Webb Simpson returns to Pinehurst

Webb Simpson watches his tee shot on the eighth hole during Monday’s practice round for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. (Matt York/AP Photo)

Webb Simpson is returning home.

“This place is my favorite place,” Simpson said on the first day of practice rounds at Pinehurst for the 2024 U.S. Open. “Grew up coming here from Raleigh, just a short drive. My dad built a home here. I think probably I was 12 years old. So most weekends, middle school, high school, we’d come up and play at the Country Club of North Carolina. I love Pinehurst”


As an aspiring golfer, first at Raleigh’s Broughton High, then at Wake Forest, where he earned the Arnold Palmer Scholarship, Simpson got in plenty of rounds at Pinehurst.

“We had state championships here,” he said. “We played at No. 6, No. 8, No. 4, No. 2. There’s so much history whether you look at high school college, high school college, amateur golf, it was all here.”

All, that is, except a victory. Simpson’s lone victory on a Pinehurst course, to date, was one where he got an assist from the family.

“I never won the Putterboy Trophy,” he said. “I never won the Donald Ross Junior or the North/South Junior or North/South Am. My father and I—he won the Donald Ross Father-Son. They always did it the day after. It was alternate shot. We were in a playoff. In the playoff, my dad drove it in the fairway, I hit it to three feet, and then he made it for us to win. I was so excited.”

His father, Sam Simpson, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic.

“He looked at me like he was mad at me. I’m like, ‘What? We just won.’ He’s like, ‘Don’t ever do that to me again. Hit it to 20 feet. Don’t hit it to three feet.’”

For more than a decade, Simpson didn’t hit the ball exactly where it needed to be on the pro tour. He earned his first PGA win in nearby Greensboro in 2011, his third year as a pro. The next year, he won the U.S. Open and became one of the sport’s big names, sitting near the top of the rankings and making regular appearances at majors.

In recent years, however, Simpson has struggled to recapture past glory. His last win was in 2020. Since then, he’s battled a disk problem in his neck that required surgery. In 2022, his U.S. Open exemption expired, and he missed last year’s tournament, the first time he was home for the Open since 2010.

This year, with Pinehurst hosting for the first time in a decade, that wasn’t an option for him.

“This was one I really, really didn’t want to miss,” he said. “This is a golf course that I feel like I know really well. I feel comfortable on it. I just didn’t want to miss the U.S. Open in my backyard.”

That meant earning himself a spot through qualifying. He was one of 84 golfers at the Duke University Golf Club last Monday, battling for seven spots. He shot a 67 in the first of two rounds, which put him in a tie for fourth.

“The two rounds couldn’t have been more different,” he said. “The first round I shot three under, very easy. The second round, I made it very stressful on myself.”

At the turn, he was two shots over and in jeopardy of missing the cut.

“There’s no scoreboards, obviously, but you can find the scores on their website,” he said. “I asked my caddy at the turn, ‘What is it looking like? What do we need to do?’”

He strung together some birdies, but a bogey on 17 appeared to end his hope of a return to Pinehurst.

“I thought for sure there was no chance even of a playoff with a birdie on 18,” he said.

His caddie checked the scores and told him he had a shot of at least a playoff. It turned out, he finished one under on the round, in a tie for fourth overall. He was in the Open field.

“It’s a long day,” he said. “Especially for someone who understands how sweet it is to be in a major, especially U.S. Open here at Pinehurst.”

Simpson lost his father in 2017, but he’s thinking about him as he returns to the family’s home away from home.

“Pinehurst was where he was his happiest. We lived in Raleigh. He worked really hard. But when he would come to Pinehurst on a Friday, you’d really see him kind of decompress. He loved to play golf. … I probably think about him more here than anywhere. He would be thrilled to death that I qualified. I think he would have been a nervous wreck on Monday. He would have been here walking with me in the practice rounds.”

It may be nostalgic. It may leave him longing for past days, but Webb Simpson is home.

“I didn’t get in. I had to go qualify. So I feel like it’s all upside,” he said. “I’m not going to be happy unless I play well overall. But I am thankful to be here.”