How snapping a putter over his knee helped Webb Simpson become one of the PGA Tour's best on the greens

February 03, 2020

Harry How

Webb Simpson is one of the many golfers who has acted upon the natural urge to break a putter. He just did it for a different reason than most.

Simpson was very happy with his long putter at the end of 2014, and why not? After a decorated amateur career at Wake Forest, his four PGA Tour wins before turning 30 included the 2012 U.S. Open. But with the anchoring ban set to start in 2016, Simpson decided to go ahead and make a switch. But to keep himself from going back to his trusted flatstick, he took breaking up to another level.

"I see my bag in the garage, and I see the belly putter, and for whatever reason I had an urge to just break it," Simpson said after winning the 2018 Players, his first tour title won without anchoring. "If I break it, I can't take it with me. And so I go over there and snap it over my knee."

Caddie Paul Tesori estimates the move cost Simpson more than $5 million the next season—but boy, has it ever wound up being worth it.

On Sunday, Simpson won the Waste Management Phoenix Open by rolling in back-to-back birdie putts on the 18th hole in regulation and the first hole of a playoff to top Tony Finau. Simpson's sixth PGA Tour title also vaulted him back into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time since 2012.

But the most amazing part of the 34-year-old's resurgence is how good of a putter he's become since snapping his old putter over his knee and framing the pieces in his trophy room. Before the breakup, Simpson was solid on the greens, averaging being ranked 36th in strokes gained putting his first six seasons.

"To be honest with you guys, I've never putted this well in my life," Simpson said after that Players win. "And I think if I had stayed with the belly putter, I think I maybe average 35th to 60th every year in putting. So very average."

The numbers certainly bear that out. Upon making the switch ahead of 2015, he went a dismal 174th and 177th in the all-important stat the next two seasons. But after improving to 88th in 2016-2017, Simpson, following a move to a claw grip, finished fifth in 2017-2018 and 11th last season. He's currently No. 7 this season.

"Paul and I just agreed that if we get a year under our belt before the ban happens, it's only going to help us, even if we struggle," Simpson, now No. 7 in the OWGR, told reporters on Sunday. "And that was a tough two years, but my dad always told me, You got to hang in there. Like, no matter what life throws at you, your job throws at you, you just got to hang in there. Not that it's always going to turn out well, but if you're not ready for things to turn around, then they probably won't. So I just kind of, there was many frustrating moments, for sure, but I hung in there and tried a lot of different stuff and finally found something that works."

He's also currently on quite the heater. Beginning at last year's Masters, Simpson hasn't finished worse than T-30 in 16 official PGA Tour starts. And in addition to his win at TPC Scottsdale, he has four runner-ups in that span. Of course, it also helps that Simpson is currently No. 2 on tour in strokes gained approach.

"I think it's more well-rounded," Simpson said of his game now versus 2012. "I think I've had a lot of experience since then, learned a lot. And I really, I mentioned this a couple times, I think, but a couple years ago I was just a little bit tired of being inconsistent and I wanted to be a more consistent player. And I started looking at the weaknesses and really learning from golf tournaments, whether I finished second or 30th or missed the cut. And so I think just becoming more a student of the game and a student of myself has helped. So I do feel just more well-rounded now. And I think my time in the gym has led, not necessarily to a lot of yards, but it's led to just more consistent feeling in my body when I show up to the range. And that's a big deal. We're playing at different time zones, different environments, weather, and so to show up with the same body week-in, week-out is actually a lot more important than I thought."

Just a guess, but he's also going to be showing up with the same putter for a long time.