Many people spend a large part of their lives in search of their calling, but championship-winning professional golfer Webb Simpson found his at the age of eight.
“My parents had a house at the beach on one of the golf courses at Landfall Country Club in Wilmington, North Carolina,” Simpson recalls. “The summer when I was eight-years old I noticed a nine-year-old kid named Kevin Larsen, who was one of the best junior players in the country. Until then, I had just been interested in golf because I got to be with my dad and drive the golf cart. But I met Kevin, started hanging out with him, and I got hooked instantly. My dad and mom bought my first set of clubs and I never looked back.”
As Simpson grew and his skills progressed, he began to play competitively and found great coaches to help him along the way.
“I really loved high school golf,” Simpson says. “I remember my swing coach Ted Kiegiel, head professional at Carolina Country Club, would always tell me that every year I kept playing golf, the competition will get that much better. I had a constant drive to improve.”
After high school, Simpson went on to play golf at Wake Forest University, under the tutelage of Coach Jerry Haas, a onetime PGA professional golfer.
“The one thing that was very tough for me to get used to at that level was dealing with how good college players were,” Simpson says. “Playing against the best players in the country at a collegiate level was a whole new world for me. Jerry Haas was such an incredible coach. He was so good at helping us develop, but especially in our understanding of the game. I learned so much about course management and time management from Haas. I am for- ever grateful for his impact in my life.”
Haas helped guide Simpson through a difficult period at Wake Forest. Simpson recalls being disappointed by the way he played the first few years in college. He didn’t feel he was living up to his own expectations.
“I remember sitting in Coach Haas’ office, almost in tears, apologizing for not playing better after receiving the Arnold Palmer scholarship,” Simpson says. “It was a great moment for me and one that I will never forget, because he asked me this simple question: ‘Do you think you are better now than when you got to Wake?’ I thought about it and told him that I definitely thought I was better. Haas explained that improving is all that matters. Results will come. That idea has served me ever since—even on the PGA tour.”
It turned out that the coach was right. Simpson bounced back and played at an ever-higher level, building to his biggest collegiate victory, which was winning the ACC championship his senior year.
“At the time, I won by six shots and broke a 54-hole scoring record,” Simpson says. “It was really a great moment for me because I had wanted to play well at the ACC championship before, but my first three years I had played very poorly.”
Simpson’s time at Wake Forest was transformative for many reasons. Not only was he able to learn and grow as a golfer, but Simpson also met his wife, Dowd, at Wake Forest. They dated all through college and today they are happily married with five young children. His college years set him up for the professional and personal success that would follow.
In 2008, Simpson went pro and played on the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour. He feels his game improved a great deal after college because he was dedicating all his time and effort to golf.
“The pro game isn’t that different from the college game, but the competition is obviously very different,” Simpson explains. “In college golf, you have a collection of the best 18- to 22-year-olds, and in the pros it’s the best collection of golfers in the world from ages 18 to 60. I remember thinking that I am now play- ing against guys I watched growing up, like Davis Love III and Vijay Singh.”
But Simpson was able to overcome that awe and become just like the greats he grew up watching. After just over a decade in the pros, he already has some very impressive trophies on the mantle.
“My favorite achievements as a pro were winning the U.S. Open in 2012 and winning The Players championship in 2018,” Simpson says. “Those were both career-changing moments for me, but they were very different. The U.S. Open victory in 2012 was a bit of a shock for me because I won my first major at 26. And The Players championship came after four and a half years of not winning, so I would say The Players was much sweeter. I also loved my three Ryder Cups and two Presidents Cups. Those team events are very fun.”
No matter the sport, all athletes have to deal with defeat, as well as victory. It’s never smooth sailing all the way, and Simpson has turned to faith and family to keep himself on a steady path.
“Being a Christian allows me to handle both defeat and victory well. This is not because of me but because of my faith in Christ,” he explains. “When I lose, I know that golf isn’t ultimate, so I can handle defeat knowing that it’s temporary and I can learn from it. And then when I experience victory in golf— again, because it’s not ultimate or all-consuming for me—I can celebrate the victory knowing that it is a gift from God. I am not holding on to the victory as an idol, but rather celebrating the gift from God and the hard work that was put in. Being a competitor as a Christian has been a fun journey.”
With all of the success he has seen in his career, Simpson still hears the words of Coach Haas and makes sure he is always on the path of improvement.
“I have similar goals every year, and the ultimate goal is that on the last day of the year I feel that I am a better and more complete player than I was on the first of the year,” Simpson says. “Other result-oriented goals are always to make the team event that year, whether that’s the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. I also want to give myself the most chances to win on Sunday as I possibly can.”
Outside of golf, Simpson loves spending time with his wife and young children. And for young folks aspiring to be pro golfers like he is, Simpson has some advice: “I would tell any young person interested in golf to keep having fun in the game but also to keep in mind what Coach Kiegiel told me: Every year you get older, the competition will get stronger so you have to put in the work. I also would advise any aspiring golfer to surround him or herself with a great team they can trust.”
Simpson also thinks back to early lessons he got from his father. “My dad did a great job of allowing me to learn how to score well from a young age,” he recalls. “For those starting out in the game, play from tees/yardage where you can score better. This will teach kids to know how to make birdies and pars, instead of playing at lengths where scoring is much tougher.”
How Do You Define Success in Sports?
“I define success in sports as someone who has worked as hard as he or she can and left everything out on the field/court/course. Success also means being someone who is a constant learner. Whether we have victory or defeat, there are always moments and things we can learn from.” — Webb Simpson