GREENSBORO, NC – It was Webb Simpson’s turn to order hot dogs for his energetic and hungry brood when the phone rang last Tuesday.
“Tiger, I’ll have to call you back,” the harried father of five told the 15-time major champion.
When he did, Simpson received some unexpected – and welcome – news. Woods told him he was going to be an assistant captain at the Presidents Cup in September at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, where Simpson makes his home.
“It meant a lot, but honestly, I got done with the phone call and I’m like, I don’t know if that was official or not,” Simpson said. “I don’t know if he meant like he’s rooting for me to be an assistant or if I am an assistant.”
After all, Davis Love III is the captain, not Woods, and Love wasn’t the one who made the call. But he and Simpson finally talked – yes, Tiger “spilled the beans,” Love later said with a grin – and Simpson couldn’t be happy to join Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Fred Couples on the staff.
Simpson has played in three Presidents Cups and three Ryder Cups, and has always had this one circled on his calendar. He lives beside the seventh tee at Quail Hollow – he joked Tuesday that maybe someone could leave an opening in the fencing so he could drive his cart home each night – and is a North Carolina native. This will be the first Presidents Cup played in his home state.
Problem is, Simpson ranks a distant 29th in the US Team standings, so his chances of being picked are relatively slim, barring a couple of wins in the next four weeks.
“Not that I feared not being a part of it, but there was a part of me that’s like, if I don’t make the team and Davis goes a different direction, that’s fine, but it’s going to be hard to see the Presidents Cup happen there and not be a part of it in some way,” Simpson said.
“So, I was really, really relieved to get a chance to be a part of it.”
Love, who is a two-time Ryder Cup captain and was Simpson’s favorite player growing up, said the goal is to add new players to the mix as potential captains for all US Teams going forward. At the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits last year, Matt Kuchar filled that role.
“We said in those Ryder Cup meetings … (that) instead of Davis bringing his four pals and hanging out for a week, we’re going to have two former captains and two future captains here for the assistants,” Love said. “We set kind of a criteria. So, we’re letting that spill into Presidents Cup, too.
“It’s like Team USA basketball,” he continued. “We’re not just going to show up as a bunch of superstars and just shoot the ball around. We’re going to have a year-round program to get ready to play international competition.”
Love said he definitely sees the 37-year-old Simpson as a future captain. He doesn’t know if he’ll lead a US Team at a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup “but he needs to be in the system.” He’s a natural leader and he has a servant’s heart, Love explained.
When he captained the 2012 Ryder Cup, Love remembers watching Simpson with great interest. He and Bubba Watson partnered three times, winning two of those matches, but after each one, the two players and their caddies would gather on the green and pray.
“He’s always the leader or the calming influence, or the guy to do the right thing at the right time,” Love said. “And we would stand on the side of the green and just go look, we don’t have to tell him what to do. He’s a Ryder Cup rookie but he’s a team leader. So that doesn’t just influence his caddies but the players around him. Everybody sits back and goes look, holy cow. This guy’s different.
“He’s always been like that, but that was when it really hit me,” he added. “The things he just does for people, you know? I said, ‘This is perfect for you because you like to serve. No matter what it is you want to do for other people.’ He’s excited about the golf and he’s excited about Charlotte, but he’s excited to give back.”
Simpson, who said he plans to be a sponge during the matches at Quail Hollow, hasn’t abandoned the idea of making an international team – maybe even this year, should he get hot over the next four weeks. But as he approaches his 37th birthday on Monday, he knows his opportunities are growing more limited.
Over the last three years, Simpson worked hard to add length, and he feels his 2020 wins at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and RBC Heritage were a byproduct of those efforts. But so were some bad swing habits that really manifested themselves this year as he collected just one top-10 finish, a T8 at The RSM Classic, in 18 starts heading into this week’s Wyndham Championship.
“So I feel like the last four, five months we’ve been playing catch up, trying to neutralize everything,” Simpson said. “We’ve been pulling up a lot of video from ’17, ’18, ’19 before I started getting longer. The good news is I’ve retained the distance, but I’m starting to hit more fairways.”
He has held fast to his confidence, he said, despite lackluster results that have left him at No. 117 on the FedExCup eligibility list. (He’s never finished lower than 87th and has appeared the Playoffs 13 straight seasons.) And more good news, he loves this week’s TOUR stop, the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club, having posted one win, four finishes in the top 3 and nine top-10s in 12 starts there.
“I believe in myself,” Simpson said. “I’ve just got to be a little smarter, I’ve got to think a little better. And this golf course, even though the scores are good every year, it is a golf course where you cannot make mistakes, otherwise it’s so penal. The rough is up this year, so I’m looking forward to that challenge. I’ve just got to limit my mistakes. The last few weeks I’ve just been saying I just want to get to Memphis, I want to make the Playoffs. I haven’t been in this position for a while where I needed to make a push.”
One thing he doesn’t have to worry about is whether or not that push will be enough to propel him onto Love’s team that will defend his title at Quail Hollow. Simpson is already relishing the home game as only a local can, and it’s nice to know he’ll be there, one way or another.