By Jeff Skinner
The PGA tour is heating up now, except for Mr. Woods, and there are some new faces out there trying to make their mark on the tour. One of those rookies is a former Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, Webb Simpson.
Simpson has started hotter than any rookie so far this season. The Wake Forest grad started with a tie for fifth at the Sony Open and followed that with a tie for ninth at the Hope. He was in the mix early at the FBR Open but fell back on the weekend. He currently stands in seventeenth place on the PGA money list, the highest ranking rookie. Simpson is a former All-American and was on the winning 2007 Walker Cup Team at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. Simpson has made the transition from the amateur ranks to the pro game look easy with an All Around ranking of thirteenth on tour.
Links Life Golf spoke to Simpson’s college coach, Jerry Haas. Jerry has been at Wake Forest for twelve years and Simpson was one of his prized recruits. Jerry knows golf. He is a former PGA Tour player and Walker Cup veteran. His older brother, Jay has been winning on the Champions Tour for years. Jerry also coached Jay’s son and tour player, Bill Haas while he was at Wake Forest. Here is what Jerry had to say.
Links Life Golf: What kind of person is Webb?
Haas: I have told this to many people. He came here highly touted, he was a Junior All-American. He’s a better person then he is a player. It’s hard to imagine. He just kind of gets it. He is good with people, he has a good personality. He is probably the most honest player I’ve ever had…in the fact that he never had an excuse for a bad shot or a bad round.
LLG: What do you think his personal strengths are?
Haas: He is very well grounded. It comes from his family….he always takes full responsibility.
LLG: What is the best part of his game?
Haas: His short game. He chips and putts unbelievably. He did it a lot in junior golf with smoke and mirrors…he would shoot good scores but, he would squeeze everything out of it…like “How did he shoot that score”…He is one of those rare kids, as he started hitting it better he still chipped and putted like he did. Sometimes a guy will start hitting it great and then all of a sudden he doesn’t putt as well….That’s why he can shoot low scores and make a lot of birdies.
He came here as a Junior All-American and I didn’t like his grip, I thought his right hand was very poor on the club and it kind of moved as he took it back….I thought about it, what do I say…this kids is a really good player but I think he can be better. So I acted like I was filming one kid on the range one day and I actually zoomed in on him on the end. So I called him over and said “Webb, I want you to look at something…Webb I think you got a terrible grip.” He was like “Oh man. Why do you say that?” Here, let me show you why…Webb said “that’s not me” I said yea, that’s you….He was hitting some good ones, but he was hitting some snap hooks. So we kind of talked about things and stuff and I gave him one of those form grips and he hit with that. Webb says ”oh yea, I can do that”… and he was hitting them great. He probably has one of the best pair of hands I ever seen.
LLG: So he is more of a “feel” player.
Haas: No question about it. So he played that freshmen year, he played OK, and he didn’t change anything. He disappeared for a week and a half after the first year in school…I see him and I ask him where he’s been and he says, “I‘ve been changing my grip, you were right.” Each and every year his swing got better. He is not a technical player at all.
LLG: Why do you think he went to Wake Forest?
Haas: I think it was a good fit. It was fairly close to home…all his sisters went to Carolina, so he was kind the first to break the mold. His Dad says it was the best move he ever made and we think so too. We miss him. He called the other day saying he missed playing with the guys….I said Webb those are great memories and you’ll always have those, but you’re your own boss now…in many ways he’s very naive, which I think makes him so likable.
When I was recruiting him, he was in a bunker..(it was a very difficult shot)..and you had to really swing to the left to get the ball out to the right..he had no follow through and he banked it and the ball shot out there and rolled up to two feet. I said to myself “That’s my boy, that’s the kid I got to have.”
LLG: When it comes to recruiting, are you worried about the kids leaving after a year or two?
Haas: Well, you hope they don’t leave. I only had one kid leave in twelve years. I only had one kid not graduate. Wake is a very strong academic school. You have to have the right kid. Most of the kids enjoy it here so much that they don’t..(leave). I think golf is a little different, in the fact that, you can never be ready I guess. You might think you are after two years of college, but if you look at Tiger and the best players in the world, they did well at junior golf, they dominated, they went to college and they won in college. They had a good stroke average and there is a very rare exception where a kid doesn’t do much in college and then goes on and does a lot of things. You kind of have to do it at every level and get comfortable.
LLG: Do you have a favorite Webb Simpson story? Coach Haas at this point had a really good laugh, but he said he could not tell me that story so he edited himself and told me the following.
Haas: We always called each other by other people’s names. Webb was given everybody other names… and I looked at Webb and he had a camel colored sweater with an Izod alligator on it and he had these khaki pants and he had these loafer shoes I think he stole from his dad with these Gucci buckles and no socks …and I said “well I got your name…you’re such a Chip” well he got so pissed, and we were all laughing. I even went so far as…we have a little team match play and Webb won it… I had a plaque made and I presented it in front of the team…it said “Chip” on it and I said it will always be in the trophy case as Chip, I was real serious, and he didn’t say a word. As we were leaving that night I said here Webb and pulled it out of my pocket, I had one that said Webb on it. He was all smiling.
LLG: Was he a leader on the team?
Haas: Oh yea. He loved to play and he made other players better.
Webb Simpson played some tournaments on the PGA tour in 2008 on sponsor’s exemptions. He also played on the Nationwide Tour. He said he was playing in 2008 to learn as much as he could about winning and the tour. He appears to be well on his way to a successful season.