At 4:30 a.m. on Sep. 2, just hours after finishing his final round at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Webb Simpson sat wide awake, alone in his Boston hotel room.
With 15 hours to go before Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson announced his final three selections for the American team, the Raleigh native and Charlotte resident was on the outside looking in – ranked 32nd in the world behind more probable picks such as Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley, Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk.
A key member of the Americans’ 2012 Ryder Cup team, Simpson picked up his phone and sent Watson a text; one final plea for a shot at redemption in 2014.
“I basically expressed everything I could to let him know how bad I wanted to be on the team,” Simpson told The News & Observer on Thursday. “I told him, I really really want to be on that team.”
Less than a half-hour later, at 5 a.m., Simpson’s phone rang. It was Watson.
“Get ready,” the American captain told the 29-year-old. “You’re going to Gleneagles.”
Picked with Mahan and Bradley, Simpson was a controversial selection to represent Team USA after missing the cut at both the PGA Championship and Barclays Tournament in late August. The last of Watson’s three selections, Simpson was chosen over then-45th-ranked Horschel, who went on to win the Fed-Ex Cup, and then-25th-ranked Kirk, who became the Fed-Ex Cup runner-up.
“I knew it was a tough decision,” Simpson said, “and in terms of percentages, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had picked the other guys.”
But, Watson said, Simpson’s selection made sense from both a logistical and competitive standpoint. After winning two out of three matches with teammate Bubba Watson in 2012, Simpson lost a closely contested match against Europe’s Ian Poulter in Sunday’s singles play.
“I looked down and saw 5 and 4, and just kept thinking 5 and 4, 5 and 4, 5 and 4,” Watson told Golfchannel.com, referring to Simpson and Watson’s Saturday four-ball victory over Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari.
Though Simpson’s .500 winning percentage ranks fifth among the nine American players with previous Ryder Cup experience, Watson affirmed Simpson’s vocal desire to make the team played a part in his selection.
“He brings to the table some good play,” Watson told The News & Observer, “And he’s very passionate about competing for his country.”
Leading by example
One of nine American players with previous Ryder Cup experience, Simpson says he has developed into more of a leader this time around.
“Having that first experience in 2012, I feel more prepared for the Ryder Cup atmosphere,” he said. “There’s always going to be pressure, but I’m more familiar with it now.”
Away from the course, Simpson occasionally works with Watson as a coach, giving advice to younger teammates Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed on what to expect in their first Ryder Cup.
“I tell them not to get too wrapped up anything else but golf,” he said. “Play their own games, and don’t worry about anybody else. Don’t worry about their teammates, just play their game.”
Simpson’s impact has been appreciated byfellow American players. Spieth, 21, the team’s youngest player, has benefited.
“Webb is a solid player and also a model of faith,” said Spieth, referring also to Simpson’s devout Christian values. “He’s someone that’s motivated and someone that has been there before. He’s a great example for us.”
Playing for revenge
The Americans will begin play on Friday at Gleneagles Resort in Scotland in hopes of winning their first Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993. They’ll face a heavily favored European team with an average world ranking of 18.
But despite a tumultuous recent history in which Team USA has lost seven of the past nine Ryder Cups, including a blown six-point 10-4 lead in 2012’s Miracle at Medinah, Simpson was adamant that team morale won’t be an issue this weekend.
“For me personally, I can’t play without thinking about the way it felt to lose at Medinah,” he said. “I remember that feeling Sunday afternoon; it was a shock.”
Citing losses to Poulter in Saturday’s morning foursomes and Sunday’s singles, Simpson said his goal is to take back his two points from the Englishman.
“I would love to play him again and get those back,” he said. “Every time I see them celebrating at Medinah, I just want that so bad for our team.”
Paired again with Watson, Simpson said expectations for the two should again be high. The first pairing to tee off at 7:35 a.m. (2:35 a.m. Eastern Time) on Friday , Simpson and Watson will open the Ryder Cup against Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
“The key for us is to have fun,” he said. “You can’t force it in the Ryder Cup, you have to go out there as a team, play your game and just take care of business.”