Posted by: Mike Cornelius | May 13, 2018

Webb Simpson Is Back, Thanks To “The Claw”

It’s been more than two years since the USGA and R&A changed the rules of golf to forbid a player from anchoring a putter against his body. The new rule did not ban either long or belly putters, but rather changed the way in which golfers could use them. While the PGA Tour opposed the rule change, it acquiesced once the decision came down, forcing several pros to alter their approach to the one part of the game that more than anything else separates winners from losers week in and week out.

The change was proposed in 2013 in the wake of four of the previous six majors going to golfers using an anchored putting stroke. Keegan Bradley’s was the first with his improbable win at the 2011 PGA Championship, when Jason Dufner gave up four shots over the final four holes. Webb Simpson and Ernie Els at the 2012 U.S. Open and Open Championship followed, and then Adam Scott at the 2013 Masters extended the streak. Those four were by no means the only PGA Tour professionals anchoring their putters, any more than Bernhard Langer was the only member of the Champions Tour doing so. But their victories at the game’s most prominent events, along with Langer’s domination of the senior circuit meant the spotlight was on a method of wielding the flat stick that some analysts felt gave a player an unfair advantage.

Since the ban took effect at the beginning of 2016, Langer has continued to rule the over-50 set, and Scott has won twice. But until this week neither Bradley, Els, nor Simpson had come close to victory. For the first two, there was likely more at work than just the new putting stroke rule. Bradley’s career had regressed even before the rules change, with only three top-10s in twenty-four events in 2015. Els is now 48 and clearly in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career on the regular tour.

For Simpson though, the new rule proved disastrous. In 2012, when he won the U.S. Open, Simpson ranked a very impressive 18th on the Tour in strokes gained, tee to green, and a respectable 53rd in strokes gained, putting. Four years later, with the new rule in effect, he was even better until he reached the putting surface, ranking 11th in strokes gained, tee to green. But his putting metric plummeted, with Simpson falling all the way to 177th in strokes gained, putting.

Both Simpson and Paul Tesori, his caddie, have confessed that they feared he might never putt well again. Then one year ago, at last season’s Players Championship, Simpson was approached by Tim Clark, another golfer who had used an anchored stroke. The diminutive South African suggested that Simpson switch to “the claw” grip, in which the right hand is turned over counter-clockwise from its usual position, with all four fingers on top and the club shaft resting in the groove between forefinger and thumb. The results were immediate. By the end of 2017 Simpson had climbed to 88th in strokes gained, putting, and this year he ranks 10th on the Tour.

This week, at the site where he got the putting tip that likely saved his career, Webb Simpson dominated the field at The Players Championship. He opened with a 66, one of a half-dozen golfers to tour TPC Sawgrass six shots better than par in Thursday’s opening round. Simpson fashioned his score by sinking 139 feet of putts.

Then on Friday Simpson broke the tournament open. He holed a 33-footer for eagle on the par-5 2nd hole, then added three more front nine birdies, on the 5th, 7th and 9th holes. As good as his 31 going out was, it looked for the longest time that he would post an even better number coming in. Sinking almost every putt he looked at, Simpson converted six consecutive birdie chances from the 11th hole through the 16th. He went to the tee at the island green par-3 17th at 11-under par for the round, two shots better than the course record. His tee shot just did reach the island, smacking directly onto the top of the wooden bulkhead at the front of the green. It bounced high into the air and across the putting surface, landing near the back of the green and rolling off into the water.

The resulting double-bogey meant Simpson only tied the course record with a 9-under par 63, but his two-round total of 15-under sent him into the weekend five shots ahead of a trio of pursuers. He needed just 23 putts over the 18 holes to build his commanding lead.

Much of the focus Saturday was on Tiger Woods, who turned in a scintillating 65. But Woods had barely made the cut, and while his score sent him soaring up the leader board he remained far behind the leader. That’s because Simpson continued his assault on TPC Sawgrass, firing a 4-under par 68 that moved him to 19-under par and seven shots clear of Danny Lee. Simpson preserved that margin by holing a seventeen-footer to save par on the 18th.

A platoon of golfers chased Simpson through Sunday’s final round. The tournament within the tournament was nip and tuck, with twenty-one players ultimately finishing within a four-shot range, between 10 and 14-under par. But Simpson continued to hit fairways and greens. His lead never shrunk to less than four shots, and when he rolled in a birdie putt from eleven feet at the par-5 16th hole it was back up to six, with Simpson at 20-under par. His tee shot on the 17th found dry ground, and in the clubhouse the engraver began etching Simpson’s name onto the crystal trophy awarded to each winner of The Players. With adrenalin pumping, Simpson blew his approach at the last over the green and into the water, but while that error made for a sloppy finish it had no bearing on the result.

One year after being close to despair over his putting, Webb Simpson finished the week number one in the Tour’s putting metric. By doing so he added a Players Championship to the U.S. Open already on his resume, with an 18-under par total that was four shots better than anyone else in what is always the strongest field of the year on the PGA Tour. A golfing career that appeared lost is suddenly once again brimming with both present accomplishment and future potential.

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Responses

  1. The Claw vs. The Anchor fits right in with the Super-hero movies of late. I guess the lesson here is to pay attention to the details in the little things—like putting.
    Ω

    • That, and the fact that the road to salvation might come from anyone, even another wounded soul. Tim Clark, the golfer that gave Webb Simpson the putting grip tip that may very well have resurrected his career, has a muscular disability that makes it almost impossible for him to putt using a standard putter. He was the main reason the PGA Tour opposed the rule change. Clark has not been able to adapt well, but as he has tried to do so he passed along an idea that led to The Claw overcoming The Anchor at The Players! Disney/Marvel movie coming soon!

      Thanks Allan,
      M-

      Michael Cornelius
      603.498.5527
      http://www.onsportsandlife.com


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