Last Sunday, on the 18th tee at TPC Sawgrass, Webb Simpson hit his final drive of 2018 Player’s Championship.
Last Sunday, on the 18th tee at TPC Sawgrass, Webb Simpson hit his final drive of 2018 Player’s Championship. Simpson overcooked the draw, which became a full-fledged hook, diving right-to-left straight into the waterbody. Simpson took his third shot from the drop zone, and eventually putted out for a double bogey. He doffed his hat to the crowd, signed off for a one-over 73, and hoisted the second-biggest win of his career. The chasing pack had long lost sight of Simpson, so far back in fact, that the two dropped strokes at the last only reduced the former US Open champion’s winning margin by four strokes.
If you haven’t been following Simpson’s career since he burst into the winner’s circle in 2011, then his final round at Sawgrass last week wouldn’t have made for the nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat kind of finish that you’d hope for at a marquee event like the Player’s. There were some thrills for sure: a certain Mr Woods got the entire golfing world agog with excitement when he made a vintage run on the back nine on Sunday. If it hadn’t been for a ball in the water on the 17th hole’s island green (where else) then Woods would have finished up in the top five, if not in the second place. TW finished 11th and promptly declared to the world that he was very close to winning golf tournaments. The sort of pronouncement that would have been sweet music to PGA Tour officials and television network executives—given the man’s ability to draw attention and viewership to the game.
But I digress; Simpson did nothing of the sort on Sunday. He just played mediocre golf, somewhat nonchalantly (seemingly) and won one of the biggest tournaments in the world against, unarguably, the toughest field that you could curate in 2018. I don’t know if he meant to show some disdain—Simpson certainly didn’t dwell on that in his post-event press conference—but for a player whose career got derailed on account of rules change that he didn’t agree with, Simpson certainly delivered a stinging rebuttal.
Not only did Simpson win the Player’s Championship wielding a regular flat stick, he pulled it out of the bag, on average 29 times per round. That’s a remarkable statistic at any event, but absolutely astonishing at the Player’s Championship, played at TPC Sawgrass, one of the most brutal and unforgiving layouts in the world. Simpson opened his tally with a strong six-under 66 in his opening round, but blew away the competition with a course-record equalling nine-under 63 going into the weekend. By the time he’d wrapped up a four-under 68 on Saturday, Simpson had a seven-stroke lead on Sunday; “It was tough. Being in that position is harder than I thought,” said Simpson, who was keenly aware that no one in PGA Tour history had ever squandered a seven-shot lead after 54 holes. “It’s hard to stay motivated with a big lead, hard to continue to do what you’ve been doing, but I got it done.”
The win with a cheque for $1.98 million (the largest in golf) was Simpson’s first in no less than 107 starts after years of trying to overcome putting woes that mounted after golf’s governing bodies outlawed anchoring.
The turning point for Simpson came, appropriately, at last year’s Player’s Championship. Tim Clark, who also used to anchor the putter, suggested that Simpson try the ‘claw’ method. Simpson tied for 16th with the new style and added an individual quirk by which he now pins the shaft under his left forearm.
“If it hadn’t been for my faith, it would have been a lot harder to get through,” Simpson said. “I love this golf tournament, and it was here last year where I got that lesson, so I think it’s pretty special that a year later we come out with a victory. This is one that I do want to celebrate with the team and just reinforce that it’s a group effort.”
Of all the good players severely affected by the ban, Simpson was probably the most high-profile, and his plummet down the world rankings was most dramatic. Adam Scott has continued to win post the ban, while Keegan Bradley has managed to stay within the top 100. Ernie Els has struggled, but the big South African has already got a World Hall-of-Fame career.
Spare a thought for Clark though. The affable South African won his maiden (and biggest) title at the Player’s back in 2010. And no one was more affected by the anchorage ban than Clark who has a natural deformity that does not allow him to supinate his wrists. Clark has gone off the tour after the ban. Irrespective of the questions surrounding the validity of the ban—and it continues to be an inconclusive affair—there’s little rationale for not exempting someone like Clark whose career has essentially been scuttled for life. Rules in golf can be painfully rigid; and it’s about time the governing bodies of the game allow themselves some leeway when it comes to interpretation, application and exceptions to The Rules. There’s a fine line between taking pride in tradition and being stymied by it. Simpson refused to be sabotaged, and his resurrection is sure to have eased many a conscience.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game