There is something about the U.S. Open that creates historical parallels and loops. Some of them are flat out weird, like a guy named Lee hitting his ball on Sunday into the exact same tree that another guy named Lee hit his into 17 years ago. And some of them are pleasing in their symmetry. At the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic, Webb Simpson claimed is first major championship and also became a part of one of those historic loops.
Simpson, who shot rounds of 68 on Saturday and Sunday to finish one shot clear of 2010 Open winner Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson, became the ninth consecutive first-time major winner. Simpson played his college golf at Wake Forest as a recipient of an Arnold Palmer scholarship. How fitting that The King was responsible for mentoring the man who won at the site of one of his most bitter defeats, a loss to Billy Casper in 1966 when Palmer lost a seven-shot lead on the final nine holes of the tournament. Simpson also won 25 years after another Scott Simspon (no relation), who took the U.S. Open at Olympic for his only major title. Scott Simpson was born in 1955, the year that Ben Hogan famously lost to Jack Fleck in a playoff at Olympic that is considered by many to be the greatest upset in golf history.
And on and on.
A two-time winner and contender for player of the year honors in 2011, Simpson had never really contended in a major and had missed the cut in the two events he played in prior to the U.S. Open. But in the closing holes that pitted him against some to the toughest and most seasoned professionals, Simpson performed like an old pro in top form. Of the last 18 players to tee off on Sunday, he was the only one to break par. And when faced with a difficult chip shot out of an old sprinkler head depression on the 18th, Simpson executed the shot brilliantly, leaving himself a 3-footer that he rolled in for the par that was the difference between winning and a playoff.
While calm on the outside, Simpson admitted that he was a jangle of nerves on the inside while trying to track down a major title on one of the toughest tests ever set before a group of professionals.
“On that back nine, I was thinking to myself, ‘How did Tiger ever win 14 of these things?'” Simpson said after the round. “I couldn’t feel my legs for most of those holes.”
He managed his nerves well enough to post four birdies around the turn, post his 281 and make it the clubhouse where he could watch the NASCAR-like crashes of the remaining contenders.
On a course where a good prayer could have been as essential as a good putter, Simpson was right at home. A devout Christian, he has said that if he were not a pro golfer he would likely be a minister. A father of one and expecting his second, Simpson is the quintessential “old soul” in a young man’s body. His game and his life seem grounded in the fundamentals.
Simpson is only in his fourth year on Tour, and he clearly has the talent to take his career to whatever level he aspires to. But when he talks about what’s important to him, it’s all about his wife Taylor and the family they want to raise and the community that they want to serve. Who knows; Webb Simpson may very well achieve more off the course than on it. But history will note that for one week in June in this Olympic year, Webb Simpson’s game reached Olympic heights.