PGA Tour Confidential: Webb Simpson wins the U.S. Open by one shot

June 18, 2012

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

Gorant: After an impressive 2011, Webb Simpson dropped out of the SI top 10 weeks ago, missed his last two cuts and seemed to be fading a bit. Even in this Open, he was never a real part of the storyline until the back nine on Sunday. So, is Simpson's win a surprise? And in a larger sense, did the best player win?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: He was more of a last man standing. He earned the win with a 68-68 weekend, but I think this Open will be remembered for the collapses of Woods, Furyk and McDowell.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: The U.S. Open has always been about survival. Hang around, hole a couple of big putts, wait for others to make mistakes. It's how McDowell won just two years ago.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Right. It's always a battle of attrition. Webb outlasted the field while everyone else was falling down. That up-and-down on 18 was major-championship worthy. Webb nearly won Player of the Year last year. He has the goods.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It's a mild surprise, but Simpson is one of the uber-talented new kids on the block, and it seems like this pack of newbies — not one stud like Tiger or Phil — will dominate the game for a while.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, It's a surprise he won this week, but Webb's a guy most of us have tabbed to win a major at some point in his career. He was the only player to shoot two under-par rounds on the weekend. Even though we didn't see him coming until late in the event, he's a deserving champion.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I thought of Webb when I tried to think who might be this era's Lee Janzen.

Lipsey: Webb could be better, much better, than Janzen. Webb has more power, an extra gear.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I'm happy for Simpson, who comes across as a good guy and is a deserving champion, but let's be honest — you're not going to be telling your grandchildren about the 2012 U.S. Open.

Godich: And you would have if Furyk or McDowell had won?

David Dusek, deputy editor, Of course Webb Simpson's win is a surprise. He was a walking ATM last year but hadn't done a lot in 2012. No one picked him to win the U.S. Open. Some people wrote that this tournament was Tiger's after 18 holes, but the talent pool is too deep, and the game is too crazy, for it to be over on Thursday night.

Garrity: I regard the player with the lowest score after four rounds as the best player, so Webb's definitely the guy. But there will always be doubters when you bag your first major sitting on a bench next to your beautiful wife. Furyk and McDowell had to play those final holes under much greater pressure.

Godich: I don't know about that, John. You don't think Simpson knew the guys behind him had a couple of birdie holes to play coming in? And you don't think he felt any pressure to get up and down on 18? Plus, Furyk and McDowell have won an Open. There's more pressure on the guy who hadn't, especially in just his second Open start.

Wei: I think it's much less pressure coming from behind with nothing to lose. When you're in the final group, expectations are greater. It was much less pressure to finish a few groups earlier and post a score, a la Michael Thompson, David Toms and obviously Webb.

Morfit: Webb did say it worked to his advantage to fly under the radar. His caddie, Paul Tesori, also forbade him from looking at leaderboards.

Godich: Simpson felt every bit as much pressure as the other two. In fact, I would argue that he felt even more pressure. The other two had already won majors. The game is littered with players who came close to winning a major but never did.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Did Simpson surprise you this week? Did the best man win?

Gorant: Simpson is now the third American in a row to win a major. Any larger implications, or is this just another one of those natural cycles that come and go? Does it mean anything for the Ryder Cup?

Lipsey: The Ryder Cup got a great jolt, with so many Euros and Americans on the leaderboard.

Herre: More evidence that the balance of power is shifting back to the U.S.

Garrity: I'm with Jim. This is a definite trend.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, It makes Pete Cowen, Westwood's coach, look even more ridiculous for saying that Europe's B-team could win the Cup.

Wei: Match play is different, though, and the Europeans do seem to fare better in that format.

Morfit: There are so many good players flying in from all corners of the globe, I'm not so sure where the balance of power is anymore.

Godich: Davis Love III has to be feeling really good about the way his team is shaping up. He's going to have a nice mix of youth and experience.

Dusek: I think it's a reflection of how many good players there are now, both Americans and Euros. That's nine majors in a row that have been won by first time major winners. That said, the United States team won't be a prohibitive underdog in the Ryder Cup. The Americans have had a great PGA Tour season and captured both majors so far. Even with Luke, Rory, Westy, and Graeme on the European team, it's going to be tight.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is American golf on the rise?

Gorant: The weather was great for three days and the rough was tame by Open standards, yet the winning score was one over. Olympic looked great on TV and kept the players off balance, but did it pass muster as an Open venue?

Herre: Absolutely. Played tough, but there were birdie holes. Nice mix of holes.

Morfit: Olympic was a great venue, and the way Mike Davis set up the course was beautiful. He likes to make the players think, and he caught Furyk totally by surprise by moving the tees 100 yards up on 16. Furyk wasn't pleased, but he admitted that everyone had to play the hole, and no one else hit as bad a shot as he did.

Godich: Without a doubt. Loved the drivable par-4. That was a nice change of pace after the brutal six-hole start.

Lipsey: The course was an Olympian test. I love it when players lose balls in trees!

Dusek: Olympic was fantastic. I loved the variety of the holes, the graduated rough and the consistency of the greens. U.S. Open golf is a unique animal, and I wouldn't want to see it every day, but it was a great test. And I loved how the Bay Area embraced the event and came out to support it. Awesome crowds all week.

Wei: It was difficult, but also a fair and pure test of golf. Well done.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Olympic is not a great course. Too much tilt, too much pitch, too many shots rolling into the same spot at the edge of the fairway. But it is a great Open venue because it's difficult, it looks great on TV, and the atmosphere is great — the SF fans and hills and trees make it seem special. Let's come back every eight years.

Hack: Bravo, Mike Davis. He continues to present the best players in the world with a rigorous but fair test.

Ritter: Great week for Olympic and for Mike Davis, who punctuated it by taking out the Union-Jack-hatted moron who interrupted the trophy ceremony. The lesson: Do NOT mess with Mike Davis during U.S. Open week.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Was Olympic a worthy U.S. Open venue?

Gorant: The pair with funky homemade swings both went backward on the final day. Was it Furyk's last shot? Will Graeme win another?

Morfit: Ernie's golf ball also spent a good portion of Sunday going backward.

Lipsey: Both guys have more gas and will be in the mix at more majors. But both seemed spent today.

Herre: I thought GMac would win today, and I expect him to play well for the rest of the year. He could win multiple majors. Furyk looked older than his age on the back nine today. This could be it for him in the big ones.

Godich: They may be in the mix, but I'm not sure either will win another. Furyk is 42, and I don't know that McDowell's swing is good enough.

Wei: I felt gutted for Furyk. He handled it as well as anyone could have, not to mention being candid. He said he took 15 minutes to cool off, so he wouldn't say the stuff he shouldn't. He took full responsibility for giving it away.

Dusek: Barring injury or something crazy happening, I could see both contending at Merion. Length won't be an issue, they're both grinders, and they both embrace the Mike Davis-era U.S. Open courses, so why not? Furyk, being from Pennsylvania, will get huge support, and everyone loves Graeme.

Hack: Nah, Furyk has a few more. Pinehurst, Chambers Bay and a return in 2016 to Oakmont, where he finished a shot behind Angel Cabrera. In fact, both should have other U.S. Open opportunities. You don't overpower this championship. You think your way around it. Both Jim and G-Mac are highly intelligent and darn tough.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, I think it's very unlikely Furyk will get another chance this good. When he dumped the approach on 18 into the bunker and bit the shaft of his iron, it was clear how badly he wanted it. That was a tough way to end it.

Van Sickle: It's tougher for the over-40 guys to win because it means so much more to them at this point in their careers. Ernie, Furyk, Westwood. They know each chance may be their last. That's pressure.

Herre: Furyk simply looked overmatched to me down the stretch, like he was out of gas, which may explain the drive on 16 and the pulled wedge on 18.

Morfit: We have to keep in mind Furyk had held the lead in this thing since Friday night. That's a long time to think about and be asked about winning the U.S. Open. He held it together pretty well until 16. I've never seen him hit a shot like that.

Dusek: He was right there at Winged Foot in 2006, Oakmont in 2007 and now Olympic in 2012. Damn.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who's more likely to win another major: Furyk or McDowell?

Gorant: Not to go negative, but what was the biggest disappointment of the week, Luke, Rory, Tiger, Westwood?

Lipsey: Woods's fade. He's human, really human, so get used to it.

Godich: Definitely Tiger. He's coming off an impressive victory, he has a share of the halfway lead, and then he does that on the weekend?

Herre: Tiger. He looked SO good for six consecutive rounds, then pfft. Just like at the Masters, he suddenly just lost it. Makes me wonder if this is the player we are going to be seeing from now on.

Dusek: Luke Donald shooting 11 over was shocking.

Hack: Donald. Gotta man up, No. 1. That was some bad golf.

Ritter: Gotta be Tiger first, Phil second. Many of us thought this would be Tiger's week, but he still hasn't played four solid rounds in a major post-hydrant. As for Phil, I thought he'd come out juiced for his Thursday-Friday grouping with Tiger, but he really laid an egg. Both surprised me.

Van Sickle: Tiger was the biggest surprise, given his 36-hole lead. Donald was the second biggest, given his BMW victory. Phil and Rory were playing rubbish coming in.

Wei: I thought this might be Westwood's week, but I swear he's jinxed. He was strangely calm afterwards (enjoying his first beer, going to an Irish pub tonight). As Cam said, better to gag early.

Walker: Tiger by a mile. After his round on Friday, he sounded so pleased with his game, and he was taking obvious pleasure in recounting his better shots. For him to finish the weekend 75-73 was a shock. That said, a lot of disappointment to go around this week.

Van Sickle: Tiger's turnaround (the wrong way) is a much bigger concern than his swing, which was magnificent the first two days and for four rounds at Memorial. That tells me it's mental, and that may be something Mr. Sean Foley can't help him with.

Lipsey: I think Woods's major-itis started when he lost to Yang at the PGA. That was the turning point in Woods's majors career. When history is written, maybe it'll be Yang who stopped Tiger's march to 19.

Reiterman: Even more disappointing is that Woods hardly needed driver this week. It was stunning how many poor shots he hit from the middle of the fairway.

Wei: Tiger. He had it teed up. I'm chalking it up to bad karma for when he refused to give Beau Hossler any love in his press conference.

Garrity: Not Tiger, even with his weekend collapse. He played two-and-a-half rounds with his tempo miraculously restored and with full command of his shots. I'd say Donald was the biggest bust. When the world's top-ranked player can't make major cuts, you know he's got the BPWOaM gorilla on his back.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who was the biggest disappointment: Tiger, Luke, Rory, Phil or Bubba?

Gorant: One of the best stories of the week was Beau Hossler, the 17-year high school student who contended for most of the week. In the end he was beat out for low amateur by (potential) future Texas teammate Jordan Spieth. What do we think about the future for these two, and which player do you like better long term?

Herre: Hard to say. They're both so young. Ask me again in five years.

Godich: I'll take Spieth, based on the 69-70 he shot on the weekend and what he showed at the Nelson a couple of years back. I'll also take the Texas Longhorns in next year's NCAA tournament.

Dusek: Clearly Hossler and Spieth both have a lot of talent and a growing reservoir of positive experiences to draw from, but I think projecting how well a 17-year-old will do is impossible, and in some ways unfair. Both had great weeks, and they will have more to come. Hell, Paula Creamer said she'd go to the prom with Hossler. Right now, it's all good.

Lipsey: Their futures seem very bright, but if you look at the pool of uber-talented teens over time, there are a lot more Ty Tryon road-kill stories than successes.

Hack: I'm going with Spieth because I've spent time with him and he reminds me of the other jocks I've covered over the years, regardless of the sport. Uber confident.

Wei: They're way too young to predict their futures. Tons of college stars are branded "can't miss" guys and then, 5 to 10 years later, they're still grinding it out on the mini tours.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Take your pick: Spieth or Hossler?

Gorant: Golf Channel is reporting that UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay has a press conference scheduled Tuesday at the Traveler's, and that he'll likely announce he's turning pro (and signing with Steinberg). Good move?

Morfit: What's the hurry? Given how many old guys are in the mix these days, it seems like another few years beating up on college kids at UCLA would have been fun.

Godich: Not surprised. Apparently the UCLA experience isn't everything Shipnuck and Hack claim it is.

Hack: Nah, he just happened to mature a little faster than we did. He's ready. Hopefully, Patrick donates some of his winnings back to our athletic program. I'm tired of losing to USC in football.

Lipsey: For golf, it's a good move. He's ready. For life, it's horrible. Trophies and money can't make up for the amazing experience of two years as a student at a place like UCLA.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Steiny's an ass. Asses make good agents. Good move.
Dusek: Time will tell, but it's probably a very lucrative move. He'll get plenty of sponsors' exemptions and chances to play, and we've seen that he's got game. John Peterson should also be getting a few exemptions coming his way. When I talked with him on Tuesday he didn't know what his schedule was going to be after Olympic. I'd be surprised if he isn't a busy guy over the rest of the summer.

Godich: Peterson should get exemptions just for sticking his putter head cover in his pants pocket. How great was that?

Lipsey: By far, the coolest Tour habit of the year.

Gorant: That and the hole-in-one celebration. The first golfer who can actually high-five without looking like a dork.

Dusek: And he sounds like John Wayne when he talks. When he answers the phone it's, "Yell-ow."

Wei: A year ago, the kid was adamant that he was going to finish all four years in college. I wonder how much the death of Q-school as we know it affected his decision.

Van Sickle: He's gotta turn pro this year to avoid having to possibly spend a year in indentured servitude on the Nationwide Tour. Good move.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Cantlay doing the right thing by turning pro?

Gorant: Simpson is now the second player to win a major with a belly putter, and the first to win an Open. Which is closer, a belly ban or the day when everyone uses one?

Godich: Long putters are here to stay. At least I hope they are.

Hack: Long putters are here to stay, which is a shame.

Herre: That horse is out of the barn. Anchored putters have been around for, what, 25-30 years? There's no going back, no matter what Sandy Tatum thinks.

Dusek: We're going to see waves of young players trying long putters, and some will use them and make it to the PGA Tour. We'll also see the sale of long putters continue to increase. We will NOT see a long-putter ban.

Van Sickle: Not a good time to ban a club that people like, especially when people are already leaving the game in droves.

Lipsey: The USGA is too late now to ban what has become part of the "fabric" of the game.

Hanger: Last season, everyone was debating the bellies, and talking about Keegan Bradley being the first to win a major with one. That seems like ages ago, and Webb's using one barely seems worth mentioning. No question they're here to stay.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What's closer: a belly-putter ban, or everyone using one?

Gorant: I think we all agree the course and setup were generally great. Before the final round, Mike Davis moved up the tees on 16 to tempt players to go for it in two. The players had never practiced the hole at that length, and some seemed to be uncertain how to play it. Very few of them went for it. Was it a miscalculation on the setup?

Lipsey: Tour pros hate surprises, which is a great reason to surprise them.

Godich: This is just another way that Davis makes the players think their way around the golf course. These guys played a lot of shots this week that they never practiced. It was a risk-reward move. I have no problem with that.

Herre: I love how Davis threw them a curve on Sunday. I bet if you polled the players, they'd take 16 at 570 and no practice over 670 and six days of practice.

Dusek: The 16th was a big math problem for the guys this week. I'm not buying that by lopping off 100 yards the USGA made a mistake. Hit a great tee shot, and you could go for it in two. Or, you could lay up to your favorite wedge distance with a shorter club. It's the U.S. Open. Be ready.

Wei: Because of the angle, the players had to hit almost a snap hook. It was a little weird to do that on the 70th hole when no one was prepared.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Was the Sunday setup at the 16th hole fair?