Webb Simpson Pre-Championship
BETH MAJOR: Welcome again to the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. We’re pleased to have our defending champion Webb Simpson with us. It’s been a year since we sat here celebrating his victory. Can you talk about what the last year has been like for you?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I think it really sunk in Monday when I was registering, just seeing the USGA signs everywhere, just kind of looking around. It brought back so many good memories of winning the tournament last year.
I get asked all the time, did it change you as a person? Did it change you as a player? Hopefully it didn’t really change me as a person, but I definitely grew from it, I got a lot of confidence from it. I haven’t won a tournament since, but I’m always saying, all I care about is getting better, and all I care about is the process. And so there hasn’t been a day that went by that I haven’t thought about winning the U.S. Open, being the U.S. Open champion, being announced on the first tee as U.S. Open champion hasn’t gotten old. I don’t want that to change. So it’s been a great year. It’s been a fast year, I can’t believe we’re already back. But I’m looking forward to it this week in so many ways, looking forward to trying to defend the title.
BETH MAJOR: You also have some history here at Merion. You played in the U.S. Amateur eight years ago. Can you talk about your thoughts on the course and being back playing this week?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, when I played in ‘05 I instantly fell in love with this golf course. I grew up on a short golf course and I felt like too many courses nowadays come with a standard 75, 7600 yards and Merion is so different. We all know it’s short, but it’s still as hard as other courses. Winged Foot is 75, 7600 yards, there’s no tricks about Winged Foot. Oakmont is similar in that regard. Merion is going to be fun for the viewers, the players and the fans, for you guys, because you go out and you play well, you shoot a good number. Whereas you go out and you don’t play well you can shoot a really high number. I feel like Oakmont and Winged Foot are different than those types of golf courses. They don’t offer 5, 6‑under rounds, Merion does. As soon as you relax, third hole you’re hitting a 3‑wood into a par‑3. I know the USGA didn’t want the rain to come in, because it’s going to make it easier. Sunday I played nine holes, I hit two balls three or four feet in the rough and I lost the balls. I’m asking the marshals out there to help us.
In the 2005 U.S. Amateur, I played well, I lost to Anthony Kim in the second round. He played great. Other than that I haven’t played much. I played in an outing in September, but the first time I was back was Sunday.
Q. Just curious if you were surprised when you heard that there’s been no repeat U.S. Open champion in 24 years. And maybe why do you think that is, since you’re the guy that’s going to try to end that streak.
WEBB SIMPSON: It doesn’t surprise me. The biggest factor is the courses change every year. They’re at a different venue. Merion is a totally different type golf course than Olympic. So you might show up at a golf course one year, for example, I think short hitters have a lot better chance of winning this tournament this year than some of the longer courses. So I think that’s one of the biggest factors.
But, you know, I’ve said it to people a lot this year that guys who haven’t won majors who are great players get a bad rap because they haven’t won a major. But the fact is there’s only four of these a year, and it’s so hard to have your game peak and beat the best players in the world one out of four times a year.
So I think it’s just so hard to put so much emphasis on four golf tournaments. But it is a major. So if you do win, like I was fortunate enough to win, a lot comes with it. But I think it’s just so hard to get – everything – so many factors that have to be going well for you to compete and even get in contention on a week like this.
Q. Did I hear correctly that you plan on hitting 5‑iron off a couple of tees here?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, No. 7 and 8 I’ll probably, you know, it got a little softer, so I might go to a 4‑iron. But they’re definitely going to be iron holes. The fairways are going to be wider where we hit iron.
Q. Not everyone has the same experience in the past at Merion as you. Have you talked to any of the guys or are they shaking their heads, are they excited about the prospect of playing here, what are you hearing from some of your fellow pros?
WEBB SIMPSON: Everybody that I’ve talked to seems to really like the golf course. What’s interesting here is there’s no 18‑hole theme. You go through the first 13 holes and if you drive it appropriately you can have, the way I figured it, nine wedge shots. And the last five holes you’ve kind of got to hang on. 14 is 480, whatever it is, uphill. 17 can be a wood to a par‑3. 18 could be a wood. The first ten holes the other day I hit two woods into par‑4s.
So I think everybody is kind of ‑‑ everybody likes it, everybody is trying to figure it out. But it is so different than what we’re used to, because there is no one theme.
So I think everybody is happy about it. I don’t think the caddies are happy about the wicker baskets, even though the players like it. It’s fun. It’s different for us.
Q. You only played nine holes on Sunday. Were you able to play at all yesterday?
WEBB SIMPSON: I didn’t. I was going to play nine holes, but my radar kept telling me not to.
Q. So given it is a major and you guys are creatures of habit, how does the rain that we’ve had affect your preparation going into Thursday and will you be able to get everything done that you need to get done?
WEBB SIMPSON: Well, you know, after dinner my wife and I were talking about it last night, because us golfers, we want to try to make every week seem normal and every week being the same and stay in your same routine. But with a major you’ve got to prepare more. It is that balance of resting versus preparation. I’ve already changed my schedule for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, three different times.
The plan was to play nine Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and just practice Tuesday. And then we went to nine Sunday, 18 Monday, nine Wednesday. And now yesterday got rained out. I’m going to play nine today, 18 tomorrow. You’ve got to adapt to the weather. I’m going to play the back eight today. If my caddie and I feel that we got all the work done that we need to get done, then we’ll not play the back tomorrow. He’s out there now. It is tough. My fifth year on Tour only and I’m still having a time of trying to figure it out, what’s best.
Q. Do you think you’ll be able to get your work in?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I’ll definitely be able to get my work in. But you’ve got to get to the point where you get to a certain hole, you know where the middle of the fairway is, whether it’s a tree or a tower. Whether or not you want to feel comfortable over a tee shot or you want to go home and put up your feet and rest. It’s a long week.
Q. As you’re trying to get prepared and get ready. How aware of are you of the history of this course and what it means to have a Major back at Merion?
WEBB SIMPSON: The first time I came here was 2004, before the U.S. Am. I came with my dad and a couple of guys. It was November, the weather was bad. We sat in the clubhouse with one of the long‑time members, he was kind of our host. He was telling us the history of the club, Hogan’s shot on 18, the story behind that, a story within the story.
I love history, I love learn about past events. And so that part of – that’s why I think I love Augusta so much, because there’s so much history and you walk certain holes and you know things have happened here. A lot of us golfers are like that, where we just really appreciate what’s happened here in the past. And how Merion’s considered an old style golf course, under 7,000 yards, but yet we’re still having a U.S. Open here in 2013. I think it’s pretty remarkable for them.
Q. You mentioned that the caddies don’t like the baskets and the players do, can you elaborate what you like about the baskets and why the caddies don’t?
WEBB SIMPSON: They don’t like it because they can’t tell the wind, so it makes their job harder. They might be a little on edge to keep their job this week.
We like it because it’s different. I honestly think it will make us make decisions quicker. We’re sitting there a lot of times and we see one flag over here blowing that way and a flag over here blowing that way and we get confused and second‑guess. I think because it’s different. We’ll never play anything like this. So it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s just part of the tradition of Merion, part of the tradition of the club. When I was here in September they told me they were going to keep the wicker baskets and I was pretty excited about it.
Q. What will you have in on 7 and 8 if you hit those irons?
WEBB SIMPSON: 7, if I hit 4 or 5‑iron will probably have a wedge to a front pin, at worse an 8‑iron to a back pin.
And then 8 we’ll probably have sand wedge or pitching wedge at the most.
Q. How would this place have played differently if it was hard and fast? Can you offer us a compare and contrast?
WEBB SIMPSON: It would be totally different. A good example is hole No. 5, long holes, fairway is right‑to‑left. It’s a lot like Olympic where the fairways are sloped.
If it’s dry you can hit a ball up the left side of the fairway, land in the fairway and it go in the water. Now it will hit and stop.
The same way with the green. The green is like this (indicating.) The way to play it when it’s firm is to play it up to the right and let the slope help you. Now if you leave it up to the right it will stop.
So I think the first thing is guys are going to take more clubs off the tee. They’re going to be a little more aggressive with their approach shots. But, with rain, it makes the golf course longer and makes the rough tougher. It does provide a little bit of defense in that regard. But traditionally what you see on the PGA Tour, when it gets softer, it gets easier. So hopefully we can get through the first couple of days with scores not too low. And by the weekend it’s looking like it might dry out.
Q. You mentioned when you registered that the memories started flooding back to you. When you think back to the days, weeks, even months after Olympic, what kind of Major moments stick out to you that you still remember that were memorable?
WEBB SIMPSON: I mean the first thing that happened that it kind of sunk in a little bit, I played Travelers the next week and he announced me as the U.S. Open champion. That was pretty special. Because I played with guys before that they announced the reigning U.S. Open champion, and I was thinking how special that would be. I heard it, I pinched myself, I’m thinking it happened.
But, you know, people, before they want to talk about golf just in general. And then when I would get stopped, whether it’s a restaurant or mall, they want to talk about the U.S. Open or they refer to me as the U.S. Open champion.
I think it was – growing up, I didn’t really have a specific major I had a putt to win, it was just for the Major. I remember winning the U.S. Open thinking this is the best, this is the one that I wanted, because it’s my national Open. It’s the hardest test in golf. And I think that just made it all the more special.
And I got the trophy on order. I’m sure when it gets here, I’m sure it will bring back memories. The Bird Man. Usually that’s the first question, how did you play, how did you get up and down 18? Tell me about The Bird Man.
So people thought that that was, it took away from the ceremony, but I thought it added to it. Everybody wants to talk about it. I got an official Bird Man hat now. So I don’t think we’ll be seeing him this week.
Q. Along the same lines, can you reflect a little bit on what the emotions were like for you on the back nine on Sunday at the Olympic. You talked about what that week was like away from the course, seeing San Francisco, can you reflect on that?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, it was a week that started out as low as it could go and ended up being as high as it could go. My son was probably, how old was he, 15 ‑‑ he was 15 months at the time. He was just about to walk. He hadn’t taken his first steps yet.
I fly out on Sunday, my wife calls me on Monday and says, I was going to try not to tell you, but I think you should know, James, he walked, he took a few steps. First‑time dad, I’m crushed, I missed it. I was so, I guess, rude and mean to my caddie that, Paul, he thought I was firing him that week. That’s how the week started.
But my wife flew out Wednesday, and our boy stayed with her parents. It was one of the first trips we had gotten together after having James. Being in San Francisco was such a special place to be for my wife and me. It turned out to be one of the greatest weeks.
I remember thinking on the back nine, even if I don’t win today, this week has been so special for us that I don’t really care. It kind of took some pressure off. Dowd being 35 weeks pregnant at the time, her concern was she didn’t want a playoff, because that was one more round to go the next day. It was special for us.
I remember thinking on 18, before I putted, I was so nervous, but I was looking up at her on the hill. And just that setting was so neat. It’s a stadium‑like setting. And I told her, I couldn’t have done it without her being there. I’m so glad I had someone, especially her, to share the victory with.
Q. We’re here from Pinehurst, we know you’re not looking past this week, but next year is almost like a home course for you. Can you speak to sort of your thoughts on playing at Pinehurst No. 2?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I’ve always been a fan of Donald Ross. I love Pinehurst No. 2. There’s one water hazard on the whole golf course on 16 that’s not even in play. So I think it’s just the epitome of a golf course that is really straight in front of you. There’s no tricks about it. You hit a good shot you’ll get rewarded, you hit a bad shot you’ll get penalized. There’s nothing lucky or unlucky about it. It’s tough. I mean, I love Pinehurst golf.
And so I remember I was a standard barrier for Tom Watson’s group in 1999 and I remember thinking, you know, I can’t wait to compete for a U.S. Open here. In ‘05 I didn’t qualify. So it seemed like in ‘05, 2014 would never come, but it’s only a year away. I’m excited.
I was talking about Glenn Nager last night about how the men’s tournament is the week before the women’s and just what that will be like. I think that will really be cool.
I think one reason people love watching Augusta is because you’re familiar with it. People that have never been know what Amen Corner is and know what 13 and 15 is, the par‑5s. So I think getting the women’s tournament the week after, I think it will be pretty cool. So I’m excited about it, and it should be fun.
BETH MAJOR: Thanks so much for joining us. We wish you well this week.