Saturday, June 16, 2012
Updated: June 18, 2:53 AM ET
Simpson surprises for U.S. Open win
By Bob Harig
SAN FRANCISCO -- When you add up the numbers and they are lower than everyone else after four grueling days at the U.S. Open, kudos are well deserved and Webb Simpson should soak in the accolades like he breathed in the cool, misty air this week in the Bay Area.
Simpson accepted the trophy and the Nicklaus medal that goes to the national champion early Sunday evening, and he will rightly be hailed as one of America's great young players.
But perhaps as impressive as his final-round 68, overcoming a 5-stroke deficit Sunday at one point, playing the treacherous final nine holes without a bogey and holding off the likes of U.S. Open champions Graeme McDowell, Jim Furyk and Ernie Els was the yeoman effort of Simpson's wife, Dowd.
She didn't hit a shot, of course, but Dowd Simpson is 7½ months pregnant with the couple's second child and yet she was there for every step of the journey.
"It was a challenge," she said on the 18th green following the award's ceremony. "This golf course is hard to walk whether you are pregnant or not. But I didn't miss one hole. I was here Thursday to Sunday and just love being able to do that."
Perhaps that good karma made the difference.
How else do you explain Furyk playing the final round without making a birdie or McDowell unable to hold off a player competing in just his fifth major championship who had never previously finished among the top-10 in golf's biggest events?
How do you explain Simpson being in 29th place through 36 holes and 4 strokes back at the start of play Sunday and nobody even uttering his name as a possible champion?
How do you explain a lot of things at a U.S. Open?
For the first time since their 16-month-old son, James, was born, the Simpsons took a week away together. They did it at the U.S. Open and it seemed to have a calming effect on the former Wake Forest star who just two years ago was not even assured of keeping his PGA Tour card.
Simpson, 26, won twice last year late in the season but was making just his second U.S. Open start and had never seen anything like the Olympic Club, where his total of 281, 1-over-par was just the fifth time since 1975 that the winning score was over par.
Perhaps more remarkable, Simpson never led the tournament alone until he holed out for par on the 18th green and was in the clubhouse. He fell six shots behind early in the round, then played the last 13 holes in 4 under par.
It is the stuff of dreams -- except Webb and Dowd never gave much thought to winning.
"I would like to say I had a feeling," Dowd Simpson said, but well, she didn't. "I just think the two of us having some down time helped a lot."
Why not? This is the kind of week that makes coffee nervous, given the long days, a diabolical golf course, the stress of a major championship.
"He asked me for decaf coffee this morning and I gave him regular by mistake," Down Simpson said. "He was bouncing off the walls."
But not on the golf course. At least not outwardly. Even after bogeys at the second and the fifth, Simpson remained calm. His caddie, veteran Paul Tesori, coached him to not look at leaderboards, and he went about the task of playing golf.
"It was the most calm I've ever seen him in this situation," Tesori said. "He's been really strong this week."
Simpson has often given Tesori credit for his success. After the 2010 season Simpson made the decision to hire Tesori, a former tour player who caddied for the likes of Vijay Singh and Sean O'Hair in his career and played a part in 15 victories and six Presidents Cup appearances.
But Tesori had never been on the bag for a major win, and when Simpson was in the locker room waiting for Furyk and McDowell to finish, he could barely stand to watch himself, pacing up and down while stopping to chat with reporters -- but not allowing himself to check a TV or a cell phone for updates.
Simpson had made himself a factor with an impressive five-hole stretch that included birdies at the sixth, seventh and eighth holes, a good par-save at the ninth, and another birdie at the 10th. He then navigated a tricky chip shot on the final hole to save par and was the only player among the last 18 to tee off to shoot in the 60s.
"I was so nervous all day, but especially there at the end," he said. "Even when I was done I was nervous."
It wasn't until Simpson had finished that Furyk bogeyed the 16th hole to drop a stroke behind. McDowell was two back, so Simpson did some interviews, then headed to the locker room, where he watched on TV with his wife.
To pass the time, they viewed video on her phone of their son, who has just started walking. And then kept their fingers crossed that the score would hold up, avoiding an 18-hole playoff Monday.
"I did not want a playoff," said Simpson, who might skip the British Open next month due to his wife's pregnancy. "I did not want to play Monday, for a lot of reasons. It's a tough situation. I've never been in that situation on the PGA Tour watching guys coming in and myself having a chance to win. And I was just as nervous watching on the telecast as I was playing. They're such great players. Each of them have won a major.
"I knew they would probably put some pressure on me, especially given the birdie opportunity on 17 and 18. And Graeme had a heck of a chance to make a putt. I respect those guys' games so much. Yeah, it was just it was nerve wracking to say the least."
Furyk found a bunker and McDowell could not convert a 25-footer for birdie to tie, and the Simpsons were left to hug, rejoice and cry in the locker room. "Oh my gosh, water works," she said.
Simpson, who moved to fifth in the world and now has three PGA Tour wins, said it is unlikely to sink in anytime soon, the surreal circumstances all playing a part.
And if to add a little more bizarreness to a strange day, Simpson was being interviewed on the 18th green at the trophy presentation ceremony when a spectator snuck onto the green wearing a Union Jack mask and making rooster sounds in front of the TV cameras.
It was a strange scene, made more so when USGA executive director Mike Davis grabbed the perpetrator and all but tossed him into a greenside bunker. The person was being handcuffed as the ceremony continued, with Simpson getting off the kicker: "Enjoy the night in jail, pal!"
Simpson had the last laugh. He is the 15th consecutive different major winner, the ninth straight to make it his first major win.
And like all of the previous U.S. Open winners at Olympic, he wasn't the name anyone was thinking about as events unfolded.
On Father's Day, however, Webb might want to give an assist to the wife. Her walking stats compare quite favorably.
|Despite being 7½ months pregnant, Webb Simpson's wife Dowd walked all 72 holes with her husband, who won his first major championship Sunday at the Olympic Club. |
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.