Webb Simpson was just 26 when he won the U.S. Open in 2012. He entered the final round 4 shots behind the leaders. But he's most remembered for his quick wit after a spectator walked into the middle of his post-victory interview with Bob Costas of NBC Sports and launched into a series a bird calls.
After the "Birdman" (Andrew James Dudley) was abruptly escorted out of camera range and tackled by USGA executive director Mike Davis, Simpson smiled, looked over in their direction and said: "Enjoy the jail cell, pal."
While no one could have prepared for that moment, Simpson has plenty of advice for his fellow golfers. He will be sharing that knowledge with Chase Sapphire card members in a series of interactive golf clinics, along with Stewark Cink, starting Monday at Champions Golf Club in Houston and continuing at various courses through September.
Playbook spoke with Simpson after he finished play in the Tavistock Cup in Orlando, Fla., last week with the lowest individual score in the non-PGA event. After Monday's clinic, he'll shift into preparation for the Masters, which begins April 11, with a practice round at Augusta on Wednesday.
He talked about his U.S. Open victory and his ensuing winless streak, the pros and cons of playing Augusta, his decision to skip the British Open last August and what advice he has to offer the hackers and duffers among us.
Hey Birdman, I'm coming after you!! twitter.com/webbsimpson1/s…
— Webb Simpson (@webbsimpson1) November 18, 2012
What was going through your mind when Birdman showed up during your post-victory interview?
"It was hilarious. I thought he was a streaker at first. I didn't know what the deal was. Then Mike Davis threw him in the bunker. People thought it took away from the ceremony but I thought it added to it. People who don't talk to me about the U.S. Open love to talk about the Birdman. I loved it."
You didn't seem upset at the time, even when you offered your "enjoy the jail cell, pal" line. Have you always had a good wit?
"That just came to me."
Was Costas as mad as he looked?
"I think he was flustered more than anything."
What's the most important piece of golfing advice you have to offer those of us who aren't pros?
"Amateurs think way too much when they swing. They read all the golf magazines, watch all the Golf Channel and see all the swing-analysis shows. They have too many thoughts. Us pros struggle with the same thing. The swing is quick, less than a second. People need to limit it to one thought. It doesn't matter what the thought may be, it can be whatever they happen to be working on."
What was the best golfing advice you ever received?
"It came from coach Jerry Haas at Wake Forest. I was winless there after two years, my confidence was down and I felt like I was letting everyone down. He asked me: 'Do you think you've gotten better since you came here a freshman?' I told him, 'Yes.' He said as long as you keep getting better, with time, then you're always going to be good in this game and you'll have nothing to worry about. That advice has helped me through a lot of tough times on the tour."
You missed the cut at Bay Hill but bounced back quickly at the Tavistock Cup. What worked there that didn't work at Bay Hill?
"I don't play well when I hit the ball left. I was hooking the ball. My caddie and I figured out that I was hanging on my back right foot. I found a move I like and I began hitting the ball well."
What other adjustments are you looking to make heading into Augusta?
"Augusta has a lot of doglegs left and the greens are lightning fast. I'm going to work on my putting speed and chipping."
What's the best part about playing at Augusta?
"It's the history. Amen Corner, the back nine. When you walk the fairways It's unlike any other golf course. Everybody's familiar with Augusta. Even the 20-handicapper who plays once a month knows Augusta National."
Your last tour win was at the U.S. Open. How do you keep yourself focused when your game isn't quite there?
"It comes down to basic fundamentals. I now know where I want the direction of my swing to go. I know my tendencies when I chip the ball and putt the ball."
You shot back-to-back 68s at Olympic to win the U.S. Open. Was there any less pressure being 4 shots back on Sunday, or did that make you any more aggressive?
"You'd definitely rather be ahead. Coming back from 4 shots on Sunday is tough. But there wasn't nearly as much pressure on me as on the guys who were ahead. If I could have a perfect scenario, I'd be up by 10 going into Sunday. The first six holes there were the toughest in U.S. Open history. I was 2 over after five and made a nice run on six, seven, eight and 10."
You're ranked No. 25 in the world. Is the No. 1 ranking a major goal?
"My goal is to continue to get better. Of course, I want to be No. 1. But I don't find my identity in golf -- it's just my job. If I did find my identity in golf, I would be miserable because it fails you every day. My goal this year is to be better than I was last year."
If you're not No. 1, does it benefit the sport when Tiger Woods is No. 1?
"Absolutely. More people watch on TV. There's better sponsors. More people come out and watch the tournaments. It makes everything more exciting. In my opinion, he's the greatest player who ever lived. Any time he's in contention, it makes for a much more exciting finish."
You won an award named in honor of the late Payne Stewart for the low score at Tavistock. Did you model yourself after him in any way?
"I loved Payne Stewart. I remember exactly where I was when he died -- I was riding in the car with my mother [Simpson was 14]. I grew up in North Carolina an hour away from Pinehurst and watched him win the U.S. Open there in 1999. He had a big change in his life when he became a Christian, and everybody saw that. Before that, he was a hot head. But he changed. Everybody loved Payne. Payne, it seemed, was a guy's guy. I'll never forget that reaction he had on 18 [at Pinehurst]. Instead of celebrating his victory, he was focused on [runner-up] Phil Mickelson [whose wife was expecting their first child at the time]. That just showed what type of guy he was."
You skipped the British Open last August because your wife was due with your daughter, Willow Grace. Was it difficult to pass on a major?
"No. It was an easy decision for me. The way I looked at it is, 'We're not going to have many more kids, but I'll have plenty of more opportunities to play in Open Championships.' I wasn't going to miss it for the world."
Talk about the interactive clinics. How will those work?
"It allows the people to get inside a PGA Tour player's mind. The people attending will get to check out my swing and I'll help them with theirs. People can learn more from us on the Chase Sappire 'Beyond the Tee' Facebook page."