Simpson is a crowd favorite at Sedgefield Country Club, and deservedly so. A native of Raleigh, he went to school at nearby Wake Forest and now calls Charlotte home, which means that nearly the entire state of North Carolina has at least one reason to root for him.
Add in the fact that his first PGA Tour win came in Greensboro in 2011, a three-shot victory that occurred 10 months before his U.S. Open breakthrough at Olympic.
Then there’s the newest addition to the Simpson clan, a daughter born in May – named Wyndham Rose.
Yep, this is more than a typical Tour stop for Simpson, and he played like it Thursday, carding a 6-under 64 to move within a shot of the first-round lead.
“Just played good, solid golf today. One of my favorite rounds,” he said. “I felt like I was in control of my ball for the first time in a few weeks, since The Greenbrier. That was nice.”
Simpson started hot, with birdies on his first four holes and five of his first seven. He grabbed a share of the lead after curling his tee shot at the par-3 12th to within 4 feet of the hole, and despite a dropped shot at No. 17 he remains near the top of the leaderboard.
It’s a familiar position for Simpson around these parts. Since 2010, he has finished no worse than T-22 at Sedgefield, including his maiden win.
“The course is just similar in the way it shapes, and the hills and undulating greens, to what I grew up playing,” he said. “I really see the tee shots well, where like Akron I don’t see the tee shots that well. I don’t see the lines that well. Guys feel that way about certain courses out here.”
That may be true, but most Tour players don’t name their children after tournament sponsors. Simpson did, in part to honor the event that helped propel him onto a path toward becoming a major champion. His wife, Dowd, said she didn’t need convincing on the name, and that the idea came from family friend Bobby Long, chairman of the Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation in Greensboro.
“We were sitting outside Augusta National, and Bobby came over and we were talking baby names,” she said. “We thought, ‘Oh, if you win the Masters, then we’ll name the child Augusta.’ Then we missed the cut, so Augusta was quickly crossed off the list.
“Then Bobby said, ‘Why not Wyndham?’ And Webb and I both went, ‘I love that name.’”
Simpson gave some of the credit for the naming process to the couple’s first two children.
“We had three names as a possibility,” he said. “We would say to our son, James, and daughter, Willow, ‘Which name do you like?’ They kept saying Wyndham. All right, y’all pick. We named her Wyndham.”
Simpson added that part of the name’s inspiration came from Arnold Palmer’s wife, Winnie. Like Simpson, Palmer played at Wake Forest, and Simpson’s father got to know Palmer’s wife before her death in 1999.
“We love the name Winnie as a nickname,” he said. “Maybe when she gets older she might change it. That’s how it came about.”
Etymology aside, Simpson continues to thrive at Sedgefield. It’s a venue where he continues to perform well, in contrast to the consistency that has marked his career. This season he has a win in Las Vegas to go along with three third-place finishes, but he has also missed the cut in three of the four majors and has only one top-25 finish from his last six starts.
“Buddy of mine texted me about persevering and not pressing, and I have a tendency to press to try to make things happen,” he said. “I’ve had multiple times in my career where I won’t be playing well for a couple months, but I know I’m doing the right stuff and I’ve just got to stay patient.”
After missing out on an automatic qualifying spot for the Ryder Cup team, Simpson has made clear his desire to be one of captain Tom Watson’s three picks on Sept. 2. After Tiger Woods withdrew from consideration Wednesday, Simpson began play in Greensboro with the belief that his prospects for Gleneagles had increased overnight.
“As for me and my chances to be a pick, it’s greater now,” he said. “I think he was going to be a pick if he was able to play. So yeah, it opens up, I feel like, another spot that wasn’t there before.”
Simpson hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation during the opening round, his lone bogey coming when a 3-foot putt hit a spike mark. After he missed the cut last week at Valhalla, his game once again appeared effortless upon returning to a course where he has thrived before.
Perhaps that’s all it took.
“It’s just kind of no matter how you’re playing coming into certain weeks, you feel like you can play well,” he said. “That’s kind of like how I feel here.”