THE PLAYERS 2018 champion Webb Simpson said on Monday he believes the Ponte Vedra-based tournament will become an “even bigger” event now that it has shifted back to March.
“One thing that is going to bring even more prestige to this event is when it used to be in May, we already had a very big event on the calendar, the Masters,” said Simpson, who was in Ponte Vedra Beach on Monday for THE PLAYERS media day. “Now it’s in March. So, I think the season — every tournament is a big tournament, but this is the first really big tournament of the year, and I think that's special knowing that when the guys come here, they know that the best players in the world are going to be here for the first time maybe all season competing for the trophy.”
Simpson addressed media alongside THE PLAYERS Executive Director Jared Rice at the TPC Clubhouse following the annual Charity Challenge on the Island Green 17th hole.
Considering the date change, Rice said the impact on ticket sales has been positive. He said THE PLAYERS is out-pacing where they were last year by about 10 percent, so his team feels that the market is aware of the change. He also noted that the tournament is seeing significant engagement from Charlotte, Atlanta and Orlando, as well as purchases out of Chicago and New York.
Before participating in the Charity Challenge, Simpson walked around the course and said it’s in “phenomenal shape.” Living at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, since 2010, Simpson said he’s familiar with the overseeding process that TPC Sawgrass has undergone, and he’s impressed. He noted that chipping around the greens is usually tough, but now it’s going to be easier, which he said will make the players happy.
Regarding differences between March and May, Simpson noted that he hit a few shots at No. 11 on Monday. The same shot he made on Saturday of last year’s tournament — when he landed the ball about halfway to the hole and it rolled out about 40 feet — he said he had to fly maybe 15 feet short of the hole on Monday.
“So, there’s a lot of things that will change,” he said. “The fairways here are known to be really tight, and they are, but with softer fairways, they’re going to play a little wider. I’m going to hit different clubs off probably four or five holes.”
Prior to the question and answer session with Rice, Simpson donated his sand wedge from the 2018 tournament to TPC Sawgrass that he used on that 11th hole shot on Saturday. Holing out for eagle, the shot extended his lead at the time to eight strokes.
Also during the session with Simpson, Rice discussed some of the changes for this year’s tournament, including a new Nicklaus Gate entryway; enhanced ridesharing due to a new space for ridesharing closest to the Fred Couples gate; and a branding campaign that features enhanced colors and a new sterling silver trophy dripped in 24-karat gold vermeil thanks to a partnership with Tiffany & Co.
In addition, TPC Sawgrass Head Chef Azhar Mohammad unveiled a new dish named after Simpson and chosen by the defending champion, continuing an annual tradition. To be featured on the TPC Sawgrass menu through tournament week, the Simpson Sandy is a sandwich with barbecue brisket on soft potato bread with carrot, jalapeno slaw and fried onions.
THE PLAYERS 2019 returns to TPC Sawgrass March 12-17.