Simpson, Raleigh coach pick up playing pace ahead of majors
Posted April 9
Early into his fourth year on the PGA Tour, Raleigh native and Charlotte resident Webb Simpson is making major changes as he begins the first major tournament of the season.
For the first time since his rookie season, Simpson is taking a play-in approach, rather than a practice-in routine, to this week’s Masters, the U.S. Open (June 12-15 at Pinehurst No. 2), the British Open (July 17-20 at Royal Liverpool) and the PGA Championship (Aug. 7-10 at Valhalla, Ky.).
“Playing more before the majors is something we’ve talked about in the past, and Webb thought this was the best year, schedule-wise, to see how it works,” said Carolina Country Club golf director Ted Kiegiel on Tuesday.
Kiegiel has been Simpson’s only coach for 20 years and joined the player last weekend at the Shell Houston Open in Humble, Tex.
The two reunited Monday at Augusta National, where Kiegiel was a longtime assistant pro before landing the CCC post in the mid 1990s.
It was in Raleigh on the quaint 104-year-old course (six par-3s, five par-5s, only seven par-4s) off Glenwood Avenue that Simpson and Kiegiel built a swing and launched a career that would result in Simpson becoming one of the youngest U.S. Open champions ever at the age of 26 in 2012.
The foundation of Simpson’s game has changed very little since his days at Broughton High School and Wake Forest University.
But like the schedule leading into the majors, a few renovations also are taking place in the swing.
“It’s not something you could describe as radical,” Kiegiel said. “But there were things we wanted to adjust and both felt needed adjustment." The biggest differences are in posture and hand position at address.
“Gradually, Webb’s swing had changed a little because his arms had become too close to his body at impact. That led to (him) lowering his hands, and the end result was that he wasn’t making the most of his size (6-2, 180). There’s much a finer line at this level that it doesn’t vary much at all to miss fairways by very small margins. But it all makes a difference in scoring.”
Although Simpson has five top-10 finishes and has made the cut nine times in his last 10 tournaments, his scoring has been unusually sporadic by his standards.
Last week in Texas, he opened with a 4-under 68 but then retreated with two rounds of 73 followed by a 77 on Sunday.
So far in 2014, Simpson’s best finish was a tie for third in the Tournament of Champions in early January at Maui. His last three outings ended in the tie for 61st at the Shell, a missed cut in the mid-March Valspar in Florida and a tie for 47th in the early-March Cadillac in Florida.
“But his confidence is building,” Kiegiel said. “He’s sound psychologically because he knows better than anyone what he’s capable of accomplishing.”
But even with Kiegiel’s thorough knowledge about Augusta National’s dos and don’ts, Simpson has struggled more in the Masters than in any other major.
He missed the cut last season and tied for 44th in 2012 with rounds of 72, 74, 70 and 78.
“The course has changed some basically because of the winter storms,” Kiegiel said. “But it’s such a great course that you learn something new every day no matter how many times you’ve seen it.”
Simpson should be more comfortable when he tees off at 9:24 a.m. Thursday with Fred Couples and amateur Chang-woo Lee.
“Webb got a chance to play the course three days a few weeks ago, so that should help, particularly since Monday’s practice round was rained out. He’ll be ready,” Kiegiel said.