GREENSBORO, N.C. — It’s been quite a year for Webb Simpson.
The Raleigh native and U.S. Open champion’s star has taken off during the 10 months since he claimed his first PGA Tour title at the Wyndham Championship — and he has confirmed that he’ll be back in August to defend that title.
The Greensboro-based tournament holds special significance for Simpson, and not just because he caddied at the event’s pro-am when he was a teenager or played college golf roughly 30 miles down the road at Wake Forest.
The Sedgefield Country Club course, he said, is where he finally learned how to win on the tour.“
There’s no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have won the U.S. Open had I not won here. Being in the final group Sunday here playing, trying to win my first event, playing through all the nerves and the what-ifs, I really drew from that and learned from it. We all have tendencies under pressure and just learning what I tend to do, whether it’s hitting quick or walking faster, I kind of took all those and applied it to the back nine Sunday at Olympic and came up one shot ahead.
” — Webb Simpson
He finished at 18-under 262 last year for a three-stroke victory that helped catapult him to a second-place finish in the FedEx Cup playoffs, and he also credits it for giving him the confidence to contend two weeks ago at Olympic Club.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have won the U.S. Open had I not won here,” Simpson said Thursday. “Being in the final group Sunday here playing, trying to win my first event, playing through all the nerves and the what-ifs, I really drew from that and learned from it.
“We all have tendencies under pressure and just learning what I tend to do, whether it’s hitting quick or walking faster, I kind of took all those and applied it to the back nine Sunday at Olympic and came up one shot ahead.”
Simpson used a flurry of birdies to build a clubhouse lead at the Open and wound up with his first major victory when late finishers Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell couldn’t catch him down the stretch.
He’s still adjusting to the increased attention that always accompanies a win in a major. He became an immediate fan favorite last week at the Travelers Championship, where he finished in a tie for 29th at 6-under 274.
“Just the way the fans were supporting me and cheering for me at Travelers was beyond what I expected,” he said. “I think that’ll be something to get used to for a little while, but the good thing is, in terms of the spotlight, in a few weeks’ time, there will be a new major champion, so I think a little element of that will be good to kind of get it off me for a little while. … Just trying to enjoy it, but at the same time remain focused.”
The winner of the next major — The Open Championship — certainly won’t be Simpson, who will miss it because his wife is due with their second child in late July. The Open begins July 19 at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in Lancashire, England.
He’s spending this weekend at home in Charlotte before playing The Greenbrier, then taking roughly three weeks off for the anticipated arrival of his newest family member — who he expects should be here in plenty of time for the Wyndham.
“The British Open will always be there, and the way I look at it is, this might be our last child that we’re going to have,” Simpson said. “So it’s a decision I haven’t even thought twice about.”
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press