‘I see it as a gift:’ Webb Simpson didn’t want to miss his ‘backyard’ U.S. Open

PINEHURST, N.C. — Webb Simpson didn’t want to miss the 124th U.S. Open played in his backyard.

With his 10-year exemption as the 2012 champion at The Olympic Club having already run out and not otherwise exempt, Simpson did what he had to do and earned his way into the field at Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 Course via Final Qualifying last Monday in Durham, North Carolina.

It means that much more to Simpson because Pinehurst was the happy place of his father Sam, who passed away in November 2017 from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. Simpson grew up in nearby Raleigh but his father built a second home at Country Club of North Carolina in the Sand Hills of Pinehurst, and Simpson estimated the family spent every other weekend there from the time he was 12.

“He worked really hard,” Simpson said of his dad. “But when he would come to Pinehurst on a Friday, you’d really see him kind of decompress…He would be thrilled to death that I qualified.”

Simpson had to work hard, too, just to make it, and conceded there were moments where he considered quitting.

“There were points on Monday (at the Final stage) where it would have felt nice to go to the car,” he said. “I kept going.”

Simpson, 38, shot a 67-69 to finish 4-under at last Monday’s qualifier.

“I asked my caddy at the turn, What is it looking like? What do we need to do?” recalled Simpson, noting that there were no electronic scoreboards at the course but competitors and caddies are allowed to look at the live scoring on their phone. “At the time when I asked him, it looked like I needed to shoot minimum three if not four or five on the back. I made a few birdies, but then I bogeyed 17. When I bogeyed 17, I thought for sure there was no chance even of a playoff with a birdie on 18. So I asked him, ‘We’re out of it, right?’ He said, ‘No. Par you have a chance for a playoff. Birdie definitely a playoff, maybe even get in with no playoff.’ I got all excited again. Made a 15-footer on the last hole.”

It was enough and punched his ticket to a place where Simpson has fond memories. He competed at Pinehurst Resort in the Putterboy Trophy, the Donald Ross Junior, the North/South Junior and the North/South Am. He never won any of them, but he and his dad did win the Donald Ross Father-Son in a playoff once upon a time.

“It was alternate shot,” Simpson said. “In the playoff, my dad drove it in the fairway, I hit it to three feet, and then he made it for us to win. I was so excited. He looked at me like he was mad at me. I’m like, ‘What? We just won.’ He’s like, ‘Don’t ever do that to me again. Hit it to 20 feet. Don’t hit it to three feet.’”

Simpson has slipped to No. 220 in the Official World Golf Ranking and his best finish this season is T-24 at the Wells Fargo Championship. But he enjoys a certain comfort level being back on familiar ground, and a little less pressure than he felt in 2014, the last time Pinehurst hosted a major when he was a top-20 ranked player in the world.

“Now being here,” he said, “I kind of see it as a gift to be here.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek