published Monday, June 18th, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: Webb Simpson wins one to make Arnie proud

Webb Simpson hits out of a bunker on the 17th hole during the fourth round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Sunday, June 17, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Webb Simpson hits out of a bunker on the 17th hole during the fourth round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Sunday, June 17, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

If you're old enough to have watched professional golf in the mid-1960s, you may painfully recall the U.S. Open that Arnold Palmer gave away to Billy Casper in 1966 at Olympic.

And just in case you had no knowledge of it before this past weekend, NBC made sure to remind you of it early and often during its U.S. Open coverage, given that our golf national championship was returning to Olympic and both Palmer and Casper are still around to discuss it.

But 26-year-old Webb Simpson had a slightly different perspective on that 46-year-old story than most of us who still proudly count ourselves as members of Arnie's Army.

Simpson went to Wake Forest, Arnie's alma mater, on an Arnold Palmer scholarship.

So as he sat in the clubhouse late Sunday evening, the leader in the clubhouse, NBC's Bob Costas asked him about Palmer.

"Arnold's been so good to me," said Simpson, who was playing in just his second Open. "He's meant so much to me and to Wake Forest. [Maybe winning] would get a little back for him and make him smile."

Simpson's unlikely triumph on Father's Day -- he and wife Dowd are expecting a second child in two months -- surely made Palmer and everyone else smile who's not named Jim Furyk. Simpson -- the only player in the final nine groups to finish the day under par, and the hottest golfer on the PGA Tour at the close of 2011 _ delivered the most impressive performance under pressure in 2012.

The same could not be said for the 42-year-old Furyk, who won the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields just south of Chicago in 2003, but could not deliver a similar Olympian effort down the stretch this time, bogeying both the 16th and 18th holes.

"He just fell apart," said NBC's Johnny Miller of Furyk after his second shot at No. 18 landed in a greenside trap, all but assuring his defeat. "He worked so hard for it ... but that was a total unforced error."

He had worked so hard for it. A wretched 150th in putting a year ago, he entered the Open ranked 24th this season.

Knowing he's not a birdie machine, Furyk coolly avoided bogeys for 12 of the first 14 holes, determined to win his second Open, which Miller said, "Would make him a cinch for the Hall of Fame."

Instead, Simpson stepped up when he needed to most, especially on 18, where he delivered a perfect pitch out of high grass, then drained the biggest putt of his life to put all the pressure on Furyk and 2010 champ Graeme McDowell.

"Pretty nervewracking," said Simpson, who didn't look nervous in posting 68s each of the last two days. "Probably prayed more the last three holes than I've ever done in my life."

A lot of viewers were probably just praying this would match in positive energy what was taking place elsewhere in sports on Father's Day, the Miami Heat rallying from 10 points down to knock off Oklahoma City and take a 2-1 lead in the NBA finals.

So given the Open, the usual baseball heroics and the Finals, this was about as good a Father's Day's worth of sports as anyone could ask for.

Especially when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won for the first time in four years at Michigan, given that no NASCAR driver is more tied to the legacy of his father than Junior.

Still, there is something special about Sunday at the Open, about the tradition passed down from fathers to sons to the little ones who become grandsons. Neckties and books and soaps on ropes are nice, but the gift of time plopped in front of the television with the old man -- and what I'd give for one more Father's Day with my late dad as Millier's caustic commentary echoed in the background -- is priceless.

All of which brings us back to Simpson and to his view of his final putt on 18, the one that cemented an American winning our golf national championship for just the third time in the last nine Opens.

"Got my hands shaking a bit," he grinned, "but I knocked it in."

It was surely enough to leave the legend Palmer shaking with pride.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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