Until Webb Simpson fought the bitterly tough Olympic Club to a standstilland finished with the U.S. Open Championship trophy in his arms Sunday,Open champions always lived someplace else.
Latrobe. Fort Worth. Orlando. Spain. Northern Ireland.
Now, the Open champion lives here, where you may run into him at thegrocery or see him gassing up his car at the corner station. Good-lookingyoung guy, smiles a lot. Married, has one child and another on the way.
Plays golf out at Quail Hollow and lives near there.
Simpson is the first Open champion from Charlotte. There have been acouple of times when one of ours almost won it, though. The late ClaytonHeafner finished tied for second with Sam Snead, one stroke behind CaryMiddlecoff, in 1949 at Medinah in Illinois. He missed a six-foot putt on thelast hole.
Two years later, at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Michigan, Heafner wassecond again to Hogan, two shots out of first.
Heafner used to tell the story of playing 36-holes on Saturday at OaklandHills, as was the custom, and chasing Hogan all day. Two people broke 70 inthe final round. One was Hogan, the other Heafner.
When it was over, Heafner congratulated Hogan and Hogan said, “Thanks,how’d you do?”
“The SOB didn’t know there was anybody else around,” Heafner growledyears later, still hot about it.
The course on which Webb Simpson won the Open makes his victory evenmore impressive. Compared to most of the tournaments the tour playersplay, Olympic Club was like busting rocks. The world’s two highest rankingplayers, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, didn’t even make the cut. PhilMickelson was never a factor. Masters champion Bubba Watson lookedbewildered.
I can’t imagine most of the players liking the course. There was no room forerror and there are a lot of errors in golf. They are part of the game. Therewere some grim faces out there.
No matter how hard or easy the course may be, though, the man who winsthe national championship is the man who hit the most good shots and heldup under extreme pressure. That’s extremely hard to do in the big ones. Over8,000 people tried to qualify for the Open. Sunday, there was one man left.
If you see the champ around, say hello.
He’ll be the one with the smile on his face.