MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.
A layup shot that went wrong nearly kept Wake Forest sophomore Webb Simpson from capturing the 99th Southern Amateur Championship.
Simpson entered the par-4 finishing hole at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club with a two-shot lead, and tried to play it safe after his drive landed in the rough nearly 200 yards from the green. But his pitch shot hit a downslope in the fairway and rolled into the pond fronting the green as he rushed to the crest of a hill to witness the submersion.
“That second shot is still puzzling,” Simpson said. “All I was trying to do was hit it 100 yards. I had 125 to the water. I swung so easy at it, that thing just shot off. As soon as I hit it, I thought it was in the water. Unbelievable.”
Simpson didn’t panic. After dropping in the rough, he hit a wedge 30 feet behind the hole and managed to two-putt for a double-bogey 6 that – coupled with a bogey on 18 by runner-up Garrett Osborn – salvaged a one-shot victory.
“I never really got upset or anything,” said Simpson. “I knew I needed to focus on the next shot, because the next shot was still tough. At worst, get out of there with double and see what happens.”
For most of the final round, it looked as if Simpson would run away with a tournament that included Golfweek’s top-ranked amateur, Michael Sim of Australia, longtime amateur Trip Kuehne and Wake teammate Kyle Reifers, who won the Northeast Amateur last month.
Simpson, the Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year in 2004-05, shot a 3-under 32 on the front nine, and when he birdied the par-5 13th with a 3-iron to 3 feet, he stood at 7 under for the tournament and had a five-stroke lead. But he bogeyed the 15th and 16th holes after poor drives, and Osborn, a junior at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, rallied with four back-nine birdies, capped by a chip-in from the rough on the 16th that cut Simpson’s lead to two strokes.
Osborn’s approach on the 430-yard 18th hole found the back of a bunker to the right of the green, and he had little room to get near the pin at the narrow front portion of the green. Osborn’s bunker shot rolled through the green and into another bunker, leading to a bogey.
He didn’t know Simpson’s layup shot was in the water prior to his approach shot. “That just kind of angered me a little more about the iron shot,” said Osborn, who has finished in the top 8 in all four amateur events he’s played this summer.
Simpson joins the likes of Bobby Jones, Hubert Green, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw, Bob Tway and Justin Leonard as Southern Amateur champions, and he said he hoped the victory would impress the U.S. Walker Cup selection committee. The team was expected to be selected early this week.
The victory also earns Simpson an exemption into the PGA Tour’s Bay Hill Invitational next March at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Fla. Simpson is attending Wake Forest on an Arnold Palmer scholarship.
“I’m going to tell (Wake) coach (Jerry Haas) I want that week off,” Simpson said.