DUBLIN, Ohio — Brendon de Jonge and Webb Simpson live a few miles apart in south Charlotte and they’re friendly with each other, but they generally keep to their own orbits at home and on the PGA Tour.
This week, they’re on opposite sides in the Presidents Cup matches that begin Thursday at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
For both of them, it’s another checked-off item on their goals list. It’s Simpson’s third straight appearance on a U.S. team (two Presidents Cup and one Ryder Cup team) while it’s the first time de Jonge has played in the Presidents Cup.
Simpson gets a chance to team with his friend and fellow Wake Forest alum Bill Haas in a four-ball match in Thursday’s opening session against Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama.
For de Jonge, it’s a first-day pairing with Ernie Els going against Steve Stricker and tour rookie Jordan Spieth.
While Simpson has made a habit of making these teams, it’s a monumental moment for de Jonge, not just because it’s the Presidents Cup but because his sporting idol – fellow Zimbabwean Nick Price – is his captain.
A few years ago, when de Jonge was just learning his way around the PGA Tour, Price invited him to stay at his house during the Honda Classic in south Florida.
They had met and talked on the phone a few times, but the invitation to stay at Price’s home was almost overwhelming.
“(It) took a little bit of time to get comfortable,” de Jonge said. “Obviously, it was someone I’ve looked up to growing up so to be staying at his house was a little bit intimidating. But in saying that, he’s very, very easy to be around, very very accommodating and he’s got that Zimbabwean hospitality. So it was nice.”
Staying with Price during the Honda Classic has become a regular part of de Jonge’s tour schedule and he’s still blown away by the Claret Jug and PGA Championship trophies he sees at Price’s home. When he has golf-related questions, de Jonge said Price is among the first people he calls for advice.
This week, the introverted de Jonge has made himself comfortable in the International team room, in part because he’s one of seven first-time players on a side that desperately needs to be competitive. The International side has a 1-7-1 record since the matches began in 1994 and begins this year as the underdog.
de Jonge’s strength is his ability to make birdies. For the second consecutive year, de Jonge led the PGA Tour in total birdies, a testament to the number of tournaments he plays and his streaky nature on the course. Knowing it’s de Jonge’s first team competition since he was at Virginia Tech, Price paired him with the veteran Els just as he paired Cup rookie Marc Leishman with experienced Angel Cabrera.
“They are going to have to face the music,” Price said.
Simpson is familiar with the tune. It’s his third time on a national team in the last three years. He debuted at the Presidents Cup in Australia two years ago where he posted a 3-2 record. He was also on the U.S. Ryder Cup team last fall in Chicago where he went 2-2.
His pairing with Haas is something both players asked of captain Fred Couples. Their wives are friends, they share the same alma mater and they play regular practice rounds together.
“Last time at the Presidents Cup, we didn’t get to play together because he and Bubba played so well together,” Haas said. “The day he was picked (as one of two captain’s picks), he called me and said, ‘I want to play together.’ We’ve been talking about it for three or four weeks.”
What is it, beyond Wake Forest, that binds Simpson and Haas?
“He makes me laugh,” Simpson said. “I act like a kid all the time. I ask him if he wants to hear a joke and my jokes make 12-year olds laugh. When I get a laugh out of him, I know it’s a good thing. We love hanging out. It just kind of fits.”
CHIP SHOTS: Former Concord High star Cydney Clanton has played her way onto the LPGA Tour, earning her 2014 spot by virtue of her finish on the Symetra Tour this year. Clanton, who played collegiately at Auburn, finished fifth on the Symetra Tour money list. The top 10 on the money list earn their tour cards for next year.
The Symetra Tour also announced the Symetra Classic will return to Raintree Country Club May 22-24 next year, one of three tour stops in the Carolinas.