“Teenagers? In college, I’d have been scared to death to win,” said Simpson, who had an Arnold Palmer scholarship at Wake Forest. “I hope this makes Arnie smile,” he said, knowing ’66 still annoys Palmer.
As in every shock-winner story, there are the sad favorites who faded under pressure. Furyk, the well-rounded, smart guy you’d want to go to dinner with and take the wives, and the life-loving, funny McDowell, who’d be ideal company for a ballgame and beers, are an especially hard pair of tough-luck losers to accept.
“This course makes you play cut shots to hold the fairways and greens,” McDowell said. “So, you practice ‘cut, cut, cut’ long before you ever get here. By the time I needed to hit the ball straight [on Sunday] or draw it off the tee at the 17th, I just didn’t have those shots anymore.”
Like so many last-group leaders in previous years, Furyk and McDowell seemed to be locked in a distracting match-play-style duel, especially on the front nine. Add them to the list of those who’ll say, “I only needed 71 or 72.” On the final leader board by the 18th green, these were some of the scores staring down at them: 67, 68, 68, 68, 70, 70, 70 and 71. When you’re chasing at the Open, like Simpson, it’s far from an easy task, but it’s less preposterously difficult. Once again, the lead was an anchor.
Simpson was smacked squarely in the face with bogeys on the second and fifth holes. That’s when he said he vowed to stop scoreboard gazing. Soon, he was refocused on his work and went on a five-hole blitz that set the stage for his title, birdieing the sixth, seventh, eighth and 10th holes.
His last act was his most dramatic. At the 18th hole, he faced an up-and-down for par from a bare-patch lie beside the green. His chip from 35 feet nestled within a yard of the cup and “with hands shaking,” Simpson knocked it in the heart, finally locking him in the lead at 1-over 281.
Yes, the U.S. Golf Association had its revenge. After Rory McIlroy shattered the Open record with a 16-under-par performance last year at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, not a mortal soul could break their sacred par this year. And many of the game’s biggest names lay decimated.
As an early afternoon fog dissipated, then swept back over the course at dusk — you never know what you’ll get next here — Simpson celebrated by letting out a scream of joy. His grin couldn’t have been larger, though it was probably locked in a five-way tie with those other shocked and delighted Olympic winners: Fleck, Casper, Scott Simpson and Janzen.
When the Open comes here, nobody knows who’ll win or why. Not even the winner. Not even after he’s won.
For previous Thomas Boswell columns, visit washingtonpost.