Webb Simpson, Son of Pinehurst Couple, Captures First PGA Win
GREENSBORO - Webb Simpson, playing the closest place to home, worked up a sweat in going about the Sedgefield Country Club course Sunday to win his first PGA Tour tournament, the 2011 Wyndham Championship and a check for $936,000.
The back of the young pro’s shirt was soaked already on the first tee, where the Sam Snead Cup that he would later win was mounted at the end of the tee box. And perhaps his nerves were tingling a tad when he hit his ball on the other side of the cart path, not far from the lawn of a mansion bordering the fairway.
But he made par from there. He played steady par golf from there on him with birdies on the 9th, 15th and 16th with no bogeys for a 67 and an 18 under par total, good for a three-shot victory.
“Wow,” he declared at the ceremony afterward, after receiving a standing ovation from the huge gallery on foot and in skyboxes and bleachers on the 18th hole. The Wake Forest graduate had come close to winning since turning pro in 2008, including a playoff loss in New Orleans earlier this year to Bubba Watson.
“I think the floodgates will now open,” predicted tournament director Mark Brazil about Simpson’s future.
Simpson's parents, Sam and Debbie, live in Pinehurst.
The deeply religious native of Raleigh, resident of Charlotte and with a half-brother in Greensboro, said he felt pressure all the way around the course, but as he told his wife, Dowd, before teeing off, “The Lord is at my right hand; thou shall not be shaken.”
After holing his final putt on the 18th, he had long embraces with his wife and his infant son, James. He paid the ultimate tribute to his wife, when he declared, “Golf is nothing compared to you.”
Whew, he seemed to say.
“I never imagined it would be this hard to win on the PGA Tour,” he said
He didn’t make it look that hard. Carl Pettersson, George McNeill, Tommy Gainey, Vijah Singh and others tried to creep up to him, but Simpson held them off, especially after he birdied the par 5 15th and par 3 16th.
The runner up was McNeill, who was already in the Tudor-style Sedgefield clubhouse with a 15-under-par total when Simpson was still early on the back nine holes.. McNeill, not a well known name but with career earnings of $5.8 million, collected $561,600.
The huge crowd following Simpson and playing partner Tommy “Two Gloves” was noisy. The spectators seemed partial to Gainey, who began the day in second place.
“Come on, Two Gloves, come on baby,” people shouted at the South Carolina golfer, who wears gloves on both hands and comes from a working-class background.
But Gainey’s slashing swing got him into trouble. He hit a tree a hundred yards off the tee on the fourth hole. He just missed the out-of-bound markers on the ninth hole, and he went out of bounds on the 11th - the street that runs beside the hole. He dropped to 11 under but moved back into contention with four straight birdies from holes 12 to 15. He won the third place check of $353,600.
Brazil, the tournament director, told the crowd at the 18th green, “There is absolutely no way it is going to get any better than this week.”
The 2011 Wyndham will be remembered as one of the most successful in the tournament’s long history, and for the second time has a winner with strong local ties. Pettersson, who graduated from Greensboro Grimsley and now lives in Raleigh, won in 2008.
Except for a one-hour weather delay Saturday, the weather was clear, if hot. The course was immaculate and the field described as the best in 20 years. All tickets were sold for Saturday and Sunday. Friday also brought out good-size galleries.
Some changes might be in the making before the 2012 Wyndham. The bent grass greens at Sedgefield, while in ideal condition during the tournament, are hard to maintain when temperatures hit the 90s.
They have to be watered, and big fans are snapped on to cool the grass between the time one group of golfers leaves for the next tee and another group plays its approach shot and walks toward the green.
Nearby Starmount Country Club lost its bent grass green during the spring to a blight. It is now replacing the greens with a new type of Bermuda grass. It is said to be less grainy that the traditional Bermuda grass and much more adaptable to hot weather..
Sedgefield owner John McConnell is watching the Starmount transition.
“This is obviously a possibility,” Brazil said when asked if Sedgefield might switch to Bermuda. “We’ll sit down with Mr. McConnell and chat about it.”
Brazil traveled to five PGA Tour tournaments before the Wyndham lobbying golfers to come here. That persistence, plus other factors, paid off in the best field the tournament has enjoyed in at least 20 years.
Brazil said it was almost a perfect storm that came together to bring to Greensboro Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington and others who normally skip the Wyndham.
Some needed to play to qualify for the Fed Ex playoff tournaments that begins next week. Several were safely eligible for the playoffs but wanted to advance in the Fed Ex point standing to better position themselves to win the $10 million annuity that goes to the play offs winner.
And one is in outstanding position to win the annuity is Webb Simpson. He is third in Fed Ex Cup points going into next week’s first playoff tournament, in New Jersey.
The tournament sponsors don’t have to worry about Simpson returning for the tournament in the future
“I’ll always,” he declared, “come back to Greensboro.”
Jim Schlosser is a retired reporter for The Greensboro News & Record. He is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 601-9879.
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