole and a long two‑putt on the second hole, but all day I had a couple simple thoughts of just stay in my routine, don’t take too much time.  I think I’ve gotten in trouble in the past by taking too much time and second‑guessing myself.  Trust and freedom were two big words for me today, and I was able to do that all day.  My tendency with the short putter is to have a tough time with long putts, but over the last really few weeks, I’ve gotten better with it.  Hopefully I’ll continue to get better.

And here he talks about the decision to switch and the self-consciousness it engendered in him. Regular readers will immediately recognize this as the ego run amuk. Simpson overcame it by jumping into the breach, getting some success under his belt and thus calming his nerves:

Yeah.  I think the biggest thing — I don’t know if you hear Keegan or whoever else, Adam, talk about it, the pressure comes when there’s expectation.  There’s more focus on you, which you know, two ways to deal with it.  One, it can negatively affect you, or two, you can realize that, hey, that’s just how it is and you’ve got to play through it.

I spent — just a lot of anticipation for me has led to being really nervous.  More than anything, I’m just glad to get started.  I didn’t want to wait until 2016 because I didn’t want to be in a position where I felt like I was forced into the short putter.

Or three, he could have recognized, “Oh, there’s that poor pitiful ego of mine again quivering in fear. But I know that’s not real. That’s not who I am. I am the impervious spiritual essence that I arrived as.”

In exploring how to deal with these irrational egoic fears, I once considered showing up on the first tee with a different shoe on each foot; black saddle on one and brown saddle on the other…and then making no comment or explanation about it to anyone.

In the interest of decorum, I chose not to do it; just thinking about it was lesson enough. But every time I feel myself fearing scrutiny, I think of those shoes…and remember my essence.

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