Paul Tesori has seen all sides of the PGA Tour, first as a player and then as a caddie.
Tesori currently carries for Webb Simpson, who cruised to a four-stroke victory Sunday in the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla. Simpson’s first-place check of $1.98 million was the biggest of his career and more than he earned in the entire 2016 season. Tesori told the Golf Digest Podcast that he was largely to blame for Simpson’s lackluster year.
Simpson was one of several players who used broom-style putters with an anchored stroke ahead of the 2016 ban, and Tesori thought it would be a good idea to go to a traditional putting stroke a year early. The idea was Simpson would get a jump on things and settle in with a new technique when the ban became official entering the 2016 season.
“We went in a year early, which was my call, and that cost us at least $5 million because (in 2016) I think he finished third in ball-striking and only made about $1.5 million,” Tesori said. “We went in and looked at his average putting stroke throughout his career, and if he had an average putting year, he would have been second on the Ryder Cup list, he would have won a couple tournaments and he would have made about $6 million.”
Simpson finished 177th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting and fourth in strokes gained: approach-the-green in 2016, so Tesori is correct that the head start did very little to help him.
“I was like, ‘Webb, you’re welcome buddy,’” Tesori said. “Anything else you need, just let me know.” Simpson was 34 th in strokes gained: putting in 2014, the year before he switched to the traditional putting stroke.
The 2012 U.S. Open champion shot 18-under-par 270 at Sawgrass to earn the biggest title this side of the major championships. A course record-tying 63 in the second round catapulted Simpson into a lead that he never relinquished, and despite a watery, double-bogey 6 on the final hole that gave him a closing 73, he finished four ahead of Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker and Xander Schauffele. It was Simpson’s fifth PGA Tour victory, first in 107 starts and almost seven months after the death of his father, Sam.
“I thought about him all day,” Simpson said. “It’s been an emotional week for my mom and sisters and my brother. We miss him like crazy, but I really wanted to do this for my mom. She’s been praying for me a lot.”
Simpson increased his career earnings to more than $28 million and credited his wife, Dowd, with helping him escape his doldrums the past two years.
“My wife was with me every step of the way,” Webb said while accepting his trophy. “We’ve spent the last few years, many dinners with me in tears being frustrated about my golf game, and she was right there the whole time just supporting me.”
With an assist from South African veteran Tim Clark, Simpson found a putting method that works. He ranked first in strokes gained putting at The Players, gaining more than nine shots on the field.
Simpson’s dominant win enabled him to take a major step toward a third appearance on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He moved from 23rd to ninth in the points standings, with the first eight players earning automatic spots on the 12-man team.
Masters champion Patrick Reed remains No. 1 in the point standings, followed by Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson. The eight automatic qualifiers for the biennial competition against Europe on Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris will be set on Aug. 12, after the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Mo. Captain Jim Furyk also gets four picks.
Tiger Woods, who tied for 11th at Sawgrass, moved from 34th to 31st and hopes to make the team after being sidelined for four years. Regardless, the winner of 79 PGA Tour titles, including 14 majors, will be in Paris as a vice captain with Steve Stricker.
“I got within four or five of the lead at one point, and if I would have played I think the last five holes in maybe 4, 5 under par I might have had a chance, and just didn’t do it,” Woods said.
“He’ll win sometime soon enough,” said Spieth, Woods’s playing partner. “He’s certainly playing well enough to do so.”
Spieth’s quadruple-bogey 8 on the final hole gave him a closing 73 and dropped him into a tie for 41st.
Thomas also tied for 11th and replaced Johnson at No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings.
“It means a lot, but it’s something I want to have for a long time,” Thomas said. “It’s not something I just want to have once, to have it for a week and then be done with.”
Thomas headlines a stellar field already committed to the $7 million Travelers Championship on June 21-24 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. Other early entries include Spieth (3), Jason Day (7), former No. 1 Rory McIlroy (8), Paul Casey (12), Reed (13), two-time Travelers champion Bubba Watson (18) and major championship winners Zach Johnson and Furyk, who shot a PGA Tour record 58 in the final round in 2016, and Fairfield native J.J. Henry, who notched his first PGA Tour victory in the 2005 Travelers Championship. Others among the upper echelon in the World Rankings are Charley Hoffman (30) and Bryson DeChambeau (40).
For more information on the biggest sporting event in Connecticut, visit www.travelerschampionship.com.