Simpson, Paul unite again on eve of Wyndham Champ.August 15, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Between practice sessions with the U.S. Olympic basketball team last weekend, Chris Paul could often be found watching the PGA Championship.
And Wednesday, just three days after winning his second gold medal -- and the day before his wife was due to give birth to the couple's second baby -- the Los Angeles Clippers point guard was indulging his inner child and playing in the pro-am at the Wyndham Championship. His partner was none other than U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who knows a thing or two about representing his country, as well.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," Paul said. "I've had an opportunity to play a lot of basketball all over the world but when I found out I got paired with Davis, I was like a little kid, excited. I watch golf all day, every day. ... To actually meet him and see that he's an even better guy than everybody talks about on TV was a pretty good feeling."
After the two new friends completed their pro-am round shortly after noon, Paul asked tournament officials if someone could take him out to see an old one. So they hopped into a cart and headed out to the eighth hole where Webb Simpson, who won the Wyndham Championship a year ago, was sizing up a birdie putt.
Simpson had roomed with one of Paul's best buddies, Cameron Stanley, at Wake Forest; so the two became good friends as well. He didn't introduce Paul to the game, though. The first time Paul ever tried to hit a golf ball was with another Demon Deacon, Bill Haas, "who used to think he could play basketball," the five-time NBA All-Star said with a grin.
More photos: Webb Simpson, Chris Paul For more photos of good friends Webb Simpson and Chris Paul, click here
Paul, who became serious about the game after being drafted by the New Orleans Hornets, walked all 18 holes during the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last year when Bubba Watson beat Simpson in a playoff. The setback was momentary, though, and Paul is thrilled to see the three-time PGA TOUR champ's success.
"Webb is just a great guy," Paul said. "I know everybody says that but it's the truth. ... We text often and different things like that and I'm just happy to see Webb playing great because he's one of the guys that absolutely deserves it."
The two men hugged and wasted little time catching up, talking about their children -- Simpson just became a father for the second time last month -- golf and the Olympics. An impromptu photo session on the next tee saw Paul start to put the gold medal around his neck but stop and slip it over Simpson's head instead. Maybe next time the two meet, Simpson will let Paul hoist the U.S. Open trophy.
Simpson says last year's win at the Wyndham Championship was instrumental in his subsequent success. He won the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks later on the way to finishing third in the FedExCup and second on the PGA TOUR money list, dueling PGA TOUR Player of the Year Luke Donald down the stretch in the season finale. He earned his first major championship at The Olympic Club two months ago and has risen to fifth in the world rankings.
"I think as a pro it was the most important week I've had yet because there's always a question of, 'Is this guy going to win or can he win?'" Simpson said. "I feel like the number of times I put myself in position to win and didn't get it done, I took the positives from those experiences and learned from them. ...
"New Orleans was kind a big week for me. I realized I could play under the pressure and I was playing really well coming in this week last year. I didn't expect to win but I felt confident that I could win and I don't think I would have won Boston or the U.S. Open had I not won here and kind of opened me up for other tournaments and was able to play well the rest of the year."
Simpson had four top-10s this season before shooting consecutive 68s on the weekend at The Olympic Club to win the U.S. Open. He's only played three times since and skipped the British Open due to the birth of his daughter Willow Grace. One of those appearances was a tie for seventh at The Greenbrier Classic but playing for the first time in a month, Simpson missed the cut at the PGA Championship last week.
FedExCup standings The PGA TOUR enters the last week of the regular season with this week's Wyndham Championship. The FedExCup Playoffs start next week at The Barclays, with the top 125 players in points making the Playoffs. Here are the top five players: 1 Tiger Woods 2 Rory McIlroy 3 Jason Dufner 4 Zach Johnson 5 Bubba Watson
The front nine at The Ocean Course last Thursday essentially spelled disaster for Simpson. He went out in 42, making five bogeys, one double bogey and a birdie. He played his next 27 holes in 1 over, though, shooting a 72 in the blustery conditions on Friday, so all in all Simpson couldn't be too disappointed.
"It was great to get back into competition last week," he said. "I had an awful front nine. I walked off the course after shooting 79, I was a little frustrated. That night I talked to (caddie) Paul (Tesori) and we went through the round again and we both agreed the front nine I only hit one bad shot, one loose shot. The other stuff was little stuff, missed a couple six-footers, misjudged some distance.
"The majority of my mistakes were just from rust, mistakes that I normally would never make during the season. And so I played a great final 27 holes and played a great round Friday. I'm disappointed I didn't make the cut. I'm kind of relieved I'm back in competition now. I got the rust off. ... With the stretch I have coming up I think in the end (the weekend off) will be a blessing in disguise."
The Wyndham Championship will be Simpson's first title defense. It was an emotional win last year, accomplished in front of family and friends, 45 minutes from where he went to college and about 90 from his Charlotte home. Simpson is trying not to put any undue pressure on himself to perform this week, though.
"I think the pressure of trying to defend, I think it's always going to be there," Simpson said. "I can't hide from it but, at the same time, I know that the three tournaments I've won on TOUR I didn't show up saying, 'OK, I'm going win this week' or I need to win or I feel pressure to win. Wins out here seem to come every so often.
"It seems like when I look back on those weeks there are weeks when I showed up ready to play golf, ready to compete but all I was thinking about last year was getting the first shot on the first hole in the fairway. I think I got to take that approach of being patient this week and ... not trying to not think about winning but just more of be patient, let the birdies come."