Simpson latest to ride golf's new wave
Webb Simpson became golf's latest star on Sunday, the American's triumph in the US Open at The Olympic Club making his the 15th different name to grace a trophy in the last 15 major championships.
The unassuming 26-year-old didn't exactly come from nowhere. He won twice on the US tour last year and challenged for the US money title before finishing second on the list behind Luke Donald.
But in just his fifth major, and his second US Open, Simpson was no one's pick to lift the title as the season's second major got under way.
But there he was, hoisting the trophy at Olympic's mist-shrouded Lake Course, where luminaries like world No 1 Donald, No 2 and defending champion Rory McIlroy failed to make the cut, and others including world No 3 Lee Westwood, 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and perennial US hope Phil Mickelson fell by the wayside in the weekend battle of attrition.
Simpson became the ninth successive first-time winner of one of golf's Grand Slam titles.
It's a stark contrast to, say, men's tennis, in which 31 of the last 34 Grand Slam titles have been shared between the world's top three players, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Pundits can argue on whether that's good or bad for golf, but Simpson said it's a phenomenon that isn't about to change, and it all started with the man who has piled up 14 major titles to date -- Woods.
"I think the game's changing," Simpson said, noting that the field for the US Open -- designed by the US Golf Association to be the "most rigorous test" of the game -- included 14-year-old amateur Andy Zhang of China and a 17-year-old amateur Beau Hossler who briefly led the tournament on Saturday.
"I couldn't imagine playing in even a qualifier for this tournament when I was in high school," he said.
"But I think the Tiger effect of inspiring people to play at a younger age, and the access to golf has gotten so much bigger that the game is changing.
"Even in college, I would have been scared to death to play in a US Open. And these guys are playing like they're trying to win the tournament."
Simpson himself was inspired last year by 20-something compatriot Keegan Bradley's playoff victory in the US PGA Championship last August, when Bradley became just the third man to win in his major debut.
"I think the prime of golf, the prime age 10, 15 years ago was mid-30s," Simpson said. "Now it's moving closer to the mid-20s or late 20s. There's so many young guys.
"If I see Keegan Bradley win a Major, I respect his game a ton, but I feel like, Keegan Bradley won one, I want to go win one.
"All these guys that won before me, I played with these guys all my life. They're great players, but I want to do what they're doing... we just kind of feed off of each other."
Perhaps that's what 2003 US Open champion Jim Furyk recognised when he said this week that at 42, he felt that his window of opportunity for capturing a second major was closing.
Furyk missed a chance on Sunday, making his overnight lead hold up for most of the day until he duck-hooked his tee shot at the par-five 16th and ended up with a share of fourth place.
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion down the road at Pebble Beach, missed a tough putt at 18 that would have forced a playoff.
While Simpson said he hadn't really expected to win a major on his fifth attempt, he thought the trend of parity on golf's biggest stages would continue.
In his opinion, that's a good thing.
"I think the game will continue to evolve like that," he said. "I'm lucky because I feel like we're playing at a time where golf is at its best."