BETHESDA, Md. – It probably won’t cost Webb Simpson a tournament this time. Still, he must be wondering what he did to get on the wrong side of the golf gods.
Simpson’s early round of 5-under 66 at the U.S. Open on Saturday included a penalty stroke when his ball moved after he addressed it with his putter on the 13th green. It was the same penalty he took seven weeks ago at the Zurich Open in New Orleans.
“I addressed the ball, and the ball moved about a half-inch, quarter-inch,” Simpson said. “I think we’ve been through this too many times, hadn’t we? But it was kind of the same deal as New Orleans. It was unfortunate, but I think it really made me committed to try to finish strong and I made a couple of good birdies coming in.”
Simpson said it was his third time such penalty as a pro. It also happened to him once while playing at Wake Forest.
But it was the misfortune at Zurich that might lead to a change in the rules of golf. He was leading by a shot and heading for a tap-in on the 15th hole on Sunday, but the ball moved as he addressed it on the green. He wound up taking a penalty and finished in a tie with Bubba Watson, who beat Simpson in the playoff.
The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient are looking into changing the rule so that the golfer isn’t penalized if it can be proven the ball was moved by an outside force.
But it was still in effect at the U.S. Open, which cost Simpson a stroke in the best round of the early going.
Simpson managed to come out even on a more adventurous hole. His drive at No. 18 landed in the lap of a spectator sitting cross-legged on the ground along the ropes. The fan dutifully sat there alone as everyone around him retreated. Simpson walked up to him and humorously pantomimed a swing, as if he were going to play the ball from exactly where it was.
“I’m a pretty experienced golfer,” said the fan, Todd Parker, “so I knew not to move.”
A rules official came along and instructed Simpson to pick up the ball. He took a drop and made a nice recovery, even though his follow-through smacked against the trunk of a large tree. He parred the hole.
“I’ve never had a ball end up in somebody’s lap,” Simpson said. “It reminded me of ‘Happy Gilmore.’ It ended up being a good break, just to the right of the trees. The rough there wasn’t high, it was laid down, so it was a pretty good break.”
BUBBA’S GETUP: Yes, Bubba Watson is indeed changing his clothes every day during the U.S. Open. The military green shirt and camouflage pants he’s been wearing? He actually brought four sets of that outfit to Congressional, one to wear for each round.
The getup was the result of a contest he held on Twitter and Facebook for fans to design a shirt for him to wear this week. The winner received a free trip to the championship.
After the tournament, the shirts will be sold for charity, the proceeds going to the Green Beret Foundation.
“My dad was in Vietnam,” Watson said. “So, yeah, actually it’s a big part of us. We don’t like war, but at the same time the people over there are fighting so we can play golf for a living, we’ve got to support them.”
AMATEUR HOUR: Even the amateurs aren’t succumbing to the rigors of the Blue Course.
Patrick Cantlay is 1 under at the U.S. Open after his third-round 70 on Saturday. The highlight came when the 19-year-old Californian holed out from the bunker at No. 15 for a birdie.
“That was really exciting,” Cantlay said. “It was kind of a tough bunker shot because the green runs away from you, but I nipped it pretty good and it ended up going in.”
Cantlay just completed his freshman year at UCLA and this month won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top college golfer. His visit to Congressional this week is also proving to be quite an education for when he turns pro, which he says won’t happen until he’s earned his degree.
“I’ll just be really confident and know that I can compete out here,” he said. “I’ll know what it’s like to have played in the U.S. Open with the golf course and the fans and walking around with all the people.”
Cantlay isn’t a sure bet to be the low amateur. He’s only one stroke ahead of Russell Henley, who shot 71 on Saturday.
The other amateur who made the cut finally hit the wall. Brad Benjamin shot 80, the worst round of the day, and sits at 12 over heading into Sunday.
A MONEY BIRDIE, IN MORE WAYS THAT ONE: Adam Hadwin arrived at the U.S. Open early Saturday with one hole to play. Shoot a birdie, and he’d get to play 36 more.
The 22-year-old from British Columbia was about to tee off at No. 9 Friday evening when the horn sounded, suspending play for the day. He was at 5 over, one stroke below the cut line.
“I was in the clubhouse and I checked the scores and I knew that 4 was going to be the number, so I needed birdie,” Hadwin said. “It was a late night, early morning.”
Teeing off at 8:15 a.m. at the long par 5, Hadwin put his drive in the rough, got his second shot to 98 yards and nailed his approach within 6 inches. Easy birdie putt. Cut made. His trip to Congressional will come with a paycheck.
“You’ve got to splurge a little bit here,” said Hadwin, whose Saturday evening plans included a trip into Washington, D.C., to see the sights. “This is my first Open, and so I’m going to treat myself well and enjoy, and obviously making the cut helps.”
The birdie came with another, more important payoff. Hadwin’s brother was recently hospitalized with Crohn’s disease, so the two of them created a campaign to solicit pledges for every birdie Hadwin makes at the championship.
After making the cut, Hadwin showered, ate breakfast, then teed off in the third round with the first group at 10 a.m. He shot a 73 despite the quick turnaround and snagged three more birdies, giving him nine for the tournament and a total of about $10,000 raised for his cause.
“Tomorrow’s just going to be about having fun and making birdies,” he said.
NO. 1 BUT NOT HIS A-GAME: Luke Donald’s approach at No. 15 landed on a nasty steep slope next to the green. He made a nice recovery, chipping near the pin for a short putt for par.
It’s been that kind of week at the U.S. Open for the No. 1 player in the world. Good and bad. Enough bad that he’s 7 over after three rounds, well out of contention and certain to leave without that elusive first major title.
“It’s been a mixture of everything, really,” Donald said after his round of 74 Saturday. “I haven’t driven it well enough, obviously that puts pressure on your irons. And today I really didn’t make enough putts and could’ve shot a couple under quite easily if I’d made a few putts. It’s one of those weeks where I’m not quite firing.”
He certainly wasn’t about to blame the course. In fact, he said Congressional was playing more like a stop on the PGA Tour.
“The rough isn’t quite as gnarly as at some other U.S. Opens,” said Donald, adding that the greens were also soft because of the rain on Friday. “It has that different feel. It almost feels like the Firestone or something. It’s still tough out there, some tough pins, and you’ve got to play well to shoot a good score.”