Defending U.S. Open champ Simpson excited to play at Merion

Webb Simpson claimed the 2012 U.S. Open title by defeating Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson by one stroke at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He has played many times at Merion Golf Club, site of this week’s title defense, including the 2005 U.S. Amateur at Merion. During a recent teleconference, Simpson called Merion his “favorite golf course in the world” and answered a number of questions. Among them:

Why is Merion your favorite course?

What it demands out of the players is so different than most golf courses … where every par-4 is 500 yards and you hit driver on every hole. Merion’s the opposite. I only hit a few drivers. You hit a lot of irons off the tee. I like that style of golf. There’s a lot of intricacies with Merion that a player will go around the first time and not see them all. For me to try to defend such a big title, it’s an honor. It’s even more of an honor at a place I love.

How has your life changed as a U.S. Open champion?

Just being recognized more. When I used to sign autographs, the kid would ask the mom who I was. And, sometimes, she would say, “I don’t know who that is.” But now, people know who I am more. … When it comes to golf, a lot has changed. I made it to fifth in the world [rankings] after the U.S. Open. My confidence just skyrocketed. What it did is it proved to me that in the most pressure-packed situation, I know what to do, I know what to expect and I was able to perform under the pressure.

What is the key to success at Merion?

I look at it as two different golf courses. Through the first 13 holes, if you drive it well, you can have nine wedge opportunities. And then the last five are going to be some of maybe the hardest holes that we have ever had in the U.S. Open. I think a guy with a good wedge game and a good mind will have the advantage.

Based on your knowledge of this course, do you expect a low-scoring Open?

No. It’s one of those golf courses that you give a lot of respect. Even though the course might be a little shorter, even par’s going to be an incredible score out there.

Do you track the leader board closely on Sunday when you are in the mix to win?

I normally do look at leader boards at regular tournaments because most golf courses you can play more aggressively and have a little more risk-reward. But at the U.S. Open, you have to remain patient all day. To make a birdie is almost impossible. I’ll try to take one hole at a time. That’s what I’ll try to do at Merion. There’s no need for me to look.

There are a lot of risk-reward holes at Merion. Does one stand out to you?

No. 11 is a perfect Merion golf hole, a short par-4. Because it’s a blind tee shot, it’s not that long … maybe 400 yards at the most. The choice of club [off the tee] is probably going to be something around a 230- to 250-yard shot. But the green has water short and all the way around the right side. If you drive it in the rough, you are probably not going to go for the green because you won’t be able to clear the water. So it turns into a quick bogey. If you do drive it in the fairway, you’ll have a sand wedge, and it’s a great birdie opportunity.