A look inside Eagle Point Golf Club
Webb Simpson shares his insight on the new venue for the Wells Fargo Championship
May 02, 2017
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
With Quail Hollow Club preparing to host the PGA Championship in August, the Wells Fargo Championship has a new home for 2017. The tournament will be played at Wilmington, North Carolina’s Eagle Point Golf Club, one of Golf Digest’s top 100 courses in the United States. It’s likely that no one has more experience on the course than North Carolina native Webb Simpson.
The four-time TOUR winner is a member at Quail Hollow but also has a history at Eagle Point, which he played occasionally on family vacations and joined when he turned pro in 2008. He estimates he’s played about 150 rounds on the Tom Fazio design, including several just a couple weeks earlier as part of his annual buddies trip.
Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, arrives at Eagle Point ranked 37th in the FedExCup standings, including a second-place finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he lost a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama after firing 65-64 on the weekend. Simpson, who ranks fifth on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green, finished 11th in his last start, at the RBC Heritage. He spoke to PGATOUR.COM about what to expect from Eagle Point and the state of his game.
PGATOUR.COM: You may be the only TOUR player who’s seen Eagle Point. What can we expect this week?
WEBB SIMPSON: “It honestly has a touch of Augusta National to it. It’s as green as Augusta, the sand is white. [Tom Fazio, who designed Eagle Point, also has renovated Augusta National.] You have pine trees and all that. It’s hillier than you would think for a course down there on the flat coast. If I were to characterize the club as a whole, it’s a golf club. There’s no pool. There’s no tennis. You’re there to play golf. They have great food. Like Augusta, they have cabins, they have a par-3 course.
“I’m trying to take the bias out of it for me. I think if I had never played it and I showed up as a TOUR player, I still would be blown away.”
PGATOUR.COM: And Augusta National’s superintendent has helped get the course ready for the event. Can you tell us about that?
SIMPSON: “Marsh Benson, who was head of grounds at Augusta for 27 years, retired a few years ago. Bobby Long hired him for a year to come in and help get the course ready for this week. Marsh has such a gifted eye for landscape. He looks at where he’s standing as a painting and asks, ‘How could I make this painting look better?’ They took out some of the sawgrass bushes and planted grass, really trying to make the landscape pop as much as possible.” [The course also rebuilt its bunkers in 2015 and overseeded with rye grass, according to the Wilmington Star-News.]
PGATOUR.COM: What are a couple holes that stand out that people can look for?
"No. 17 is probably the most beautiful hole there from the tee box. There’s a beautiful creek running up the left side. The tee is really elevated. You go down a little bit to the fairway, there’s some fairway bunkers and then the green is elevated. You really see the elevation changes there.Also, No. 10, because it’s a par-3 right off the clubhouse and behind it is the sound and marsh and you see the Figure Eight Island Bridge. Those are a couple beautiful spots."
PGATOUR.COM: Where do you feel your game stands?
SIMPSON: “It’s been an inconsistent year. I’ve been in contention twice. I had a lesson with Billy Harmon after the [CareerBuilder Challenge in January]. Billy and I have been trying to get the club a little bit flatter, like the way I used to swing it. That’s when my ball-striking started turning around, the week before the Waste Management Phoenix Open. I hit it great in Phoenix.
“I had a great chance to win at Hilton Head. I got off to a great start and then just made so many bad, elementary mistakes on the back nine, which ended up costing me. I was extremely happy for Wesley (Bryan), getting his first win, but I was disappointed after that tournament.
“It was the first time in a while where I woke up Sunday morning and I thought I was going to win. I’ve had many times where I thought I could win, or I had a chance to win, but it’s been a long time since I thought, ‘I am going to win.’ That’s a great place for me to be. I have to use that as my building block and take that into the next few weeks.”
PGATOUR.COM: This year’s U.S. Open marks the five-year anniversary of your win at the Olympic Club. You won four times from 2011 to 2013, but haven’t won since. What have you learned in these years since your last win?
SIMPSON: “I’m a novice sufferer, but the last few years have been a trial for me vocationally. I think of the Book of Job. Satan tells God that Job only loves him for what he gives him -- not for who he is. Just delighting in God for who he is, not for what he gives me, has been a sweet thought for my soul. I’ve had moments with my wife over meals where I’ve shed tears out of frustration, and then I’ve laughed at myself for crying over golf.
“At the same time, at the end of the day, it’s all real life -- and real feelings. Not playing as well as I’d like has given me some of the sweetest moments in my marriage, and I wouldn’t trade them for being a top-10 player. James 1, the idea of being patient in suffering and not feeling like you have to rush out of it, letting God teach you what he’s teaching you, has been meaningful, as well. I have a tendency to be obsessed with fixing the problem and moving on, rather than settling in and having my ears open and my heart willing to learn.”
PGATOUR.COM: You spent several days at Eagle Point two weeks ago as part of your annual guys’ trip. What did you do there?
SIMPSON: “It started out seven years ago as me and four of my best friends, just so we could get away and play golf. It was so much fun and there was so much encouragement, laughter and refreshment that we were like, ‘Let’s do it again and let’s add another day.’ Our wives joke with us that every year we make it a day longer. It’s about five days long now. Now it’s 10 guys, the five youngest guys versus the five oldest guys. We’re basically on the course from 10 a.m. until dinner each day.
“We want to use it as a time to encourage each other in the places that we are all in, which is husbands, fathers, pastors, golfers, whatever it might be. It’s funny, we’re physically tired when we leave there, but internally we’re refreshed.
“From a golf perspective, I also got to play 10 rounds at a course where we’re playing an event in a week-and-a-half, so that’s a bonus. It was good for me to get in an environment that was competitive, but where there was some freedom in me trying some things I’ve been working on.
“The young guys won on the second-to-last hole of the tournament. I made a 15-footer for birdie to win, so that was fun.”
PGATOUR.COM: You have two tournaments this year at courses to which you belong. How do you feel about playing a major at your home club, Quail Hollow?
SIMPSON: “I love having a tournament not only in my hometown, but at my home course and where I live. I think the club is excited about hosting a major championship and then the 2021 Presidents Cup.
“It’s been so cool playing a TOUR event on my home course, but I think playing a major is going to take that excitement to a whole new level. Like Eagle Point, I’ll have so many more rounds under my belt than most guys. On one hand, it can add pressure because I feel like I should play well, but on the other hand it should free me up because I know exactly where I need to hit it. I don’t have to think as much as other guys may have to. It really helps in that regard.”
2017 Wells Fargo Championship preview