For Webb Simpson, 2021 was a frustrating year on the PGA Tour.
“Battling flu, Covid, neck injury,” he recounted on Tuesday to reporters. “I feel like that crept into my golf game.”
After a banner 2020 in which he won twice, Simpson admitted the injury-plagued 2021 was a letdown. He sprinkled in five top-10s throughout the year but zero top-threes and slid from eighth in the world to his current spot in 29th. Now he’s making his 2022 debut at this week’s Sony Open. He wishes he’d played last week’s event at Kapalua, too — but that one’s reserved for winners.
“Three things I’ve missed out on the Tour Championship, Ryder Cup and Tournament of Champions, and those are my favorite events,” he said. “It was a letdown year, I guess, this past year. And I realize, you know, I have a lot of sympathy for guys who have gone through injury because I had never gone through it and it really messes with you for a while. It hinders your workouts and it hinders your practice.”
In May 2021, Simpson tweaked his neck hitting balls at the Wells Fargo and withdrew before the event began. He was still in some pain a few weeks later at the PGA, where he finished T30. Some weeks after that he showed up to the U.S. Open weakened from the flu. Golf’s biggest events were passing him by. And despite a run of solid golf after that — he finished top-20 in four of his next five starts — he was left on the outside looking in as his season finished at the BMW Championship, a week before the 30-player season finale.
“I really felt it that night,” Simpson said. “I love Atlanta. I love East Lake. My wife used to live there. Thirty guys. It’s such a good week. That was hard.”
Even tougher, Simpson was out of chances to audition for a final captain’s pick on the competitive U.S. Ryder Cup team. He finished No. 13 in qualifying points but was passed up for No. 14, rising star Scottie Scheffler, news he received in a tough phone call from U.S. captain Steve Stricker.
“He was honest with me the whole time, which I appreciated,” Simpson said. “It’s hard to hear that you’re probably not the guy they are picking. But I told my wife that I really appreciated that he at least told me the truth; he didn’t offer some kind of make-me-feel-better soft-sell. It was, ‘This is what we’re thinking, it’s not definite yet but this is the direction we’re leaning,’ which made me feel actually better because I kind of adjusted my hope a little bit.”
Simpson complimented Scheffler, calling him an “unbelievable player,” and acknowledged that his big-hitter profile fit the mold of what Stricker was looking for.
“It didn’t make me mad. Just made me want to work harder,” he added. “I have a dream of being a captain one day of a team, and I know I’m going to have that same situation. Every captain has to deal with telling a couple, two or three guys that they are not on it, that they were close; and get the good phone call of telling the guys that they made it; they are the pick.”
There are levels to life on the PGA Tour, and Simpson had reached the upper echelon. When you’re there, life is good, and there are invitations to special events — to Augusta National, to Kapalua, to East Lake, to World Golf Championships and to national teams — that feel like they’ll just keep coming. Watching his former teammates at Whistling Straits, Simpson said he was reminded just how fleeting it all can be. And he did plenty of watching.
“Before I qualified for the Masters, my wife knew that from Thursday to Sunday, like that’s all I was doing, sunup to sundown was watching the Masters, and I didn’t know how I would be with Ryder Cup,” Simpson said. “We got closer, it was Friday morning and it’s all I wanted to do. So I watched for two hours. I needed to practice, but I’d pause it, tell my kids, like, I had the remote and I would go practice for two hours, come back, watch it. I didn’t miss a shot.
“So the hard part was Sunday. I was so happy we won. And you know, I even got emotional watching it, seeing the guys get emotional. And what an interview Rory gave. Everybody, I felt like, was giving great interviews. But it was really hard for me not to be there. Because I’ve experienced the joy of winning the Presidents Cup three times, but 0-for-3 in Ryder Cups.”
“It wasn’t really jealousy, but just I want to be there so bad. Like, I want to experience it with them. They are my friends. So that was hard. But great motivation for me for this year.”
Simpson has reasons to be optimistic for the new year. He has a new swing thought, acquired this fall in a trip to see golf whisperer Butch Harmon. He finished T8 in the RSM Classic, his last PGA Tour start of the fall. And he’s beginning 2022 in pleasant territory: Simpson finished T4 at the Sony Open last year, solo 3rd in 2020 and T4 in 2018.
“I feel like my game is in a good spot, and I fully believe my best golf is ahead of me,” he said.