PINEHURST, N.C. –– Excuse Webb Simpson if he doesn’t start his memories of the 1999 U.S. Open with that iconic putt at the 72nd hole by Payne Stewart, the subsequent punch of the cool and misty air, and the two-hands-to-the-face embrace of Phil Mickelson.
Not Simpson. His nostalgia starts with a couple of guys named Tom Watson and Stephen Allen. They formed the pairing for whom the 13-year-old kid from Raleigh, N.C., served as standard bearer.
Talk about ignition, those four or five hours unleashed inside of Simpson a passion for this golf resort that has only intensified over the years.
“As soon as I got my (driver’s) license, I’d come down here every weekend and play,” he said. “I love Donald Ross. I love Pinehurst. My family is down here full-time, pretty much. And so it’s a special week for me, in the sense that not only do I love the U.S. Open, but I’m playing a golf course I love.”
Simpson’s love affair with the National Open might have reached a fruition two years ago when he won at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, but it’s not like he’s done. He wants more and Pinehurst No. 2 seems to be the ideal stage on which to continue this connection.
“I probably played 10 tournaments on No. 2 (one of them being his win in his high school’s state championship),” Simpson said. “It’s all good memories here. I’m excited the week is here and I’m ready to tee it up tomorrow.”
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NEW LOOK, SAME SMILE: The change on top (a hat emblazoned with Ping) speaks to the change that awaits Matthew Fitzpatrick (he will turn professional next week at the Irish Open).
The reigning U.S. Amateur champion will maintain his amateur status so as to keep his exemption into this week’s U.S. Open and he concedes it feels “strange” to be closing this chapter of his life.
When the world met Fitzpatrick as low amateur at the Open Championship, then as the last one standing at The Country Club, he went without a hat, but with a bright smile. The latter is still there, but hatless? Well, tough to do that when you turn professional, because there’s serious cash when you put a logo atop your head.
Fitzpatrick draws marquee playing competitors at 7:51 a.m. in Thursday’s first round – defending U.S. Open champ Justin Rose and last year’s Open Champion, Phil Mickelson. “It will be nice to to meet Phil properly,” Fitzpatrick said.
From Pinehurst, it will be off to Ireland for his debut as a professional, and from there he will embark upon a schedule that will include the French Open, the Scottish Open, the Czech Masters, the Omega Masters, the KLM Open, and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
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USGA’S HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Pinehurst No. 2 is quickly becoming a national championship staple. Not only is it hosting the U.S. Open this week, but it will provide the stage for the U.S. Women’s Open next week. Now comes official announcement that the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-ball Championship will be held at Pinehurst.
The Four-ball Championship will replace the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in the USGA lineup starting in 2014.
The final APL will be held later this summer.
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PEBBLE STILL IN THE CARDS FOR WOMEN? One future site that never did materialize was talk of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open being held at Pebble Beach. It generated a pretty good buzz when announced as a concept, but things changed.
“When we made a collaborative announcement (in 2010) that we were going (to Pebble) for the ’18 Amateur and ’19 U.S. Open to celebrate their centennial (it made sense) that we mutually withdraw the concept of going there in ’14 for the women,” said Thomas O’Toole, president of the USGA.
But don’t shelve the idea entirely.
“We will continue to advance the idea of taking the U.S. Women’s Open to Pebble Beach,” he said.
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NO CRYSTAL BALL FOR HIM: Not only wouldn’t Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, dare to predict who will win this week, but don’t ask him what the winning score might be.
“I’m not a good guesser at that, partly because I never know what the weather is going to give us,” he said.
And the weather, according to the forecast, could be a challenge. Warm and humid with chance of thunderstorms is what we are facing every day.
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QUITE COMFORTABLE TO HIM: If Adam Scott were born in North Carolina, one could see him be similar to Simpson – that is, in love with Pinehurst.
“It really feels like a bit of a golf mecca here,” the No. 1 player in the world said. “I’m sure my parents would have a great week, if they were here playing golf, with all the different golf courses. It’s got a lovely feel to it.”