CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA | Every generation is duty bound to fret, worry and wonder whether the next in line will maintain, or even exceed the standard set by those who came before.
If the young people currently making noise in golf represent Gen-X or Next or Y or Z, the game’s future has suddenly become its present. The last nine major champions have been first-time major winners, most of them in their 20s.
The latest is Webb Simpson, your U.S. Open champion at age 27. If Simpson represents the next wave of successful players, not only does golf have nothing to be concerned about, the present generation and even the one before should stand and cheer. This is what we have been patiently waiting for.
Simpson is young and handsome with a beautiful, adoring wife, a child and another that’s due any day now, which is why he’s not playing in the Open Championship in two weeks. He showed up for a session with his hometown media wearing a pearl gray suit and clutching the U.S. Open trophy. No shorts, flip-flops and hat on backwards, which is the off-course uniform for a great many young players, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Simpson represents everything that’s good about our game, and now that he has a major in his grasp, it’s official: the successors are not only here, they have taken over.
“Tiger Woods has had such a great effect on young people in the game,” Simpson told Global Golf Post. “We’ve had a bunch of young guys win, guys in their 20s. I think as competitors, we see our buddies win and that makes us think we can win.
“I think it’s had a ripple effect on the Tour. Golf is in a great place right now. Plus you have guys like Tiger, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, guys that we have always looked up to, still playing great golf.”
But not great enough. Tiger is only back, sort of, and apparently has a case of amnesia when it comes to winning majors. And he’s 36. Furyk is 42 and spit the bit when it counted at the Open at Olympic. And Stricker, at 44, just isn’t major material, for whatever reason, work that out for yourself.
However, Simpson is cut from the major bolt of cloth and no one will be surprised if more than one comes his way, now that he has his first. Simpson is a believer, in more ways than one.
“Even playing (two weeks ago) in Hartford, I was already a more confident player,” Simpson said. “Being successful in golf is all about what you learn about being in certain situations. I’m going to write down what I’ve learned at the U.S. Open and I think it will make me a better player.”
Simpson grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and now lives in Charlotte with his wife, Dowd, and son, James. He is not shy about telling you that faith and family sustain him. He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve nor does he shove it down your throat.
One of Simpson’s endearing qualities is that he keeps commitments and remembers who lifted a hand along the way. Which is why he played the Travelers Championship in Hartford, the week after the U.S. Open.
“I’m really glad I played,” he said. “It was amazing to see the reception I got at Hartford. I received standing ovations on nearly every hole. Everyone was thanking me for coming but I really wanted to come. And every time I woke up, whether in the morning or in the middle of the night, my first thought was of the U.S. Open.”
It’s surely difficult not to think of the Open night and day, particularly the way he handled himself down the stretch. And then he had to wait, watching for a few anxious minutes as the last groups finished.
“I was so nervous,” he said. “I had never been in that position before. I didn’t want my mind to play the tape of me winning the U.S. Open. It was tough watching on television. I didn’t watch until (the leaders) were on 17. I’m glad my wife was there because if she hadn’t been, I’d have gone to hide.
“My caddie, Paul (Tesori) was in the back packing up my locker. He was so nervous he couldn’t watch. I had convinced myself that I was going to be in a playoff on Monday, which I really didn’t want to have to play.”
But the reward is more than just the title and the trophy. It’s what comes next.
“It felt good to be able to perform under the pressure that a major championship can bring,” he said. “Most of the players on the PGA Tour are big believers in themselves and all we do is compare ourselves to other guys. The main thing is now I know what to expect in contention at a major.”
So when Simpson enters his next major, the PGA Championship in August, he will no longer be whispered about. His name will come up as one of the favorites, along with the newest generation of contenders.
“The young guys are hungry and they want to win,” Simpson said. “It seems guys are maturing a lot sooner now. I don’t know what the secret is.”
Oh, yes, he does.