WEBB Simpson decided he was not willing to give up without a fight. The clock signalled it was just 4am but it was judgment day and Tom Watson was just hours away from announcing his captain’s picks for this weekend’s Ryder Cup so the man who made his debut two years ago made one last desperate plea to be included again this time. That willingness to give his all paid off and earned him his ticket to Gleneagles. Now he just has to justify the journey.
It was just after the Deutsche Bank Championship, which had been won by one of his main rivals for selection, Chris Kirk. Another possibility, Billy Horschel had finished second, while Bill Haas was consistently making the cut. But, having moved on to his next event, Simpson was wide awake in a hotel room in Denver and rather than just wait until his fate was decided, he reached out to the USA captain. “I texted him. I couldn’t really sleep. I was laying there and I thought, I’ve not heard from him. I probably would have heard from him by now. I’ve got nothing to lose. So I texted him, something like: ‘I know it’s a really tough decision for you, I know Chris has just won and Bill is playing good and you have other options but I really, really, really want to be on the team’. All he said back – and he texted real quick. I was surprised he was awake – he said: ‘This is a tough decision, Webb’. That was all he said so I was like, I didn’t make the team. But he called me 30 minutes later and he asked me why I thought he should put me in the team. So I just told him, my passion for the Ryder Cup from my one experience and how much I cared about it, and how much I thought I could bring to the team. How, you know, Medinah is still there. I think about it and want another shot.”
While others have sought to close the door on that chapter, Simpson will draw on the experience this weekend. “It was more shock than anything because we were all playing such good golf and we were so confident. Even when I finished on Sunday it was still looking good for us. For me personally, I can’t play this week without thinking about the way it felt to lose. I remember that feeling Sunday afternoon. Every time Medinah comes up I see them celebrating on the Sunday and I just want that so badly for our team.”
Watson has not explicitly referred to that early exchange but when he announced his picks to complete the Team USA line-up later that day he did confirm that he had only finalised things that morning. That desperate need for redemption undoubtedly played a part in that, echoing his captain’s own thoughts, with Watson making no secret of the fact that loss hurt him too.
“I don’t know what it was [that persuaded him]. I do know that he had let Keegan [Bradley] and Hunter [Mahan] know earlier and I kind of snuck in there. Whatever it was, whatever he saw, it worked. Maybe it was nothing I said, but he picked me. I think the emotions were relief and excitement. I was relieved I made the team.”
Not only making the team, along with his partner Bubba Watson, he will tee off in the very first fourball of the 2014 Ryder Cup. Having expressed a preference for a head to head with Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia or Ian Poulter, he will instead try to get the better of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson in the battle for the first point of the whole competition.
“In this format, this tournament, it doesn’t really matter. Everybody wants to win so bad and it doesn’t really matter who you are playing,” said Simpson, but as he said to Watson, he has some unfinished business from Chicago.
“I lost two points to Poulter at Medinah, so I would love to play him again. I do want those points back. I’m sure he wants to keep them as well. But any time I have a chance to play against a guy who seems like he is in Ryder Cup form, the best that they have seen, anybody wants that chance. I kind of had that draw in the singles at Medinah on the Sunday.”
This morning is a different challenge, especially given the excitement and tension, the noise and the passion that will envelop them as they stand on the first tee.
Simpson admitted that with very different personalities, he has had to tell his playing partner to hush on more than a few occasions during practice rounds. But given Watson’s penchant for whipping the crowd into a frenzy, a quiet introduction to the action is unlikely. “He just gets so excited,” he says of Watson. “You know, he’s great. He’s his own PR guy. He knows how to work it. I guess what I’ve learned around him is the more fun he has and the more joking he can do, the better off he is as a golfer and as a person.”