His presence in Australia as part of the U.S. Presidents Cup team -- highly unlikely just a few months ago -- underscores what a remarkable year Webb Simpson has had
When the season ended and he boarded a private jet in Orlando, Webb Simpson didn't point to the sky or recite scripture. He cracked open a beer and thought about ordering a pizza. On board were Simpson's wife, Dowd, and their 8-month old son, James. The Simpsons were already talking about ordering their favorite take-out and sitting around the kitchen table back home in Charlotte to celebrate the best year of his career.
You wouldn't know it, but Simpson had just lost the PGA Tour money title and, likely, player-of-the-year honors to Luke Donald, just a month after losing the FedEx Cup to Bill Haas. Some tour pros would have been disappointed about leaving so much cash on the table, but for Simpson, this was a year of exponential improvement and financial gain.
The World Ranking? A year ago Simpson was 229th before he secured his 2011 tour card with a T-4 at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals For Children Open, the next-to-last event of the 2010 season. Still, at the time, he wasn't eligible for this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational, let alone any of the four majors.
The Presidents Cup? Simpson ranked 45th in points at the end of last year, but by the time the team was named in September, he had climbed to fourth. He will make his Cup debut at Royal Melbourne GC in Australia later this month.
The FedEx Cup? Simpson bowed out after two playoff events in 2010. He almost won it all in 2011, finishing second on the points list to Haas after Jay's kid won the Tour Championship with a miracle up-and-down at East Lake.
The money title? He was 94th in 2010. A year later, at age 26, he finished second to Donald, who made six straight birdies on the back nine in the final round of the regular season to win the tournament and steal the earnings crown.
Still amped after his long day at Disney, Simpson tossed and turned until 2 a.m. and was awake at 5. The first thing he did was check the World Ranking website on his iPhone. He was 10th, an all-time best. Next he checked his Bible and C.S. Lewis apps, while awaiting the first sounds from James' crib.
"Webb has the perfect disposition for golf," says Dowd, who besides being a wife and mother is also an actress. "He can shake off one hole and move on to the next. He can shake off one tournament and move on to the next."
There was plenty to shake off early in the season. A final-hole bogey in the Transitions Championship and a penalty stroke when his ball moved on the green prior to putting at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans cost him victories. Those losses (to Gary Woodland by a stroke and Bubba Watson in a playoff) were crucial in determining the outcome of both the money and POY titles. So was a missed three-footer in a playoff loss to Ben Crane in the McGladrey Classic at Georgia's Sea Island resort.
"We talked just after Disney," says caddie Paul Tesori, "and he said, 'You know what's amazing? Woodland had 23 putts on Sunday, and that's not his best stat. I lost in a playoff to Bubba on a rule that has since been reversed. I got beat by Ben Crane who birdied eight of his last 11 holes. Donald made 10 birdies on his first 15 holes Sunday to win his second stroke-play event [in the U.S.] in nine years. I could look at it as if I should have had six wins, but I don't look at it that way. Those were some tough losses and some pretty weird circumstances surrounded all four of them, but I did my best. I can't control other circumstances.' "
What Simpson did control was the state of his own game. He hired Tesori after the 2010 season when caddie William Kane went into youth ministry, and he signed with Jeff Banaszak of Back 9 Tour Services to engage in a fitness program to get more flexible and functionally stronger. Sitting down with Banaszak last Nov. 30 for his first evaluation, Simpson was asked to list his goals. Webb told him, "Be mentioned among the greatest players in the world and work to attain the No. 1 [spot] on the World Ranking."
Tesori flew to Charlotte before the Sony Open and had to be honest, telling Simpson, "You must have a very good mind because your mechanics are not very good." After working with Vijay Singh and Sean O'Hair, Tesori felt that for Simpson to keep his card for two years was a miracle and that he wasn't a top-50 player, let alone a player with the skill set to be No. 1.