Midtown: Sports

U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson showed golf greatness early

Phil Ratliff, Webb Simpson’s former Broughton High golf coach, remembers Simpson as a person much more vividly than he remembers the golfer who helped the Caps to the state 4A team golf championships three times and won the state individual title once.

“When I think of Webb I remember that he was a very religious person,” Ratliff said. “He was very calm, very positive. He was a great leader, although he was not a person who made demands.

“He was very patient and very considerate. He was followed because of the type of person that he was.”

Simpson, who won the U.S. Open on Sunday, was the top-ranked junior golfer in the country by Golf Week/ Titleist in 2004, but he had been a nationally known golfer by the time he enrolled at Broughton in the fall of 2000.

“He had been working with professional coaches for eight or nine years by that point so my role was not so much as an instructor as a motivator,” Ratliff said.

One strategy the coach developed was allowing the team to play whatever style of music it liked when traveling. If the team won, the players could listen to their music on the ride home. If the team didn’t win, Ratliff would pick the station.

“I accused them of blowing the next match just so they’d see what type of music I’d pick,” Ratliff said. “Their music was always hard rock and at a high volume. I chose WCPE, the Triangle’s only 24-hour classical music station.

“We’d play my music at the same volume their music was played. Regardless of how hot it was, they would roll up all the windows if my music was playing. We never lost a match on Thursday, which was opera night on WCPE.”

Once, after the team played poorly in a tournament in Southern Pines, the team faced a long ride home and during a rest stop Simpson approached Ratliff about changing the music..

“I told him that we had finished eighth among 12 teams and we were going to listen to classical music all the way home,” the coach said. “I was really surprised at the end of the season when one of the parents thanked me for introducing their son to classical music.”

But for the most part, the team rocked home.

Led by Simpson, Broughton won the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A title in 2001, 2002 and 2004. Simpson, who was runner-up behind Green Hope’s Brendon Todd in 2003, dominated the tournament as a senior.

“Webb never expressed any frustration about finishing second,” Ratliff said. “He kept his emotions very well and didn’t let them get into his golf.”

Ratliff said some of Simpson’s growth came when he was a freshman and Broughton had a match play competition with a team that had a girl playing No. 1.

“I asked the guys who wanted to lose to a girl and Webb said ‘No problem,’” Ratliff said. “We were playing at Carolina Country Club, Webb’s home course, and she’d never seen the course. But she beat him.

“She was a senior and he was a freshman who was so sure of himself. It must have been somewhat humbling for the freshman.”

But Simpson handled the disappointment well.

“I thought Webb would be on the golf tour one day,” Ratliff said. “It was thrilling to watch him play on Sunday. Time will tell how great he will become.”