Webb Simpson continues his passion for junior golf
The Webb Simpson Challenge is open to rising ninth grade boys through seniors in high school
August 10, 2021
By Helen Ross , PGATOUR.COM
- Webb Simpson continues to give back to junior golf in North Carolina. (Courtesy of Webb Simpson Challenge)
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Webb Simpson counts the 2012 U.S. Open and 2018 PLAYERS Championship among his seven PGA TOUR victories. He’s played on three Presidents Cups and a trio of Ryder Cups, as well.
But that doesn’t mean the 36-year-old doesn’t remember being a teenager growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and wondering whether he’d ever be good enough to play the game he loved at the highest level. Or horror upon horrors, what he’d do if he couldn’t.
Simpson hasn’t forgotten the many battles he had with crosstown rival Brendon Todd, who moved to nearby Cary when he was 11 and won the state high school title three times, either. Or the time he beat Todd in the championship match of the 1999 N.C. Junior Boys.
Both went on to play college golf – Todd at Georgia, Simpson at Wake Forest – and are still pushing each other to excel, only now it’s on the PGA TOUR. Those memories are literally everywhere, and Simpson wanted to find a way to make more for the teenagers to come.
That’s why he’s hosted the Webb Simpson Challenge for the last 12 years. And why he was only too happy to serve as honorary chairman of the U.S. Junior Amateur when it was played in July at the Country Club of North Carolina where Simpson has a second home.
“I had such an amazing childhood of junior golf, just guys older than me letting me come play with them, and I think that's part of the reason I developed at the rate I did, because I was always challenged by guys who were older, more experienced, better players,” Simpson says. “So, it just felt like a fun way for me to give back.
“I love being around kind of the youth of the game who are passionate about golf. They want to get better. They might want to play college golf or even at the professional level.”
But the Webb Simpson Challenge is more than competition. Much more. The way the seven-time TOUR winner, who is playing in the Wyndham Championship this week, sees it, the goal is to combine faith, fun and golf – essentially a hybrid of a camp and a golf tournament.
This year’s event was held June 27-29 in Southern Pines. The competition is held at two of the area’s great old Donald Ross courses, Mid-Pines and the legendary Pine Needles, which will host its fourth U.S. Women’s Open next year. The teens stay at the Inn at Mid-Pines.
The Webb Simpson Challenge is open to rising ninth grade boys through seniors in high school. On the high side, there have been about 90 participants. This year’s group was 49.Webb Simpson's love of junior golf goes back to childhood, and he continues to give back. (Courtesy of Webb Simpson Challenge)
What Simpson calls the “secret sauce” of the event are the nearly two dozen NCAA Division I and II golfers who come to hang out with the teenagers and act as small group leaders. All are part of the College Golf Fellowship, and many have previously attended the Challenge.
“So now that I'm 36, these kids kind of look up to them more than me because they're only a few years older and they're these great college golfers,” Simpson says. “We've had guys pretty much every year, the top 10 of college golf rankings come.
“And I think these juniors, we have a lot of repeats. They have so much fun doing it. Also, obviously the faith component, we tell them about our faith. And we're very upfront about it on our website. So, it's no surprise or anything. The parents know what they're getting into. But most people have given us great feedback.
One of those “repeats” is Stephen Franken, who has four top-10s on the Korn Ferry Tour this year. He came to the camp as a junior, then volunteered as a small group leader while he was playing golf for N.C. State. Franken came back again this year and spoke this year.
Among the others giving their testimony were Peter Fountain, who won the ACC Tournament this year as a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, and William Kane, who was Simpson’s caddie for his first two years on TOUR and now works for the College Golf Fellowship.
“We want to give these junior golfers access, not only to college golfers and what to expect, how to choose a college, what should be important to them, but also pro golf,” said Simpson, who attended the first two days of the event and did a clinic for the teenagers. “We really want to expose them to what they might be getting into with golf in the future.”
Simpson has long had an association with Pinehurst and Southern Pines. As he was growing up, his parents owned several houses in the area, including three different ones at CCNC, where he now brings his own family of seven a couple of times a month.
Once Simpson got his license, he’d drive down on the weekends, taking day trips to play golf or staying overnight when his parents were there. One of his fondest memories is of the 2007 Southern Amateur that he won on CCNC’s Dogwood Course with his late father on the bag.
So, the memories are strong in the Sandhills, and with the Webb Simpson Challenge, he has come full circle. He calls the event “one of my favorite weekends of the year.”
“There's an energy about it I think that's really fun,” Simpson says. “And it brings some nostalgia, and it brings memories back. Some of my favorite memories in golf, even though I've been a pro now for 13 years is junior golf going to two-day tournaments with my dad, or even in the amateur golf, playing some of these great courses that amateurs get to play before turning pro.
“So, it doesn't feel like work for me, it feels fun. And I've gotten a lot from them as well.”