'My dad always told me to never give up'
Webb Simpson honored his late father with a PLAYERS win that brought joy to a grieving family
May 14, 2018
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Webb Simpson's news conference after winning THE PLAYERS
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Sam Simpson could only laugh when his son Webb called after winning the U.S. Open on Father’s Day. Webb Simpson expected to share different emotions during Sunday’s call to his mother.
“He just told me he couldn’t believe I did it, and I laughed with him,” Webb Simpson said shortly after winning THE PLAYERS on Mother’s Day. “I think my mom, when I call her tonight, she’s probably going to be in tears, speechless.
“We’ll talk a lot about my dad, I’m sure.”
It has been a difficult time for the Simpson family ever since their beloved patriarch, Sam Simpson, passed away Nov. 26 at the age of 74. He was a devoted husband to Debbie Simpson for 38 years. He also was the one who introduced Webb Simpson to the game.
Sam Simpson was a single-digit handicap who could offer his son the occasional swing tip, but he was more concerned with Webb’s character. He taught his son about work ethic, perseverance and respect. “Sam used golf as a way to teach Webb life lessons,” said William Kane, Webb’s childhood friend.
Even as Sam Simpson battled dementia during his final years, those lessons stayed with his son. They helped Webb Simpson fight through those difficult years after he was forced to give up his beloved belly putter. His frustrations on the greens led to tearful conversations with his wife, Dowd, and caddie, Paul Tesori. Quitting was never an option, though.
“My dad always told me growing up to never give up, never be a quitter, so that was off the table,” Webb Simpson said. “I was never going to be done with golf. But it was certainly a struggle.”
Nearly six years have passed since Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open. THE PLAYERS was Webb’s first win in more than four years. In between those victories, he fell to 143rd in Strokes Gained: Putting and outside the top 75 in the world ranking. After making it to East Lake for four consecutive seasons, and finishing second in the 2011 FedExCup, Webb missed the TOUR Championship in both 2015 and 2016.
“For us, it’s nothing short of miraculous,” Tesori said. “We didn’t know if we’d ever see it again.”
Webb Simpson found his solution a year ago, on the eve of the 2017 PLAYERS Championship. That’s when Tim Clark, the 2010 PLAYERS champion, recommended Webb combine the claw grip with the long putter that runs up his left arm. Last year, Webb returned to the TOUR Championship for the first time since 2014. Now he ranks eighth in the FedExCup after his fifth career victory.
He led THE PLAYERS field in Strokes Gained: Putting. He had two of the top 10 putting rounds of his career on Thursday and Friday, tying the Stadium Course’s record of 63 with a magical performance on the greens in the second round. Simpson tied THE PLAYERS’ 36- and 54-hole scoring records to build a seven-shot lead before the final round.
He admitted Sunday evening that holding such a large lead was harder than he'd imagined. He wasn't just thinking about holding the Waterford crystal trophy.I’ve thought many times in the gym or the practice area, ‘If my dad was here, what would make him proud?’
“I thought about him all day,” Webb Simpson said about his father. “It’s been an emotional week for my mom and my sisters and my brother. We miss him like crazy.”
Sam Simpson was a gregarious man who was passionate about life, and about golf. He had a way of making everyone around him feel comfortable. He tried to live righteously while treating people with warmth and kindness. “Your life was fuller for having him in it,” said Ted Kiegiel, the director of golf at Carolina Country Club in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“His dad was his role model, he got him started in the game. He was his best friend for a long time,” Tesori said. “His dad was a strong man. Not just strong-willed. He was a muscular, strong, passionate man. To see that being taken away over time, I think that was harder on him than I even know.”
Webb Simpson’s PLAYERS victory has parallels to Jack Nicklaus’ victory in the 1970 Open Championship. Nicklaus won at St. Andrews months after his father, Charlie, passed away. Jack hadn’t won a major in three years, but he was inspired after losing the man he called “my guide, my companion, my mentor, my supporter, my defender, but always most of all my closest and surest friend.”
Sam Simpson played all those roles for Webb, who has been motivated this year to honor his father. “I loved when he was proud of me,” Webb said. “I’ve thought many times in the gym or the practice area, ‘If my dad was here, what would make him proud?’”
The golf course has become a refuge during his grieving, allowing him to relive all the memories they accrued on the course. Golf was a shared passion, and an opportunity to spend hours together. They would travel from their home in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Pinehurst and Wilmington for golf trips.
“He was Webb’s best friend,” Dowd said. “His dad had this uncanny way to push Webb, but not too much. He gave him a love for the game that was natural and birthed from within. His dad always encouraged him.
“Any time Webb would go through anything challenging, he would always call his dad. They could just putt around and play and it brought back the joy in the game.”
Sam’s death was unexpected. They thought they had a few more years with him, but that changed in November. Webb was in 12th place halfway through The RSM Classic, but he withdrew after learning that his father’s health had deteriorated. Webb got to spend 10 days at Sam’s side before he died. People streamed in and out of Sam’s hospice room to tell how he had changed their lives. The memorial service overflowed into the gymnasium at White Memorial Presbyterian Church.
“My dad was already my hero, and he became that much bigger in my mind,” Webb said. “He just had a sweet way about him with people. Everybody seemed to love him. … He meant a lot to a lot of people.”
Tesori used two words to describe Sam Simpson: ‘humble’ and ‘trustworthy’. Sam didn’t take any credit for his son’s success, giving the credit to God instead. He made his living in realty, with a company that he co-founded on a handshake agreement with his best friend, Harrison “Speck” Underwood. They were in an elevator at the lawyer’s office when they decided there was no need for a formal contract. They cut it in half and threw it in the trash can.
“Money was never spoken of. It was more about our obligations to our family and our children,” Underwood said. “So we walked into the office and asked the attorney if he had any scissors.”
The partnership lasted more than 40 years.
Sam Simpson was a member at the Country Club of North Carolina in Raleigh. He took his son for his first lesson with the Kiegiel when Webb was 8 years old. Three years later, Webb would join his father in his weekend games. Sam Simpson didn’t let his son move back to longer tees until he was consistently shooting low scores from his current set. It was a practice that taught Webb Simpson to go low.
When Kane and Webb played late-afternoon rounds in the summer, Sam Simpson almost always rolled up to the 16th fairway in a golf cart, Diet Coke in hand. Sam was his son’s biggest fan. He caddied for Webb in amateur events and always was there to offer encouragement. Webb missed six consecutive cuts in his second TOUR season, in 2010, but turned around his season after spending a weekend playing with his father.
“He constantly reminded his son that, in golf, anything can happen,” said Webb’s friend, Doug Rose. “Finish strong, keep fighting, don’t ever give up.”
Webb Simpson didn’t. And now he’s THE PLAYERS champion.