Two different paths to PGA Tour

Contrasting rookies Simpson, Mathis qualify for lucrative FedEx Cup

Staff writerAugust 27, 2009 

Webb Simpson has followed golf's fast track -- junior standout, high school star, college All-American, PGA Tour.

For David Mathis, it has been more of a slow, hard ride.

But regardless of their paths, both have arrived at the same destination as rookies on the Tour: the FedEx Cup playoffs, a four-tournament, big-money run that begins today in The Barclays in Jersey City, N.J.

Simpson, 24, a Raleigh native who played collegiately at Wake Forest, easily qualified for the playoffs but has been fighting his swing a little. In contrast, Mathis, a Raleigh resident and former Campbell golfer, is coming off a solid showing at the Wyndham Championship last week that earned him his playoff spot.

"You want to think at the beginning of the year that you'll play well enough to get in the playoffs," Simpson said. "Now I'm hoping I'll rise to the occasion."

The top 125 golfers in the Tour's FedEx standings qualified for The Barclays. Mathis, 35, was on the bubble at No. 126 heading into the Wyndham in Greensboro, but a tie for 17th moved him up to No. 118.

Mathis said he played "feast-or-famine" golf the first two rounds before finishing with a 65-67 kick the final two rounds.

"Get in the playoffs and play well in the playoffs, and you can shoot straight up the money list," Mathis said. "You can change your whole year."

Simpson missed the cut in Greensboro, with many friends following him at Sedgefield Country Club. But he's 85th in the FedEx standings and has more than $748,000 in winnings, good enough to reach the FedEx Cup playoffs.

"I need to figure out what's going on with my swing," Simpson said. "There are certain swing flaws, and my body is changing."

Ted Kiegiel, the head golf professional at Raleigh's Carolina Country Club, said he worked with Simpson the past few weeks on reducing upper-body tension in his setup. He also moved Simpson slightly closer to the ball and slightly more upright.

Kiegiel said Simpson, as his body continues to mature, will adopt a training program to increase strength and flexibility.

"He left Raleigh this week feeling fully revived, very positive and excited about the next few weeks," Kiegiel said Wednesday.

Tiger Woods and all of golf's big guns -- most of whom skipped Greensboro -- are rested and ready. Simpson and Mathis, in turn, rarely have taken time off. Simpson has played 23 tournaments and Mathis 22, although neither qualified for the four major championships.

Disappointing?

"A little bit," Simpson said. "You want to play the great events."

A former Broughton High star, Simpson had a fast start this year. He tied for ninth in the Sony Open, then fifth in the Bob Hope Classic, banking more than $325,000.

In late March, Simpson tied for 11th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, acing the 17th hole at Bay Hill in the second round. Life was good, and the ever-polite, easygoing Simpson was well-accepted on the Tour.

But as his caddie, Raleigh's William Kane, said, "The glamour of the Tour wears off quickly."

It has been mostly a grind since Bay Hill. Simpson has missed eight cuts, with his best finish a tie for 16th in the Canadian Open.

"I'm not used to playing his much golf," he said. "I feel like I've tried to pace myself well, but it hasn't always worked out that way. But I've learned a lot, and I think next year will be a lot easier."

After Campbell, Mathis played the Tarheel, Triangle, Hooters and Canadian tours. The Winston-Salem native moved on to the Nationwide Tour -- a steady progression that ended with him 14th on the Nationwide money list last year, gaining him playing rights on the PGA Tour.

"Being a rookie is a big learning experience, because you're seeing courses for the first time," said Mathis, who has won almost $365,000. "You've got to get used to it all -- all that goes out on here. It's a lot of hard work."

It's no easy path, but it could pay off this weekend.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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