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Simpson shows value of hard work - and a hot putter

ESPN staff
June 17, 2012
Webb Simpson spent years building to his US Open victory © Getty Images
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Webb Simpson's look, his aura, might scream 'preppy' but don't be fooled - he is a grinder continuing some of the US Open's truest traditions.

The 26-year-old, with his All-American look and devout religious beliefs, will doubtless go on to many lucrative endorsements after his breakthrough victory at Olympic Club this weekend. He has the look, and the message, that much of America will gravitate too.

But his triumph - confirmed only after Graeme McDowell missed a long-range birdie putt at the 72nd hole - was borne out of something completely different, something a lot less marketable than his collegiate mien and softly spoken manner.

It was borne out of Simpson's hard graft, his desire to work on the range and get better every single day.

That, and a belly-putter that he wields like a wand.

Simpson wasn't always destined for stardom, he wasn't - like 17-year-old Beau Hossler, who dazzled San Francisco for much of the week - obviously heading for impressive things on the golf course from a young age. An unremarkable touring pro even having completed a couple of years on tour by 2010, Simpson contended at a second-tier (and that might be being generous) PGA Tour event that winter that convinced him he could make it to the top.

He hired a new caddie, Joe Tesori, who asked him at their first meeting what his goals were. Simpson replied simply that he wanted to be world No. 1.

"You must have a great mind, because your swing isn't very good," Tesori immediately remarked.

Simpson didn't just have a great mind, however, he had a great work ethic too. The pair worked together frequently - finding those secrets in the dirt, as the great Ben Hogan used to say - and in 2011 the North Carolina native won two big events on the PGA Tour, narrowly missed out on another and was only pipped by Luke Donald - the actual world No. 1 - for the PGA Tour money list title.

Wind on another six months, and Simpson - unlike Donald, lest we forget - is a major champion.

"I'm amazed," Simpson said, when asked for his initial reaction at becoming the 2012 US Open champion. "I've got no words. Just thankful to God. I couldn't have done it without him."

Simpson also has something more tangible to thank, something that has been with him nearly as long as his faith - his putter. Having wielded a belly putter since long before they became fashionable (indeed, he was one of the key players who made them fashionable), Simpson has a grooved putting stroke that reaped huge rewards on Sunday.

"Simpson finished with 114 putts for the tournament. McDowell, as if the fine margin between victory and defeat could not be illustrated any clearer, took 115"

Around the turn, during a spell of four birdies in five holes, he one-putted the notoriously tricky Olympic greens for six successive holes. It was a stretch of play that took him from six shots off the lead to within one and, after an agonizing wait, ahead by one.

It was a lead he would not relinquish.

"I got off to a slow start but I knew that there were some birdie chances on the back and luckily those chances came," he noted afterwards.

"I have never had nerves like this before - at times I had to hit my legs because I couldn't really feel them."

Simpson hit 31 of 56 fairways during the tournament, and just 42 of 72 greens in regulation. But, as long as he chipped it even vaguely close, he rolled in the putts to avoid any damage and keep in touch.

Then, over the closing stages, he suddenly started finding greens and giving him chances at birdies. Those wouldn't drop - a rare failing on his putter's part - but at least he was clinching easy pars and, after nervelessly rolling in a five-footer at the last after a delicate chip, he was deservedly rewarded with the title.

Simpson finished with 114 putts for the tournament. McDowell, as if the fine margin between victory and defeat could not be illustrated any clearer, took 115.

Like Lee Janzen and Jack Fleck before him - unfashionable winners of the US Open at Olympic Fields - there was no great secret to Simpson's victory. He simply stayed in the hunt, kept his ball in play and made putts when he needed to.

In short, he grafted.

Simpson might look like a certain type of player, a certain type of person - but that is to judge him unfairly. His victory wasn't a result of innate talent, or a lucky week, or the errors of his opponents. It was a win many years in the making, many hours in the building.

Masters champion Bubba Watson is golf's modern maverick, the swashbuckling go-for-broke rogue who struck gold around the idyllic, escapist canvas that is Augusta National. Simpson is the controlled golfing machine with a golden touch on the greens, designed to be capable of this sort of success.

As such, he is a deserving champion.

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