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Players singing the praises of Simpson

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CROMWELL, Conn. – Headlines proclaimed it a “shocker.” Casual fans considered it a “surprise.” Anyone who hasn’t paid close attention recently called it “unexpected.”

These are the types of reactions that occur when a player earns his first career major championship title – and they’ve been occurring a lot lately, with each of the last nine having been captured by a first-time winner.

And yet, they don’t really fit the profile for Webb Simpson.

In fact, we probably should have seen this coming.

Those alleging Simpson’s triumph at the U.S. Open was anything more than mildly unforeseen have clearly missed the emergence of one of the game’s brightest young players.

After a successful PGA Tour rookie campaign in which he kept his card in 2010, Simpson leapt into the upper echelon of elite players last year when he won twice and finished in the top-10 in more than half of his starts.

At age 26, he was enjoying another consistent if not spectacular season entering last week’s festivities at The Olympic Club. Sure, he may not have been the pre-tournament favorite, but anytime the world’s 14th-ranked player wins an event, it should hardly be called a shocker or surprise.

At least his fellow players understand that notion. One by one, they have praised Simpson in the days since his victory without falling victim to any hyperbole about its unexpectedness.

“He’s just good. He’s been hot for a long time,” said 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover. “That guy’s been on a tear for two-and-a-half years. He played good Saturday, got a lot of confidence for Sunday. He played well, so kudos to him for sticking it out.”

“He is really good,” Matt Kuchar echoed. “It’s been fun to see. I remember three years ago when he came out on Tour, he was top-fiving every week, had a little slow down, then he got back into the swing of things. The battle he and Luke Donald had last year for the money title was just awesome.”

“I don’t know if it was an overly big shock,” Zach Johnson said. “Webb’s a great player. He has a great short game and obviously that’s what’s carried him. Maybe for it to happen this fast, that could be somewhat of a surprise. But when it comes down to it, it’s one week; it’s putting the pieces together for one week and getting a little bit of luck, too, along the way. You need a little bit of that. But I’m a firm believer that the more work you put in, you get more luck. That’s just the way it works out.”

This week Simpson will follow his performance in San Francisco by competing in the Travelers Championship, where he will tee it up alongside fellow reigning major champions Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley.

If the Wake Forest grad – now ranked fifth in the world – contends or even wins once again, many will label it a surprise that he was able to bounce back from that long week with some gas still left in the tank.

It would be yet another mistake to doubt his abilities.

That’s because Simpson is the rare player who doesn’t rely on any singular aspect of his game in order to succeed. He doesn’t bomb it off the tee, doesn’t find the most fairways, isn’t the sweetest ball-striker and isn’t the best putter – though the last one is close. Instead, he succeeds thanks to an all-around conglomeration of talents.

“Webb just seems to have the whole package – a good head on his shoulders, drives it well, wedges it well and one of the better putters on Tour,” Kuchar said. “That’s a pretty good combination right there.”

“He does everything well,” added Glover. “I wouldn’t say he does one thing great, but he does everything really well. When you play good golf for two years, that’s the way it is. I think his putting is a strength and he knows that and he’s confident with it. Everything else is really, really solid.”

As proof, Simpson ranked first in the PGA Tour’s all-around ranking last year, a combination of eight major statistical categories. This year, his ranking is down to 22nd, but expect him to continue climbing.

Of course, those numbers only measure tangible totals, not intestinal fortitude or mental acumen. Not that either of those can be questioned, though. After all, any player who wins a major – especially the U.S. Open – must know a thing or two about having the right mind for success.

“You can tell he has a desire,” Kuchar explained. “You can tell when he’s not playing well, it burns him to get better. When he plays well, he seems to keep it going. When he’s hot, he really gets it going.”

Right now, Webb Simpson is hot. Don’t be shocked or surprised to see him keep it going.