HONOLULU — Webb Simpson has been on the PGA Tour long enough and won enough not to be in a rush. He was no less excited to fly to the middle of the Pacific for a week at the Sony Open.
“I realized that as I got off the plane in Phoenix. I’m not even halfway there,” said Simpson, who began his journey from North Carolina. “So it’s really far. It’s further for me to come here than The Open Championship.”
Still, late last year there was something he wanted to get over with.
Outside of the majors (Simpson has qualified for all for the past 10 years) he’s wanted to be in three places – East Lake for the Tour Championship, Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup and Kapalua for the Tournament of Champions.
All three missing.
“These are my favorite events,” Simpson said. “So I felt like I had to put in a little more work in the off-season and it feels great. So I feel like my game is in a good place and I firmly believe that my best golf is yet to come.”
Simpson turned 36 last year, and for someone who doesn’t overpower the ball in this era of power, he always gets the best out of his game.
The Sony Open was too good for him to pass up. With its narrow, winding fairways and flat, clean greens, Waialae is one of his favorite spots on tour. He hasn’t finished worse than fourth, including last year when he finished two strokes behind Kevin Na.
The pleasant surprise was seeing the ball rolling down the fairways, especially after all the rain on Oahu over the past few weeks and what Simpson was watching on TV in Kapalua. In extremely soft conditions and almost no wind, Cameron Smith set a PGA Tour record when he finished on 34 under par, winning by a shot over Jon Rahm.
Simpson doesn’t watch much golf when he’s not at a tournament, but he does pay attention. His habit is to look at the results while making coffee in the morning and he couldn’t believe the numbers that were posted in Kapalua.
“My coffee process stopped because I had to see all these scorecards,” he said.
Only 22 of the 38 players in Kapalua’s winning field made it to the next island. That includes Smith, who will be looking to join Justin Thomas (2017) and Ernie Els (2003) as the only players to clear the two Hawaii stops.
Smith moved up to world No. 10 for the first time with his win, making him the only player to finish in the top 10 at the Sony Open. Bryson DeChambeau signed on only to retire with allegedly sore wrists.
Also in the field are Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Harris English and Abraham Ancer, all in the top 20. The Sony Open also includes two former champions from a generation ago, Jerry Kelly and Jim Furyk, who are allowed to stay in Hawaii for an additional week the start of the PGA Tour Champions season on the Big Island.
Simpson already has a US Open and The Players Championship among his seven wins. He’s not bothered by the lack of length – it was heartening to see Smith, hardly a power player, able to post a record result last week – and looks to 48-year-old Stewart Cink as an inspiration after last had twice won the season.
“I think I have a good 10 years left,” Simpson said. “Stewart Cink gives me a lot of hope. He plays great golf and is winning golf tournaments in his mid 40’s. If I can stay healthy and love golf – I still love golf which is a blessing. But I think playing less, having a smarter training schedule at home and getting away from the game more has helped.”
He loves golf enough to watch tournaments he didn’t want to miss. Simpson recalls the last year he didn’t qualify for the Masters, 2011, and how he couldn’t wait to turn on the TV as soon as the show came on.
But the Ryder Cup? He has only missed 2016 – an American win – in the last 10 years and was disappointed he hadn’t given US captain Steve Stricker enough reason to pick him.
“I didn’t know what I was going to be like at the Ryder Cup,” he said. “We were getting closer, it was Friday morning and that was all I wanted to do. So I watched for two hours. I had to practice, but I would pause, come back, check it out. I didn’t miss a shot.”
The only difficult thing was seeing the US celebration when it was over. Simpson has yet to play for a winning Ryder Cup team.
Now all he can do is make it to the next team and that’s a big deal for him. The Presidents Cup is held at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, NC, his home ground.
This week’s professional golf events
EVENT Sony Open
COURSE Waialae CC (Par 70, 7,044 yards)
WALLET $7.5 million
WINNER’S SHARE $1,350,000.
TELEVISION Golf Channel, today-Saturday, 6pm-9:30pm, Sunday 5pm-9pm
Defending champion Kevin Na
Arkansans invaded Austin Cook
GRAIN FERRY TOUR
EVENT Great Exuma classic
LOCATION Great Exuma, Bahamas
KURS Sandals Emerald Bay GC (Par 72, 7,001 yards)
WINNER’S SHARE $135,000
Defending champion Tommy Gainey
Arkansans entered Nicolas Echavarria, Alvaro Ortiz, Tag Ridings