Simpson no lesser light
By Neville Leck Last updated: 19th June 2012
It's happened again at San Francisco's Olympic Club. The big name leaders have been sunk by an unlikely winner, but Webb Simpson is no lesser light.
Simpson, a 26-year who was born in Raleigh, grew up there in this North Caroline state and, somewhat ironically, was an Arnold Palmer scholar at Wake Forest University, is the man that came from behind and spoiled Sunday's party for the highly favoured front runners and previous US Open winners, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell, when he unexpectedly snatched his first major victory at their expense in just his seventh start.
His 1-over 281 total made him the 15th different winner in each of the last 15 majors and rocketed him to number five in the world.
Tiger Woods, who had been one of the hot favourites after the first two rounds, but finished 30-something at 7-over, didn't even feature on Sunday. Nor did defending champion Rory McIlroy who, from the word go on Thursday, was never in it.
Yet this US Open upset was different to the previous four pulled off at Olympic's Lake Course by Jack Fleck, Billy Casper, Scott Simpson and Lee Janzen when they respectively downed golfing legends Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and the late Payne Stewart.
Webb Simpson, no relation of Scott Simpson, had not, to be sure, been seen as one of the strongest contenders before the final round when he was to charge home to victory with a hugely creditable, second-successive 2-under 68 that lifted him out of the masses of a crowded leaderboard on a tough and slippery course where bogeys and double bogeys easily out-ranked birdies.
In the end, after a long wait on tenter hooks, he was to become the 5th straight unlikely US Open winner at the 152 year-old Old Olympic Club when both Furyk and McDowell respectively slipped to two and three shots over par coming down the closing stretch
He was an underdog in the circumstances, but you can hardly call Webb Simpson an unheralded lesser light.
He's been a golfer of note since his high school days when he played for Broughton High in home town Raleigh - and showed enough early sparkle to earn him his Palmer scholarship.
'The King' would not have been disappointed with him either.
Simpson made All American on three occasions, reached the semi-final of the 2006 US Amateur, represented the USA in the Walker Cup in 2007 and was voted US College Player of the Year in 2008, the year when he turned professional and finished seventh at the US PGA Tour qualifying school.
It took him a couple of years to start winning tournaments, but when he did, he did it in style.
Last year, Simpson, the second youngest sibling in a family of two brothers and four sisters and today married to Taylor Dowd Keith with of a 16-month-old son, James, and with another child on the way, won twice at the Wyndham and Deutsche Bank championships and finished second to Luke Donald on the US Money list.
He also represented the USA as a professional for the first time at the Presidents Cup where, with a 3-2 record, he helped the USA beat the Internationals 19-15.
He led the FedEx Cup standings after his victory in the BMW Championship, one of the Four FedEx play-off events, but eventually was pipped at the post when fellow American Bill Haas won the climaxing Tour Championship and edged him into second place.
Simpson is only the second man to win a major using a belly putter.
Fellow American Keegan Bradley did it for the first time last year at the US PGA Championship at the venerable Atlanta Athletic Club, in his case, wielding an Odyssey White Hot model with a 40in shaft.
Now Simpson has repeated his feat using a Ping putter with a 44in shaft
For the rest of the clubs in his bag, Simpson relies on a set of Titleists that include a 909D3 driver, two 910F fairway woods, a 910h hybrid, five forged 680 irons and two spin-milled C-C TVD wedges.
He also plays with a Titleist Pro V1x ball.
Talking about his belly putter and the manner in which he uses it in a recent article in the respected Golf Digest magazine, Simpson said: "The first time I tried a belly putter, I made everything I looked at.
"It was Thanksgiving my freshman year at Wake Forest, and I picked one up in the shop, just messing around.
"I got some grief from my teammates, but it was too good not to switch. Basically, it has made my putting more mechanical and less dependent on feel and sight.
"My setup hasn't changed: Feet, shoulders, eyes and club face square to my line (right). My arms hang naturally, and the ball is just forward of center. Once I get set, I'm free to focus on controlling my speed and starting the ball on line.
I like the left-hand-low grip because it quiets my hands and feels right for the longer club. I close my hands around the handle comfortably, with my right forefinger down the back side of the grip for feel.
My grip pressure is medium: I don't want a death grip, but not so light that I can't control the putter.
"Where do I anchor the grip?
"If my bellybutton were a clock face, the butt end would rest at exactly 2 o'clock (below). And it stays anchored, regardless of how long my stroke is. Some guys let the handle drift on long putts, but mine stays firmly planted the whole time."
Bradley and Simpson and are clearly part of the new wave of American golfers coming through at the top who favour non-traditional, longer-handled putters.
Will it re-open the debate about the legitimacy of long-handled putters?
It might, but quite frankly it's my feeling that things have gone too. Simpson's victory will probably escalate the switch to them and put another nail in the coffin of the case to have them outlawed.
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