After a breakthrough season last year, Webb Simpson finally appears to be comfortable playing on the PGA Tour. And that's not necessarily a good thing.
The way the 26-year-old North Carolina native figures it, sharper golf comes from not being comfortable, from having to overcome nerves in a tough situation.
"I think as an athlete, you're so used to feeling nerves and performing under pressure," Simpson said this week in advance of his trip Monday to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square for an outing with Chase Sapphire card members.
"But when you've been in a situation enough times, you start to come out not feeling near as much pressure, near as many nerves. When I reflect on the times where I wasn't playing well, I realized the times when I was least nervous were the times I usually hit the worst shots.
"When you get to a hole with a tough tee shot or a tough putt or whatever it is, situations where you're nervous are when you perform well. Any time we're faced with a situation where we're really nervous and the anxiety level is high, guys do better."
Simpson's level of nervousness this year has been good enough to see him rise to No. 9 in the World Golf Rankings entering this week's Players Championship. The fourth-year tour player has gone 12 for 12 in cuts made and stands 24th on the money list after finishing fourth at last weekend's Wells Fargo Championship, 1 shot out of a playoff.
After finishing 70th and 94th in his first two years on the tour, Simpson burst into the upper echelon in 2011 when he won twice and took second on the final 2011 money list with more than $6.34 million in earnings. He credited ball-striking, which he said has been "the missing link in my game," for his upsurge.
As for this year, Simpson said his only goal is to improve, something that has been a steady objective since he played for coach Jerry Haas at Wake Forest.
"My first two years I hadn't won a college event, and I was pretty down about my game," he said. "Coach said, 'The only thing that matters is that you improve. Wins don't matter. Score doesn't matter. If you're improving, all those things are going to come with it.'
"That's kind of my heartbeat as a golfer, is just to try to improve. This year, if I don't win a tournament or I don't make as much money as last year, if I improve, that's enough for me."
Simpson said he is looking forward to returning to Aronimink, where he competed the last two years in the AT&T National. He finished tied for eighth there last year.
"It's one of my personal favorites," he said. "The guys love it there. It's an old-style course with tree-lined fairways, doglegs. It's one of the best courses that we play on tour. I played well there last year. It's just a great venue."
Simpson said he will show guests at the Aronimink outing, which is sold out, certain shots and situations he faced last year in the tournament, as well as talk to them about how he competed at the Players Championship.