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March 10, 2020

Webb Simpson

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

MICHAEL BALIKER: We're with our 2018 PLAYERS champion Webb Simpson back here at TPC Sawgrass. Webb is making his 11th appearance here this week, finished tied for 15th in his defense here last year when the tournament was moved back to March in 2019. Entering the week 5th in the FedExCup standings, already having won in Phoenix. Talk about returning here to Sawgrass with some confidence having already a good start to your season.

WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, it's always great to be here. You know, I told people before I won, I loved coming here. I loved the challenge of this golf course. I feel like this is one of the few golf courses we play throughout the year that, on any given day, somebody can shoot 7-under or 7-over. It's just that type of golf course. If you drive it well, you get rewarded, and there's birdie opportunities. That's fun for us players to play golf courses where, if you do certain things well, you can shoot low scores.

That's why I think you've seen scores all over the map here from 3-, 4-under winning to 20-underish, high teens. Always a fun course to come to and compete. Looks like we're going to have good weather. Golf course is in great shape. I know, out of 144 players, there's 110 TOUR winners in the field. THE PLAYERS Championship always gets talked about as kind of -- it's a standalone tournament in its own category, but the competition speaks for itself. It's a great field and a great challenge ahead of us.

Q. The stretch you've had this year starting with last fall, what's been working for you the most? What's been clicking? And then in terms of your scheduling, you're not exactly playing a Fred Funk-type schedule. You're not on track for 35 starts. Has that changed or evolved as you've progressed in your career?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, you know, well, the first part of your question, what's been working, I think looking back to last three or four months of golf, the thing that has stood out to me is the days where I tee it up and don't have a great day I'm able to shoot better scores. I've told people often that what separates guys from Korn Ferry to the PGA TOUR I think is your bad days, because those Korn Ferry guys can shoot 8-, 9-, 10-under. But I remember a couple rounds specifically, the first round at Sony this year I shot 1-over, but it could have easily been 4- or 5-over, and that kind of let me hang in there. I was in 40th place, could have been in 80th place. And this year at Waste Management I shot even par the first round. Could have been worse. And again, I'm 10 back after that first round, so I had a lot of ground to gain. But I knew that that golf course had certain holes and certain stretches where you could make runs.

So I think the difference has been just hanging in there on those tough days and ultimately has proved to allow me to stay in a tournament and still have a chance to win on Sunday.

Q. The scheduling?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, the scheduling, I set out a couple years ago to try to play less. A couple reasons. One, I have five kids. If I'm able, where I stand with my TOUR card, if I'm able, I want to be home more. But also, I looked at the best players in the world, and it seemed like the thing for them was, on schedule was, they were playing a little less than other guys. I think one reason, they're able to, but also there's something to it. I think I've seen that I show up to golf tournaments, like this one, I'm more rested. I wasn't in those grueling conditions the last two weeks. I'm excited to play golf, where I've felt in the past, if I'm on a long stretch, I'm not really excited to play golf. It feels more like work versus work and fun and competing. And so that's been a big difference for me mentally.

Q. Nobody has successfully defended here. A, are you surprised by that? And B, do you consider this tournament maybe the toughest to defend on TOUR?
WEBB SIMPSON: I think so. And I think it is because of the golf course and kind of the finishing holes. It's one of those courses where you feel so uncomfortable and unconfident with a one-shot lead or two-shot lead even with a few to go, compared to on other places you can put it on cruise control. So much can happen on 16, 17, 18 -- really 13 on, now 12 on with being a drivable par-4. So the back nine presents itself to have fireworks.

Even in 2018 when I had a big lead, I really didn't feel comfortable until I hit it on the green on 17. You're not really thinking bad thoughts, but you're thinking you've seen history, you've seen guys hit it in the water there on 17 and make a mess out of it. I think that's why it's hard to defend, because come Sunday, anyone can shoot 6-, 7-, 8-under. And I had a seven-shot lead, and I knew if I shot even par or 1-over and somebody shot a low number, I didn't win. Whereas, if you had a seven-shot lead at a different style golf course where shooting low scores were harder to do, then you'd feel more comfortable. So that's probably why, my guess is, people haven't defended.

Q. You're not surprised then?
WEBB SIMPSON: I'm not surprised, yeah.

Q. Just wondering, Tyrell Hatton was saying he was going to have such a big celebration he might not recover until Wednesday. I was wondering what you did when you won here, who you were with, whether it was low key, if you just wanted to be around the people that got you there, helped get you there, what exactly you did sort of that night.
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, so there was quite a few stops here, media and going to see the volunteers, so it was a decently long night but a fun night. You know, you're literally -- I'm out there in the dark driving down 18, going to 17, doing media there, and it's all fun. My wife wasn't there that week, but she flew down on Sunday morning, so it was just her and I, so when we left here, we got a flight, flew home, we stopped at Wendy's on the way to the airport, a celebratory dinner, which I did after the U.S. Open, it was Wendy's, and then we flew home, and Monday morning was school for my kids.

Pretty normal jump back into the dad role pretty quickly.

Q. What did you get at Wendy's? Did you go crazy?
WEBB SIMPSON: From Wendy's I go double cheeseburger usually. But my recovery was probably better on Monday morning than Tyrell Hatton's was. But good for him. I'm happy for him. I've known him to be a really good player for a long time. Yeah, obviously played in Ryder Cup with him and respect his game a lot. Somebody Tweeted and I saw this and I agree with it, it looked look like he was going to win all week he was so in control, even after his double on 11. So good for him.

Q. Mark Brody mentioned you in his book years ago, but how much do you use ShotLink data and statistics for course management or do you consult with someone on course management using those numbers?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I think Mark has changed the landscape for statistics forever. His stuff is as unbiased as you can get. I use it all the time, for confidence reasons, kind of two ways. One, if I think I'm hitting my approaches well and I look for the year, I'm 71st, then I realize I'm not. And vice versa, maybe I have a bad around the greens week, and I look and I finished 10th for the week. So there I realize I'm being too tough a critic. So I use his stuff weekly, I use it midweek, into the year, and it really helps.

And then in terms of more kind of zeroed into golf courses and what guys have done in the past to make -- the most birdies have come from this position in the fairway versus 30 yards back. I look at that a little, but I also know that I play -- I feel like I play the game slightly different than guys. Usually I'm a little more conservative than the field as a whole. So it does help, but I probably don't use that stuff as much as other guys might.

Q. We've had five players under 23 win since July. They've grown up with TrackMan, they've grown up with the insights of the ShotLink data and stuff. How much do you think all of that stuff has helped lessen the learning curve and allowed those guys to win young?
WEBB SIMPSON: I think it's helped a ton. What we used to have to figure out, and even more so, my caddie Paul, his kind of 15, 20 years before me, what you had to figure out on your own took so much longer and took just more information that you didn't know feels perfectly accurate. Now we have so much at our fingertips on our phone or on TrackMan, that's one of the main reasons guys are improving a lot faster and they come out here and they're ready to win. They understand their games more than I did even out of college. If you would have asked me out of college what are the strengths of my game, I probably would have fumbled over that question, but now guys can tell you, based on statistics, what makes them great. So it's certainly helped.

Even the fitting world, like you can now have a golf shaft that it feels great, it looks great, but your numbers on TrackMan are saying otherwise, so you really quickly eliminate that one and go to the next one. It's helping guys all across the board.

Q. What's your preparation like for THE PLAYERS compared to the majors, other big events?
WEBB SIMPSON: It's very similar. I mean, my goal Monday through Wednesday is to kind of combine feeling like I know the golf course and how it's playing, kind of refreshing myself on all the pins, where they're going to be, because they don't really change much, to getting in good practice kind of in all parts of my game but not being too tired. I think it's a tendency for guys at majors and in big events like this to overdo it Monday through Wednesday, and rest doesn't get enough attention. And so you kind of try to think, for me, through that lens of rest, practicing all parts of my game and knowing the golf course. And it's hard because, like right now, the golf course is in perfect shape but it's soft, and we're not going to get any rain, so come Thursday it could be very different than it was -- I played nine holes yesterday.

So you go into Thursday knowing that the golf course is probably going to get a little more firm, and you kind of have to adjust as you go.

Q. Is there another event that requires as many great shots as this one?
WEBB SIMPSON: I think Augusta has some similarities where you're going to hit every shot in your bag here, every club in your bag, low, high, right to left, left to right, and Augusta has a lot of that. It reminds me a lot of that in that way.

Q. Rory won last year after you, the previous year. When his name is mentioned, what are the things that immediately come to your mind about him?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, certainly, not needing to say this, but he's certainly the best player in the world right now, has floated in and out of the best player in the world for his whole career it seems like. His bad play and bad stretches is better than most every guy out here. And when he's playing his best, he's hard to beat.

You know, he's already, I think, created the opinion that he's going to go down as one of the great players ever in golf, which is great for him, great for us, great for our TOUR, and you know, he's one of those guys that you expect to be in contention every week.

Q. And as a person?
WEBB SIMPSON: I think he's great for our game. I think he's very mature. I think he's liked by all of his peers, all of us. Yeah, when someone respects you on and off the golf course, that's a great thing, and I think that's how we all feel about Rory.

Q. I believe you saw Butch Harmon the week before for a little bit of a checkup. Curious what you took from that to work on at Phoenix, and it obviously paid dividends immediately, and are you still working on the same stuff that you talked about that week?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, so I worked with Butch Monday of Phoenix, and I think what makes him great is I saw him in October, the Monday of Vegas, and I worked on my path in my backswing. My path, the club was getting too far inside, and that's all we worked on is my path. I come back in late January to see him, Monday of Phoenix, and we worked on my club face. My club face was getting too open in my backswing. And so I asked him was it open in October, and he said yes, and I said, why didn't we work on it in October, and he said, well, the backswing was a big task, and I didn't want to give you too much at once because you had to go play in a golf tournament, the Shriners. That just shows his experience, I think, just knowing how much to give a player and how much -- because I think he knows that players will go think about everything. If he gives me three things I'm going to think about them all. So it was just slow and steady. So then Phoenix week it was just my club face, and the homework for me was 15 to 20 swings a day, and that's it, and then he wanted me to go play golf.

So that's why I love going to see him is he knows his stuff but he knows that we have to go play every week, and it's hard to play golf swing on the golf course, so he's great at that.

Q. You had two weeks off coming into this week, so when you're home, you referenced your five kids, how do you manage your time? Do you go out there with a checklist at Quail Hollow, for example, and say, this is what I'm going to get done each day or do you just sort of wing it?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, so usually I dedicate two, three days to golf a week on an off week, so I'll take a couple days off and start back either Wednesday or Thursday. And this time of year is hard with the weather so it's a little bit unpredictable about when I can practice. But when I go out there there's a checklist. I'm trying to hit my range time, my putting, my short game, kind of all similar time -- I'm giving similar attention to all of them. And then I love to go on the golf course to implement what I just worked on. Even if it's nine holes with a friend or nine holes by myself, I try to get out there and pretend like I'm in a tournament, going through the routine, taking my time, reading putts like it matters, because that's the hardest part, I think, is kind of letting your technical work bleed into competition, because competition as you know is so different.

So that's a normal week. One of those days of golf is 18 holes of competition, so getting a game, playing, letting it count.

Q. Now that you've had a chance to experience this tournament in March, do you have a preference now, March or May?
WEBB SIMPSON: No, I think both have their strengths. I think March the golf course is overseeded. It's in perfect shape. It looks pretty. It's a little softer. Fairways are a bit wider. You can hit more club off the tee.

May is hotter, ball is going further. Ball is running more. Some of these dump-offs on the side of the green come into play more.

So I think both have their challenges. May plays shorter so you can hit shorter clubs in, but chipping is a lot easier this time of year. You don't deal with that grainy Bermuda. We have that nice plush overseed to help us.

Q. I was just curious what your strategy and club selection were at 6 off the tee?
WEBB SIMPSON: So 6, I hit a club that, if I pull it, I don't run out and into that bunker. So if I hit a hybrid and I pull it, I want it to be in the bunker where I have a clear shot to the green every time versus if I hit like a 3-wood and I pull it, it would run up against that lip, and most of the time if it runs up against that lip you can't hit it on the green. The lip is too tall to hit it that far. So depending on the wind and time of day and the heat and all that, usually we're looking at anywhere from a 230 to 260 club. But our main focus is what is that runout at that left lip playing.

Q. So you've --
WEBB SIMPSON: It's a hybrid or a 5-wood. I've usually laid back. It's rare we hit driver and get it up there.

Q. But you have tried driver?
WEBB SIMPSON: I have tried it before, yeah. I think in my early days I hit driver all the time, but I hit it up against that lip enough to have a sour taste in my mouth to want to stay away from it. We have a lot of holes like that here. 4 is another example where guys can hit driver if they want, they can get it up there and have a lob wedge in, but now you're bringing on trouble, or you can lay back with a 3-iron or 4-iron and have a lot longer shot in. And I think that's one of the main geniuses of this golf course. You look at 18, Rickie hitting driver the year he won in 2015, hitting a cut even. Rory hitting driver last year with, what did he have, a two-shot lead going into 18? I'm hitting 3-iron on that hole. So Rory is literally going to hit it almost 100 yards by me, but he's playing it how he wants to play it and what he's confident in, and I'm doing the same, and that's what makes this course special.

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