The two hottest things in golf at the moment: Webb Simpson and the belly putter. Simpson has won two of the last three events, while long putters (including Adam Scott’s broomstick) have triumphed in four of the last five. (Be honest — how many of you at home have thought about trying one out?)
Simpson has consistently played well this season with nine top-tens, including two wins and two runner-up finishes. He joins Mark Wilson, Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney and Keegan Bradley as guys with multiple victories in 2011.
Simpson isn’t a recent belly putter convert, either. He’s one of the original young guys to switch early in his career. During his freshman year at Wake Forest, he had an inconsistent first semester so he tried the belly putter as a joke, but then the ball kept disappearing in the hole and he was sold.
The Raleigh, North Carolina, native birdied his last three holes, including two in the sudden death playoff against Chez Reavie. Simpson dropped a 26-footer for birdie on 18 in regulation to get to 15-under. But two groups behind him, Chez Reavie was leading and also rolled in a long putt on 16 to increase his lead to two shots.
When Webb was on the 18th green in regulation, he glanced at the leaderboard and saw that Reavie had gotten to 16-under, which fueled him even more to make his birdie putt.
“I thought that putt in regulation might come up like an inch short, but it kept rolling out,” said Simpson. “When it went in, it was pretty exciting, but I knew it was still a long shot and I felt pretty lucky to get in a playoff.”
I started walking with Jason Day, who was getting up-and-down from everywhere, at the 9th (his bunker play was awesome — watch out, Luke Donald!). After I heard the roar for Reavie on 16, I looked at my colleague Cam Morfit and said, “Um, I think we should catch up with Chez.” After all, it looked like he was a lock to win — he stepped up to the reachable-in-two par-5 18th needing just a par.
The plan all along for Reavie was to lay up. He safely hit it to the right side of the fairway on his second shot and only had 119 yards to flag for his approach. Even Webb admitted he figured the odds were 1 in 100 he’d be in a playoff when he saw Chez with a wedge in his hand on 18.
“Even if I had a 7-iron in my hand I was probably going to just lay it up and make a par,” said Reavie in his post-loss presser. “That’s all I had to do and there was no risk in that unless you hit a wedge over the green.”
Unfortunately, the wind switched on him and he pulled the shot, causing it to go even longer. He couldn’t convert for his par and bogeyed one of the easiest holes on the course.
Reavie is focusing on the positives from the day. When asked to comment on securing a spot in the Tour Championship (which also means he’s in all four majors next year and at least most of the WGCs) and moving to No. 9 in FedExCup points, Reavie fought back tears and said, “It’s unbelievable. Starting the year on a medical (exemption) and not knowing what’s going to happen, to be able to go to the Tour Championship is a a goal. It’s what I wanted to do.”
Reavie, who putted great with a standard-length putter, held his own, matching Simpson’s birdie on 18, the first sudden death hole. Then on the second playoff hole, the 17th, Reavie’s 25-footer just burned the edge. Simpson had a straightforward nine-footer for birdie and the win. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the putt was going in the hole.
“It’s been a whirlwind of a few weeks,” he said. “This is my fourth tournament in a row. I missed the cut at the PGA and then won Greensboro, my first win ever, and haven’t really had time to reflect on that because the Playoffs started. So I don’t really know what to think right now, but I’m certainly thankful for the chance to win, and having been able to finish the round with a birdie and then birdie the first two holes in a playoff was truly awesome.”
Simpson is looking forward to getting home to Pinehurst, North Carolina, for some much needed R&R before the third leg of the playoffs, the BMW Championship in Chicago, which starts next week. He’s also started a post-victory tradition. After he captured the Wyndham Championship title, he dined at Wendy’s. He guessed he’d probably celebrate tonight at Wendy’s or possibly McDonald’s.
“Got to keep it going, you know,” said Simpson, smiling.
It’s almost comical to hear that coming from a guy who just won $1.44 million and has the chance to take home another $10 million, but it also makes the down-to-earth Simpson more likable.
“We’re so fortunate on the Tour to play for the kind of money that we do,” he said. “But you know, the joy I get from what I do is not in the money, it’s just getting in the Playoffs, just making big putts when I need to. So I don’t really think about it that much. It’s certainly an added bonus. But I think I speak for the Tour that we do it for the thrill of trying to win and trying to become better players.”
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)