Webb Simpson awoke at 7:15 Friday morning, five minutes before the first shot was hit in the Ryder Cup matches a few miles from where he’s staying with his U.S. teammates. Simpson flipped on the television and watched it start, waiting for his 12:05 p.m. tee time with his match play soul mate Bubba Watson.
Given the morning off by captain Davis Love III, Simpson took it as a blessing, getting two extra hours of sleep. All he and Watson asked was that they be the first American twosome to play in the afternoon, a request they made on behalf of their jumpy nerves.
Simpson and Watson shared a car ride to Medinah, went through their warm-up and then walked into the amphitheater surrounding the first tee.
Just inside the ropes, Debbie Simpson, Webb’s mother, tried to catch her son’s eye while fans chanted his name. Finally, she shouted, “Webb, it’s your mother.”
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That got Simpson’s attention.
“I just wanted to give him a hug before he teed off and he walked over and kissed me,” she said. “He just said, ‘Hey mom.’ It was like any other day.”
No, it wasn’t.
It’s not every day that two guys who share a deep faith and an uncommon chemistry walk into a Ryder Cup four-ball session and birdie seven of their first eight holes. Scotland’s Paul Lawrie and Sweden’s Peter Hanson weren’t sharp but they got mashed.
They were six down through eight holes. The only reason they were that close is Lawrie matched Simpson’s birdie at the par-5 fifth. Lawrie did the same thing at the par-4 12th, but by then it hardly mattered.
The match ended on the 14th green, a 5&4 American victory, but it had been over almost since Simpson clanged a lob wedge approach shot off the flagstick on the first hole and made a 6-foot birdie putt to go 1-up and soothe his surging nerves.
“I’ve been part of a lot of these and that’s one of the best performances I’ve ever seen,” assistant captain Jeff Sluman said, crossing a bridge on the 14th hole where the match would end.
At the Presidents Cup in Australia last fall, Simpson and Watson won their first three matches together and told Love they wanted to play together at Medinah. Love went with logical and comfortable pairings on the first day, though it meant a surprising 0-2 performance from Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.
Simpson, a Charlotte resident who grew up Raleigh, had been told over and over how different the Ryder Cup is from the Presidents Cup and he felt it.
“It went beyond (what I expected),” Simpson said. “The energy was more than any tournament I’ve ever played, including the back nine of the U.S. Open.”
Which he happened to win in June.
Watson and Simpson could be the team’s odd couple, but they’re not. They both like to walk fast and talk fast. Watson likes to play fast and Simpson, well, he’s faster than he used to be. They tell jokes. They talk about God. They give their shots nicknames.
And they win.
“Our games are totally different, but when we played together at the Presidents Cup it showed that we jell together,” Watson said. “We’re great friends. We calm each other down. We make golf fun.”
Bubba can be more fun than a “Seinfeld” marathon. He played to the crowd, embracing the noise and the emotion. He held the pose on a tee shot more than once, his pink-shafted driver silhouetted, and when he walked onto the eighth green after hitting his approach shot 5 feet from a hole, a fan shouted, “Ladies and gentlemen, Bubba Watson.”
He didn’t try to hide his smile.
Neither did Simpson. The way he was holing putts, he did more pointing to the crowd than a politician at a pep rally.
When their match ended, Simpson and Watson stood together for a television interview. Behind them, fans began chanting Watson’s name. With a hand behind Simpson’s back, Watson waved the crowd on. When they began chanting Simpson’s name, Watson waved them down. Simpson danced briefly to the chants.
“Together, their chemistry is amazing,” Paul Tesori, Simpson’s caddie, said. “I’m sold that chemistry is what this competition is all about. The Europeans have always had it. Now you’re seeing some guys that absolutely love each other like brothers and you’re seeing what happens.”
That doesn’t happen every day.