Simpson finds kindred spirit in caddie
SAN FRANCISCO -- At Olympic's par-4 second hole on Sunday, Paul Tesori instructed his boss, Webb Simpson, to not look at the leaderboard.
"If you're 1-over par for the tournament going into 16," Tesori said to Simpson, "and you looked at the leaderboard and all of a sudden you have a 1-shot lead, is it going to add anxiety? Of course it will. Why would you want to add anxiety? It's already anxious enough."
After that, Simpson wouldn't look at a leaderboard again until after he hit his tee shot on 18. At that point he was tied with Jim Furyk for the lead at 1-over par.
"This is the calmest I have ever seen him in contention," Tesori said. "He was way calmer here than he was when he won at Greensboro and in Boston [last year]. He just focused on his faith."
Simpson is a man of deep faith, a faith he shares with Tesori. The 26-year-old former Wake Forest star had scripture written on every page of his Olympic yardage book.
"Webb wanted to have the scripture strong in his mind and heart on the golf course," Tesori said.
In the 17th fairway on Sunday, perhaps in an effort to avoid losing site of his larger life purpose, he tried to put some real perspective on things.
"It doesn't matter if we win 15 tournaments and 15 money lists," Simpson told his caddie. "In 30 years, it's not going to matter because we're going to heaven anyway."
Simpson and Tesori are a special team. Faith, golf and family are the pillars on which they've built their relationship since they began working together in 2011. Tesori, a 40-year-old former PGA Tour player who quit the game in the late '90s after a bout of injuries, had successful runs on the bag with Vijay Singh, Jerry Kelly and Sean O'Hair. He accomplished everything with Singh, except a major. Singh was the first person to call him to offer congratulations on Sunday night. But with Simpson, Tesori found a truly kindred spirit.
Webb had shown promise on tour, but he wasn't close to the player that he would become when he joined forces with Tesori. In 2010, with another caddie on his bag who would leave to work in ministry, Simpson had only two top-10s and missed 13 cuts.
With Tesori, Simpson got a very confident caddie who never shies away from sharing his thoughts on the golf course.
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From the beginning, Tesori micromanaged Simpson on the course and coached him through swing problems.
The dynamic worked through 2011, when Simpson had 12 top-10s, including two wins. But this year the team has struggled. Coming into Olympic, Simpson had missed the cut at the Players and the Memorial.
"One of the problems that Webb and I have had as a team is that in 2011, if I said jump, he would jump," Tesori said. "But this year if I say jump, he says, 'Why?' because his confidence is a lot higher, which is a great thing. But we started to make a lot more mistakes because his confidence was so high.
"We want to get to a place where I'm just there. Last year I was doing a lot more coaching. But in five years, I just want to be carrying the bag."
On a flight to Charlotte in March, Tesori went through a list of all the mistakes that he and Simpson had made that week at Bay Hill. The first thing that they agreed on was that they would have more disagreements because of Simpson's increased confidence.
With Simpson missing his last two cuts, Tesori hoped for a top-20 finish at Olympic. Yet he knew that his player had the stuff to do well in this championship.
"The U.S. Open is perfect for Webb," Tesori said. "He doesn't get worked up. He doesn't get uptight."
On Sunday night, Tesori got hardy congratulations in the locker room from Steve "Pepsi" Hale, Keegan Bradley's caddie, and Mike "Fluff" McCowan, who looked a bit deflated after seeing his man, Furyk, struggle over the final nine holes. Hale, who won the PGA Championship last year with Bradley, was planning an old trick for the new major champion that went back some years, a gag Paul Azinger played on Payne Stewart after his first Open win in 1991. Hale put banana slices in Simpson's favorite white and blue running shoes. Tesori sheepishly tried not to know what Hale was doing.
This was Tesori's 16th win as a caddie, but his first major championship. As he cleaned up to prepare for a Sunday red-eye home to Jacksonville, Fla., he clung to the 18th flag that caddies take after victories. He would savor this win. He had 120 text messages on his phone.
Tesori plans to meet Simpson on Tuesday in Hartford, Conn., for the Travelers Championship. But Sunday night, he says, he will have a few beverages and probably pay the upgrade for first class. He has earned it.
2012 U.S. OPEN
2012 course: The Olympic Club
Yardage, par: 7,170 yards, par-70
2012 champion: Webb Simpson
Past champions: Complete list
Olympic Club hole flyovers: Front 9 | Back 9
Topics: The U.S. Open