As if we weren't reminded enough times by Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller that "it's a new era in golf," imagine the moment at TPC Boston when PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell greeted the two playoff combatants in the FedEx Cup Deutsche Bank Championship with the immortal words: "Chez, meet Webb … Webb, meet Chez."
If we're going to be on a first-name basis with the new crew, just as we were back in the day with Phil, Veej, Big Ern, Retief and some guy named after a zoo animal, we might as well learn the monikers.
In fact, we might be wise to learn even more about James Frederick (Webb) Simpson, and if that name sounds unfamiliar, it's because he's now just plain Winnin' Webb. Two weeks ago, he won at Greensboro for his maiden, in his home state of North Carolina, and we extolled his statistical brilliance (first in all-around ranking on tour) and moaned over his affection, dating back to his college days at Wake Forest, for the belly putter. The belly putter, I fear, is like that neighbor who moved in and is intent on playing his music loud, and late – it ain't going away anytime soon. Heck, Phil Mickelson used one en route to his tie-10th, but I'm still waiting for "Just kidding!" tweet.
Back to Winnin' Webb. After making birdie on the 72nd hole on Labor Day for a sweet final-round 65 and after enjoying Chez Reavie's unexpected bogey on the easy par-5 18th ("one in a hundred," Simpson admitted) to get into the playoff, Simpson birdied the second playoff hole to win for the second time in three weeks. Moreover, he was able to unleash his suddenly familiar fist pump/fist whip at key moments. Miller likened the fist whip to a "Raymond Floyd move," but I think Johnny must have had trouble adjusting to all these new names and was feeling nostalgic, given that he likened Simpson's swing after a flop shot to containing "hand action like a Hubert Green." And when's the last time the words "action" and "Hubert Green" were used in the same sentence?
Webb Simpson entered the Deutsche Bank a lofty 26th in the World Rankings, and will be even higher when he arrives in Chicago for Cog Hill and the third leg of the FedEx Cup a week from Thursday. No wonder why his wife gave game-show winner reactions at various climactic moments on Sunday – when Reavie snapped his wedge from 110 yards on 18 way left, when Simpson made a sizable birdie putt on the first playoff hole, and when Simpson made the winning birdie. Yes, Dowd Simpson, mother of infant James, was a happy tour bride: Webb won $1.4 million – same amount Rory McIlroy won at Congressional – and is now leading the PGA Tour money list, and the FedEx Cup points race. The winner of that thing gets a mere $10 million for his trouble.
In a playoff between relative unknowns – Reavie's only win was the 2008 Canadian Open – and with Q-ratings that caused my wife to pipe up, unprompted, "Iâve never heard of either of these guys." NBC milked the Dowd Simpson reactions for all she gave. After all, somebody had to get excited about this thing, right?
Ack, there I go. I promised not to get too snarky about the manufactured thrills of the FedEx Cup playoffs. After all, we're getting golf, and quality fields, in the formerly dead month of September, so complaints must be kept to a minimum. Even Tour member Joe Ogilvie tweeted mid-round that he thinks the FedEx Cup is "hitting its stride" – but then again, given the general obsession with football this time of year, that "stride" could be likened to an octogenarian's daily trip to the mailbox. And British Open champ Darren Clarke, tweeting from Europe, needled AP golf writer Doug Ferguson, when Ferguson tweeted about Geoff Ogilvy's chances of advancing to the 70-player field at Cog Hill: "Youâre trying to make it sound exciting!" You could almost see Clarke's mischievous grin from behind the laptop screen.
Webb Simpson doesn't care if you don't care. He's busy planting his flag. His four rounds in the 60s last week mean that since he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, 10 of his 11 rounds (four in the win at Greensboro; three last week at Barclay's; and now TPC Boston) have been in the 60s. The only exception was his opening-round 71 at the Barclays.
He says he's off to Pinehurst this week with some buddies to play golf and watch sports on TV, and said he may replicate his Greensboro victory meal – he went to Wendy's – with another fast-food run. We're a long way from "Champagne" Tony Lema in terms of post-victory parties, but it's all part of getting to know the new guys.
Scorecard of the week
• 68-68-66-62 – 20-under 264, Thomas Bjorn, winner, European Masters, European PGA Tour, Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland.
Congratulations to Bjorn, or as I like to call him: "The Man Who Proves Golf Is Purely Evil, Satanic and Will Reduce A Man To A Weeping Infant."
Many of you know Bjorn, but a quick refresher on the Dane if you don't: Once a top player in the world (he even cracked the top-10 in World Rankings in 2001), Bjorn is a two-time Ryder Cupper (1997 and 2002) who forever will lament giving away the 2003 British Open by leaving two in the 16th bunker with a two-shot lead over Ben Curtis.
Less than a year after that tragedy, Bjorn, essentially, lost his mind. He had to withdraw from the 2004 Irish Open when he confessed to demons in his head. Golf, merciless golf, had claimed another victim. Just look at these 2004 quotes from Bjorn, and feel free to take a stiff belt of Scotch when you read them.
"On the first tee, I saw trouble everywhere. The fairway looked tiny, and the green looked the size of a hole. I just thought: I can't be here. There was nothing but fear standing on that first tee … Why am I feeling like this? Why do I have 500 thoughts running through my head when I should be thinking: One shot at a time?"
Them's the demons, friends.
You would think a guy like that would never pick up a golf club again, and instead live a hermit-like existence somewhere in Nepal, with a beard down to his knees.
Instead, get this: Bjorn fired a Sunday 62 in Switzerland to race past a couple of stiffs named Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer for Bjorn's third win this year, and second in two weeks. He's now a candidate for European Tour Player of the Year, and chirping about how at age 40 he feels like a spring chicken, inspired by his pal Darren Clarke winning the British Open.
This is the same guy who had to walk off the golf course seven years ago, needing a butterfly net over his head.
Golf: there's no figuring it. At all. Ever.
Broadcast moment of the week
• "A lot of teachers told players: Don't use your hands, use your big muscles on the backswing. Now we've got guys with 'reverse Cs' like Luke Donald and hands players like Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker. You guys out there still teaching 'no hands and no reverse C' … take a look." – Johnny Miller, NBC, firmly planting a golf instructor cap atop his head.
As always, with Miller, choosing the 'BMOW' is like walking past a fully-loaded buffet table: you just can't go wrong. Of course, he noted that Reavie's wedge on 18 in regulation, tugged way left, was "a flat-out pressure meltdown … a 1-in-500 shot … terrible," and he had the wistful remembrances of Ray Floyd and Hubie Green. But something about his observation about the handsy styles of Simpson and Snedeker struck a chord.
These two guys do feature a different golf swing, a little blast from the Tom Watson past. There's less of that Tiger Woods/Adam Scott shoulder emphasis and more golf from the hands, like watching, shoot, I don't know … Hubert Green?
But, smarter minds disagree. Almost no sooner had Johnny's words traversed the airwaves when Peter Kostis – who teaches Chez Reavie in Arizona – tweeted out: "Pretty hard to generalize like that." The only thing missing from the tweet were the actual words "tsk-tsk."
Another thing about Simpson/Snedeker: they could be poster boys for a new PGA Tour ad, "These Guys Are Fast." How refreshing to watch a player approach his golf ball and strike his golf ball, eschewing the five-act drama beforehand. Yo, slow players – we're playing golf here, not watching a Yankees-Red Sox game.
Mulligan of the week
• All right, Phil. The coast is clear. You can come out now and admit it was a joke, you using that belly putter all week at TPC Boston. A prank, is all, right? To show us all the absurdity of allowing a club to be anchored to the body during play?
I'm still waiting, by the way.
Mickelson said after his four rounds with the belly that he doesn't know if it is a short-term thing or a long-term thing, which may indicate that, no, it was not an elaborate ruse.
I hope on his flight home from the East Coast to San Diego, Lefty used some of the down time to clear out his DVR and catch the episode of The Golf Channel's interview show "Feherty," hosted, coincidentally, by David Feherty. A recent episode featured Feherty interviewing caddies Mike "Fluff" Cowan and Jim "Bones" Mackay. Bones, of course, is Lefty's looper, and has been forever.
At the close of the interview, Feherty asked each which rule he'd change in golf. Bones' answer, without a beat: "I'd eliminate the belly putter."
The show was taped well before Mickelson's latest gambit. Still … awk-ward!
So, Phil, for the love of all that is golf, put the belly putter down, back away from it slowly, and in this particular instance, we will all be happy to … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem may be hard-headed about insisting we all enjoy the FedEx Cup playoffs, but he's no maniac.
He knows when the NFL season kicks off, and he knows there's no reason to compete. So, with two events left on the schedule, the BMW Championship at Cog Hill Sept. 15-18 and the Tour Championship at East Lake Sept. 22-25, Finchem is wisely giving the boys a powder next week, when the ratings leviathan that is the NFL begins its campaign.
The LPGA, meanwhile, doesn't care. They're taking on the NFL, even if it means spit balls off a battleship. So hunker down for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, presented by P&G. Got all that?
Meanwhile, the Euros soldier on. They could care less about the Philadelphia Eagles "Dream Team," and will prove it by staging the KLM Open in Holland.
Look for Thomas Bjorn. He'll be the one alternately laughing, and weeping.