Returning To Bay Hill Important to Simpson


U.S. Open champion says he learned plenty in early years at Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard

Webb Simpson's introduction to professional golf competition occurred in 2006 at Bay Hill when he was invited as the Southern Amateur champion to compete in the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard.

To say it was memorable is an understatement.

"It was one of the greatest experiences of my life as it relates to golf. I still remember almost everything about it, that's how really great it was," said Simpson, now in his sixth year as a professional golfer. "I didn't make the cut that first time, but I got to come back again in 2008 when I was a senior in college, and I did make the cut. I was really proud of myself, because Bay Hill is not an easy place to play. I think that's why I like it so much; I think it's a lot of fun because it challenges you. You have to hit a lot of really good golf shots."

Simpson, 27, will be returning for his seventh start on Palmer's famed Championship Course when the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard is held March 18-24 at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida. He'll be teeing it up there for the first time, however, as a major championship winner. Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open by one stroke over Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson at The Olympic Club in San Francisco thanks to a pair of 68s on the weekend, best in the field.

The victory was Simpson's third on the PGA TOUR and put him in some pretty special company, including that of Palmer, who won the U.S. Open title in 1960. Of course, Simpson already enjoyed several links to Palmer, including attending Wake Forest University. Simpson, in fact, attended Wake Forest on the Buddy Worsham Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is named in honor of the younger brother of Lew Worsham. Bud was Palmer's college roommate and close friend at Wake Forest who died in an automobile accident. Palmer is the benefactor of the scholarship.

Simpson, who grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, but now lives in Charlotte, said his early success at Bay Hill – he ended up tied for 31st in 2008 – served as a catalyst for his career.

"You know, twice I got a chance to got play with the pros and see how good they were and what I had to do to get better, so it was, for me, an invaluable lesson to have while I was an amateur," said Simpson, whose best finish at Bay Hill is a tie for11th in 2009. "I learned a ton those two years.

"Obviously, I got to hang around Arnold a little bit and chat with him, and that was part of the whole experience that just stays with me. I love it that he invites the Southern Amateur champion to play at his tournament, and that he supports the Southern Amateur and supports amateur golf. You know, he has a way about him that makes anything that he gets involved in pretty special."

Speaking of special, after Simpson won the U.S. Open, he visited with Golf Channel. During his interview, a familiar figure called in to congratulate him. It was Palmer. "That says it all right there what kind of person he is," Simpson beamed.

A father of two, Simpson is a man of deep faith who also believes in himself. He admits that he relishes more the game's more difficult tests of golf. Perhaps that's why he thrived at The Olympic Club when most of the rest of the field struggled in the cool, foggy conditions. And it could be why he is eager to return to Bay Hill, which he says is "one of the best shot- making courses that we play. You pretty much know where you stand with your game when you tee it up there."

Thus, a win on the Championship Course would be a meaningful feather in his cap.

"Absolutely, I would love to win there. I really enjoy the golf course. I enjoy everything about the week," Simpson said. "It's one of those events that I wouldn't miss for the world. I don't think the thrill of being there ever wears off."