Webb Simpson captured the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week with a bag that looks ready for a pro-am—for the amateur, that is. Simpson employs five metalwoods and his iron set starts at the 5-iron. One of his hybrids is a graphite shaft, the other steel. The 2012 U.S. Open champion spoke on a conference call with Golf Digest Equipment Editor E. Michael Johnson (as well as Golf Magazine’s Andrew Tursky) about his thoughts on the USGA and R&A’s call to stop distance, why the bright sun in Phoenix brought about a change to his driver and why Patrick Reed owes him a bottle of wine.
The USGA and R&A’s recent proclamation that they feel distance must be stopped. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s a big thing in the golf world right now. The USGA and R&A did a great deal of research. They think equipment tech is the reason distance has increased but that doesn’t give players credit for the hard work they put in the gym and their knowledge of the swing. Trackman has helped, too. But fans and viewers want to see players hit it far. There are many ways to win on this level, not just distance. Guys out of college are longer than previous generation but I never get asked about distance in pro-ams. Our game is in as good a place as it has ever been. The solution is not to limit distance. It’s an asset to the PGA Tour. Lengthening courses is not the answer, either and there is so much evidence of that. The U.S. Open at Erin Hills was won at 16 under par on the longest course it had ever been held on. Six holes at Pebble played over par at 411 yards or less [editor’s note: five holes at 404 yards or less played over par; six holes at 428 yards or less played over par]. Make the fairways 8 to 10 yards narrower, grow the rough up and you can even make greens smaller. You’ve not only made the course more difficult but decreased the amount of money it takes to maintain.
How do you have the adjustable hosel set on your driver? Is it just neutral or is it in a different setting?
I change it throughout the year. For example, I had it set pretty shut at the Presidents Cup and in Hawaii, but then one day before Phoenix [for the Waste Management Phoenix Open], with the bright sun I could see part of the face looking shiny. I adjusted it to be more square to get rid of that. To be able to do that with one or two clicks is like magic.
You have two older hybrids in the bag. Why about those hybrids appeal to you?
I actually have a steel shaft [True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100] in my 23.5-degree hybrid. It was going too far with the graphite shaft so at the 2016 PGA at Baltusrol I went to a steel shaft that was cut down a little bit to decrease the distance and get more control like a 4-iron. No matter how good the technology is that comes out, I can’t get it out of my bag. I also think a lot of amateurs need a 3- and a 4-hybrid because they’re so easy to hit.
We spoke last year and you mentioned you had been doing some driver/shaft combination testing and settled on the a 46-inch Graphite Design Tour AD IZ 5 X. Now you have the Mitsubishi Tensei AV 65TX. What drove that change?
Throughout the year your body can change. You can get stronger or you can get weaker. Sometimes for me a club or a shaft might cycle out where I need something different. You might not be driving it as well as you want and you know it’s probably you, but sometimes for a little mind shift you try a different shaft and you just change for the sake of needing something different to change the momentum. For me, I was in a 46-inch shaft trying to get longer but then it got to the point where it just felt too long and I went back to 45.25 inches and that’s where I’ve been for a while. I can’t see myself changing lengths anymore. I can swing as hard as I want without losing any control over the head. There’s a lot of nuances to getting fitted but getting fit is so important. I see equipment in these pro-ams and know it’s the wrong club for them.
With all the golf-ball options and prototypes, how do you decide which golf ball model to play and Patrick Reed made a ball change after playing with you, didn’t he?
Similar to wedges, I have to see the golf ball perform under a few different conditions. I need to see how it performs all the way through the bag, what wedge shots do, short-game shots around the green, flighted shots and off the tee is a little bit less important than my iron shots. I was trying one of the prototypes, Pro V1 Star I believe. It spun a little more than the 2017 Pro V1 that I play. The year I won the Players, 2018, I tried it in a Tuesday practice round. I hit a shot on 16 into the wind and by my calculations my 4-hybrid should land on the front of the green. I hit a solid shot and it landed eight yards short. So my takeaway instantly was that the ball spun too much and I’m not going to use it. Even though I didn’t end up using it, it was good for me to rule out that option.
As for P Reed, I blame Paul [Simpson’s caddie, Paul Tesori] for this. We’re playing Greensboro last year and P Reed normally hits that nice draw but his ball was looking a little funny in the air—a little low and falling out of the sky. We realized it was less spinny and more firm than my ball and Paul suggested he use my ball, the 2017 Pro V1. We gave him a dozen balls for Sunday and he shot 63 with a bogey on the par-5 15th, then he goes the next week and wins The Northern Trust. That shows how much a ball can matter to someone’s game. He was playing a Titleist, just not the right one for him. He still owes me a bottle of wine for that switch. I told him it needs to be nice. I haven’t gotten it yet.
As you started getting into golf, what’s the first club that you really, really wanted as a kid?
The first club I remember was really cool and I loved it. It was a Cobra Baffler 7-wood. It was a persimmon with rails on the bottom. That was my favorite club. I kept that club in my bag as long as I could. But for me and my friends, the club we always kept our eyes on were Scotty Cameron putters. When Tiger won the 1997 Masters with the Cameron with the teryllium insert that was all I could think about until Christmas. I remember it was $300 at the time which back then was astronomical. I didn’t get it for Christmas, but the following February I went to Augusta National for the first time. They had it in the pro shop and I begged my dad to get it for me. He said, if I shot 76 or better he’d get it for me. I’m 8 over on the last hole and not going to shoot 76, so I tell him the last hole is a driver, 3-wood for me and if I make birdie will you get me the putter. He said sure and I hit driver, 3-wood to the Sunday pin six feet right of the hole—and I missed. I was so bummed. I think he could tell I was so upset about this putter I was going to forget about my whole day at Augusta National. On the car ride home to Raleigh we stop at a gas station and he asks me to grab something out of the trunk and I go into the trunk and there’s the putter. That was the greatest day of my life to that point.