Webb Simpson, his wife, Dowd, and their new U.S. Open trophy took the red-eye home to Charlotte from San Francisco late Sunday, jetting cross-country into a North Carolina morning new in so many ways.
Simpson's gritty, impressive victory at The Olympic Club recast the Raleigh native and Charlotte resident. There are good professional golfers. There are winners. And there are major champions.
It was just the fifth major championship Simpson had played, and while he believed he had the game to win a major, Simpson admitted he wasn't sure it would happen so soon.
And here it is.
“When Graeme (McDowell) missed on 18 and I realized I had won ... I couldn't believe it actually happened,” Simpson said.
There is no road map for reaching where Simpson went at The Olympic Club.
It started nearly two decades ago, when Simpson, saw a youngster named Kevin Larsen playing golf at the beach. Larsen was the No. 1-ranked junior in his age group in the country and Simpson was inspired by his example. The game seduced Simpson, he played collegiately at Wake Forest, turned pro in 2008, had a breakthrough season last year and now he's the U.S. Open champion.
For three days, Simpson, 26, was on the periphery of the U.S. Open plotline at Olympic. The first two days belonged to Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald, in both good and bad. The third day Simpson moved into position, four strokes behind co-leaders Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell. Sunday, shooting his second straight 68, he nailed down a championship when no one else could.
Simpson had been in 29th place Saturday morning, jumping more players on the weekend than any other U.S. Open champion.
The process started two weeks ago.
Simpson had missed the 36-hole cut at The Memorial and flown home with his caddie, Paul Tesori. It was Simpson's second straight missed cut following his fourth-place finish in the Wells Fargo Championship at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club, where he's a member.
He had taken the lead into Sunday at Quail Hollow but kept hanging tee shots to the right, leading to a disappointing finish given the opportunity to win a mile from his home. Under pressure, Simpson's swing had gotten quick, the club had gotten out of position, and it cost him.
Trying to fix the swing flaw, Simpson missed the cut at The Players Championship. But late in his second round at The Memorial, Simpson felt something click.
“We worked Saturday and Sunday in Charlotte and we just drilled it,” Tesori said.
After Tesori left, Simpson went to Pinehurst with five buddies and played golf for four days. They played both Country Club of North Carolina courses and Mid-Pines. The trip put Simpson in a comfortable place.
“I honestly didn't do a whole lot of practicing once the Pinehurst trip came around,” Simpson said. “It was needed for me coming into a major, just getting my mind off things.”
Simpson and his wife are expecting their second child later this summer. The due date is Aug. 3, but it's likely they will induce labor a few days earlier to accommodate Simpson's late-summer schedule.
They came to San Francisco together, their first trip away from their year-old son, James, who remained in Charlotte. They stayed at the Fairmont on Nob Hill in San Francisco and went out to dinners in the evening.
On Saturday night, they watched a movie, “Snow White and The Huntsman,” and had a room-service dinner. Sunday morning, Dowd ordered breakfast and inadvertently forgot to ask for decaffeinated coffee for her admittedly jumpy husband.
“He was bouncing off the walls all morning,” she said, a bouquet of flowers in her lap as she waited for her husband to finish talking with the media after his victory.
Golf is a solitary sport, but Simpson has a team. His career has blossomed in the two years he's had Tesori as his caddie, and Simpson’s wife is everywhere but between the ropes with him.
When he finished Sunday afternoon at 1 over par, it was up to another player to tie or beat him. With nowhere to go and no way to affect the outcome, Simpson and his wife waited out the final twosomes in a corner of the Olympic locker room.
On Father's Day, they watched videos on their telephone of their son, James, who is learning to walk. They watched him take a couple of steps toward them in one video, and another with Webb making his son laugh.
Simpson did not want an 18-hole Monday playoff “for a lot of reasons,” he said, perhaps most importantly because it would delay getting home.
At the end, a television camera watched the Simpsons watching McDowell miss a putt that would have forced a playoff. The U.S. Open had a new champion, and the Simpsons weren't quite sure how to act.
“I got a nice hard hug from my wife,” Simpson said.
Into the night they went and into a new day.