Donald and Simpson: Fit to a tee

By Jason SobelOctober 26, 2011, 11:38 am

In a year of golf marked by questionable decisions – Tiger Woods on the Presidents Cup team? – and debatable theories – Ban the belly putter! – there have remained two inarguable constants.

Their names are Luke Donald and Webb Simpson – and they are easily the most consistent players in the game.

Flying directly and seamlessly through the heavy winds of parity, it has gotten to the point where it’s a surprise when either of these guys tees it up in competition and doesn’t finish the week near the top of the leaderboard. The season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic featured a victory from Donald and T-6 result from Simpson, concluding their PGA Tour campaigns with a combined 26 top-10s in 45 appearances.

If those numbers prove their season-long efficacy, these numbers explain it: Donald and Simpson were two of the top three players in birdie average and the top two in lowest bogey average. Translation: They each capitalized on opportunity and avoided mistakes.

Those are characteristics every other player envies, but it isn’t easy to crack that code of consistency. Eat more Wheaties? Help old ladies across the street in attempt to win the karma battle? Maybe even – hey, it’s worked before – spend more time practicing?

While none of those would hurt the cause, Donald and Simpson have one major commonality in their regular preparations and routines. Late last year, within days of each other, they both started working with the team from Back 9 Tour Services on their off-course conditioning.

The three-man team of strength and conditioning trainer Ben Shear, physical therapist Jeff Banaszak and massage therapist Craig Knight quickly developed unique programs for each player – two of the nine in their stable that also includes Jason Day, Rory Sabbatini, Chad Campbell, Bo Van Pelt, Tim Clark, Jason Bohn and Troy Matteson.

“For them to put their trust in us and have faith in what we’re doing, it’s an amazing feeling,” Shear said. “You become so attached and emotionally involved with their success and failure. We have great guys who are willing to do the work and understand the importance of it. They allow us to lead them down the path that has proven to be successful.”

We can talk about increased flexibility or how physical fitness promotes mental fitness inside the ropes. But once again, the proof is in the numbers for these players.

Last year, Donald averaged 277.0 yards per drive; this year, that number surged to 284.1. Simpson’s increase was even more pronounced, rocketing from 285.4 to 296.2. Those quick to credit technology for such gains should note that the PGA Tour average drive increased at a much slower rate since last season, going only from 287.3 to 290.9.

“I think the game has really changed since Tiger [Woods] really came on board with all the fitness,” Donald explained. “I think it improves your swing. A lot people's faults in their swing [are] due to a weakness in your body. If you can improve those weaknesses, it's going to help your swing.”

Donald has never been a stranger to the gym. During the season, he works out about four or five times per week and on off weeks that number increases to at least six, if not every day. For a player who competes  on a global schedule – he won the PGA Tour money title and is in position to do the same on the European circuit – it can be contended that conditioning is just as important as the golf swing or short game, though they all go hand-in-hand with each other.

“He’s like the Yankees in baseball,” Shear said. “He’s disciplined, focused, works hard. When I give him something to do, he just does what’s asked of him. Early on, there’d be some weeks I wouldn’t be with him and would text him about his workouts. He’s like, ‘You don’t have to check up on me. If you give me something to do, I’ll get it done.’ He treats it like a professional.”

In another anecdote, Shear tells the recent story of setting up Donald’s conditioning program for next year. After playing tournaments in Ireland and Spain, the No. 1-ranked player flew back to Chicago for lengthy testing sessions two weeks ago – and passed with flying colors.

“I was like, ‘Is he going to be any good for this testing?’” Shear asked. “Literally, he showed up and flipped the switch. It was a 2-and-a-half-hour physical test and he just crushed it. I was like, ‘This guy’s a machine.’ We worked out for the next two days straight and he was great.”

Simpson, on the other hand, was a work in progress when he first came to the training team less than a year ago.

Ranked outside of the top 200 in the world after his first two full seasons on Tour, he started to understand the necessity for his first-ever workout regimen in order to make the transition from decent player to one of the game’s elite.

“When we assessed Webb physically, honestly, he wasn’t very good,” Shear admitted. “We knew if we could get him physically better, he would get better. But a lot of times when you see guys who haven’t done a fitness plan before, they do an extreme program and play bad golf and say, ‘Fitness is no good,’ and then they stop doing it.

“Our goal for Webb was, we’re going to peel this kid like an onion – one layer at a time. A little bit more strength, a little more stability, a little more mobility, so we don’t alter the way his body feels and we don’t alter his swing too much.”

It worked. After posting six top-10s in his first two seasons, he doubled that number this year, including his first two victories and three other runner-up finishes. He now realizes that conditioning is crucial to consistency.

“Yeah, I think so when you're playing as much as we are,” Simpson said. “You've got to be in pretty good shape. If the physical breaks down, then the mental will break down as well.”

Ask any instructor, trainer or confidante whether he was confident that his player could find success at the highest level and you’ll receive a chorus of acknowledgments without hesitation. Deep down, though, none of them knows with a full level of certainty just how good his guy can be, and how quickly.

Such is the case with Back 9 and its two most consistently successful clients. It was less than a year ago when they started working together. Since then, both players have vaulted into the next tier, crediting their new conditioning programs throughout the journey.

“What an amazing thing to be a part of,” Shear said. “At the end of the day, though, they do the work. We just lead them to water.”

What's in the bag: RSM Classic winner Cook

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 20, 2017, 3:52 pm

PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook earned his first Tour title at the RSM Classic. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Ping G400 (8.5 degrees adjusted to 9.2), with Fujikura Speeder Evolution 661X shaft

Fairway wood: Ping G400 (13 degrees), with Fujikura Motore VC 7.0 shaft

Hybrids: Ping G400 (19, 22 degrees), with Matrix Altus Red X shafts

Irons: Ping S55 (5-PW), with KBS Tour S shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (50, 56, 60) with True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 shafts

Putter: Ping Sigma G Tyne

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

Monday Scramble: For money and love

By Ryan LavnerNovember 20, 2017, 3:00 pm

Lexi Thompson falters, Jon Rahm impresses, Justin Rose stuns, Austin Cook breaks through and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

It’ll be a long two months for Lexi Thompson.

She’ll have plenty to think about this offseason after a strong 2017 season that could have been spectacular.

She won twice, led the LPGA in scoring average and took home the $1 million first-place prize … but she also finished second six times – none more excruciating than the careless spotting in the first major of the year and the 2-foot miss in the season finale – and dealt with the crushing off-course distraction of her mother, Judy, battling cancer.

Thompson said all the right things after the CME Group Tour Championship, that those types of short misses happen in golf, that she’s overcome adversity before.

“It didn’t stop me,” she said, “and this won’t either.”

But at 22, she has already accumulated an incredible amount of scar tissue, especially for a player with world-beater talent.

What will 2018 bring? For Lexi’s sake, hopefully it’s more wins, not heartbreak. 


1. The Thompson miss was plenty awkward. So was the end to the LPGA season.

In a fitting result for a year in which no dominant player emerged, So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park shared the Player of the Year award, after both players finished with 162 points. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1966.

Can’t there be some way to break the tie? Low scoring average? Best finishes in the majors? A chip-off content? Rock-paper-scissors?

2. Some of the other awards ...

Vare Trophy: Thompson, who finished the year with a 69.114 average. Maybe the players this year were just really good, but it’s a bit of a head-scratcher than 12 players finished with a sub-70 average, besting the previous best total of, gulp, five. Easier setups?

Money title: Park, with $2.336 in earnings.

No. 1 ranking: Shanshan Feng, though Thompson had a chance to take over the top spot. Alas, that final green … 



3. Oh, and there was also the tournament winner: Ariya Jutanugarn, who capped a bizarre year with a satisfying title.

Perhaps only Thompson boasts as much talent as Jutanugarn, and yet the Thai star showed her vulnerability this year. After reaching No. 1 in the world, she struggled through a shoulder injury and then missed five cuts and withdrew from another event in a seven-start span.

Here’s hoping she learned how to deal with that spotlight, because she’s going to be challenging for the No. 1 ranking for a while.

4. Of course, we wrote that about Lydia Ko, too, and she just wrapped up her first winless season on tour since she was 15.

She had 11 top-10s, including three runners-up, but failing to earn a victory was a massive disappointment for a player who was No. 1 in the world for 85 weeks. Perhaps next year she’ll get back on track, but you never know – she changed swings, coaches, equipment and caddies. That's a lot of turnover.



5. So much for that “controversial” Rookie of the Year award.

Jon Rahm, named Europe’s top newcomer despite playing only four regular-season events, left little doubt about who was the breakout star of the year with a comeback victory at the DP World Tour Championship.

Though it wasn’t enough to claim the Race to Dubai title – he finished third – it should serve as a warning to the rest of the European Tour that the 23-year-old Rahm be the man to beat for the next, oh, decade or so.

6. Ranked fourth in the world, particularly impressive because he hasn’t yet hit the minimum divisor in the rankings, Rahm wrapped up a season in which he won in California, Ireland and Dubai.

Just imagine how good he’ll be when he’s not seeing all of these courses for the first time. 

7. The biggest stunner on the final day was the play of Justin Rose, who entered the final round with a one-shot lead.

He seemed to be on cruise control, going out in 4 under, but he encountered all sorts of trouble on the back nine, making three bogeys a variety of ways – wayward drives, flared approaches into the water and missed shorties.

Not only did it cost him the DP World Tour Championship title, but it allowed Tommy Fleetwood – even with a closing 74 – to take the end-of-season Race to Dubai title.



8. Austin Cook is now a PGA Tour winner – and what a circuitous journey it has been.

After turning pro in 2014, he played the mini-tours, racking up five top-10s in nine starts on the Adams Tour. A year later, with a chance to earn his Web.com card, he finished bogey-bogey-quad-double. And then last year, Hurricane Matthew forced officials to cancel the Web.com Tour Championship. That left Cook without his card – by $425.

He made it to the big leagues this fall, after finishing 20th on the money list, and then won in just his 14th career Tour start.  

“I’ve been close on the Web a couple times but haven’t been able to get the job done, and to be able to do it on the biggest stage in the world, it definitely boosts my confidence and lets me know that I can play with these guys,” he said. 

9. Sam Horsfield, who in 2016 was the NCAA Freshman of the Year, routed the field at European Tour Q-School to earn his card for next year. He shot 27 under (!) during the five-round event to win by eight.

Expectations have been high for the 21-year-old ever since he received a public endorsement from Ian Poulter. His mentor chimed in again after Horsfield got his card:

Another great story to come out of Q-School was Jigger Thomson, who is interesting not just because of his incredible height – he’s 6-foot-9 – but his back story, after battling leukemia as a kid.

10. A limited fall schedule hasn’t cost Brooks Koepka any of his stellar form.

The U.S. Open champion defended his title at the Dunlop Phoenix, shooting 20 under par – one off his own scoring mark – and winning by a record nine shots. The margin of victory was one shot better than Tiger Woods’ romp there in 2004.

This was only Koepka’s second start since the Tour Championship (tied for second at the WGC-HSBC Champions).

Xander Schauffele tied for second while Hideki Matsuyama finished fifth. This is the time last year, remember, in which the Japanese star was the hottest player in the world, taking four titles in six starts, but he admitted of going up against Koepka right now: “I feel there’s a huge gap between us.” 

Um, has this ever happened before?

I.K. Kim had a WILD third round at the CME Tour Championship, making only seven pars and recording everything from a 1 to a 7 en route to a ho-hum 71. 

This week's award winners ... 


Back Under the Knife: Davis Love III. Set to undergo replacement surgery on his left hip, Love is looking at another extended layoff, likely about four months.  

Underrated Fall Performances: J.J. Spaun and Brian Harman. Spaun, who held the 54-hole lead at the Shriners, earned his first runner-up finish at the RSM, his third consecutive top-15. Harman, who won the Wells Fargo in May, had three top-8s. 

Fill-In Duty: Cameron McCormick. Jordan Spieth’s swing coach will be on the bag for Spieth this week in Australia with his regular caddie, Michael Greller, at home with his wife and new baby.  

Get Well Soon: Luke Donald. He withdrew from the RSM because of chest pain. He spent the night in the hospital, undergoing seven hours of tests, but was given the all-clear sign. 


All the Best: Webb Simpson. Wishing the best to the Simpson family, after Webb chose to WD from Sea Island after rounds of 67-68 so he could spend time with his father, Sam, who, Simpson tweeted is “sick and living his last days.” 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Charles Howell III. Red-hot to open the season, with three consecutive top-10s, Howell missed the cut at Sea Island where he was 7-for-7 with three top-10s and a tie for 13th. Sigh. 

Love to undergo hip replacement surgery

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 1:08 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.

Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

“I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.

Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.

“Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.


Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.


CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.


LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.


Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.


Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.