Webb's wife plays major role in his success
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
ARDMORE, Pa. -- A year ago, on the eve of what would be the biggest win in her husband's golfing career, Dowd Simpson was 35 weeks pregnant and looking forward to her first visit to San Francisco.
The Simpsons' first-born son, James, was being cared for by Dowd's parents. A few days earlier, back home in North Carolina, James had taken his first steps. Dowd saw it; Webb, already on the West Coast preparing for the U.S. Open, did not. Upset at missing an event that every parent wishes to witness, Webb uncharacteristically lashed out at his caddie Paul Tesori during their practice rounds.
"He thought I was firing him that week," Webb said.
His mood eventually brightened, though. His wife was coming to town. It was just going to be Dowd and Webb, a young couple in love and ready to enjoy the week.
It was a second honeymoon. Or as Dowd called it, a "baby-moon."
"I didn't sleep a wink that night," Dowd recalled. "I was like a little girl going to meet her first boyfriend."
On that Wednesday, 24 hours before Webb would strike his first tee ball at the Olympic Club, they ate lunch, then rented "Act of Valor," a film that features active duty Navy Seals and chronicles a raid to rescue a CIA operative. Although Webb is usually the one to fall asleep in movies -- that's what he did on their first date while they went to see "Se7en" -- Dowd was the one who couldn't keep her eyes open this time.
Dinner that night was the kind of meal with white tablecloths, not a trip to one of the old standbys, Chipotle or Chik-Fil-A. "That was a real treat," Dowd recalled. But there was an early wake-up call with Simpson slated to tee off at 8:32 a.m. PT with Keegan Bradley and Adam Scott.
Four days later, Webb Simpson was the U.S. Open champ, celebrating with Dowd in the clubhouse after they watched the final few groups fall off the pace. His story would quickly be told. Her story would also emerge.
A year later, on the eve of Webb's title defense at Merion, these two would love nothing more than to celebrate again. And this time the kids will be on hand, too
Before Dowd met Webb during his freshman year at Wake Forest, she thought golf was the world’s most boring sport. Now she is a constant in his gallery, even that week on a course that traverses the hills by the Pacific Ocean when she was essentially walking for two.
"My dad would watch on Sunday," said Dowd, who would give birth to the couple's second child, Willow, three weeks later. "Everything on the screen was green and they talked in monotones. No one was tackling anyone. There was just no action to it."
Dowd's best friend, Maggie Simons, who played golf at Wake Forest, too, actually introduced the two. As the romance blossomed, Simons helped Dowd with the basics of the game. The rest she gleaned on her own.
"I can remember times when he'd finish playing and he'd be upset after he'd shot 77 or something, and I'd be like 77, that's less than 80, that's awesome," Dowd recalled. "I think my naïveté might have given him a few laughs. And it usually would improve his mood. Now I do stuff like that just to be silly."
The stakes were high at the Olympic Club that week, though. Webb opened with a 72 that left him six shots off Michael Thompson's pace. Dowd remembers her husband being "calm and feeling very confident." After the round, the couple played tourist, heading to the Golden Gate Bridge and driving down Lombard Street, billed as the most crooked street in the world.
"We took lots of pictures and soaked in the city and just enjoyed being together," Dowd recalled.
A 73 followed on Friday and Simpson maintained his position six shots in arrears. But he fired a 68 in the third round and moved into the top 10, four strokes behind Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.
"At the end of the third day, both of us were talking about how he was still in it," Dowd said. "I always say Webb plays better when he's under the radar. He won his first tournament at the Wyndham Championship playing with the lead. But I think his best golf is when he's in the fight, coming from behind. So when Sunday came, he didn't have the pressure of something to lose. He had the challenge of going after it."
Their conversations at the end of each day didn't center on birdies and bogeys or why he chose 3-wood over driver. The two talked about what they were thinking at various junctures during the round. Dowd says she appreciates the way her husband makes her feel like part of the team.
"When we talk, we don't go through the clubs he hit on each hole," Dowd explained. "He more shares with me his emotions and feelings about the round. People say to him, who is your sports psychologist and he says, my wife. That's how much he trusts me and how important it is for me to know what is going on."
Dowd isn't one to chat with fans when she's in her husband's gallery; she just wants to focus on what he's doing. She says it's uncanny how Webb can sense where she is, usually in the shade under a tree, and they communicate with their own "silly little sign language."
"When we first came out (on TOUR), I could see everything because it was just me walking," Dowd said. "Now it's a little more challenging. I don't think I am rude to people and I hope it doesn't come off that way, but my priority when I am out there is to serve my husband.
"On the front nine during the final round there was only handful of people. When he started climbing the leaderboard, though, around No. 10 or 12, he started getting a much larger following. He didn't look at the leaderboards but he could sense he was doing something good."
Simpson shot another 68 in the final round that included a phenomenal 33 on the front nine. He remembers looking up at Dowd, who was standing on the hill that surrounds the 18th hole, and feeling at peace before attempting that all-important par-saver on the final hole.
"I remember thinking on the back nine even if I don't win today, this week has been so special for us that I don't really care," he said. "It kind of took the pressure off."
Dowd was out of breath when she scaled the heights at No. 18 and found her husband outside the scoring area at the clubhouse at the Olympic Club. "But I remember telling him how proud I was of him, how much I loved him and how special it was to share this week with him," she said.
The two then headed for the locker room where they waited for nearly 45 minutes before Simpson's victory was assured. They watched as Furyk made a mess of the 16th hole. They watched as McDowell tried -- and missed -- a 25-footer that would have sent the U.S. Open to a Monday playoff.
Instead of being an agonizing wait, though, as the TV cameras captured their every move, Dowd said it felt more like two minutes.
"We were watching the golf on the TV," she said. "What a lot of people at home don't realize is that we were sitting right next to the 18th green so there was about a two-second delay and we can hear everything that's going on. You heard like, wooo, and then, ohhh. I was like, did he just miss that?
"We were freaking out. It was like: Is this really real?"
The two had a similar feeling at the trophy presentation when a fan dressed in a Bird Man costume raced toward Simpson -- only to be tackled by USGA executive director Mike Davis. Dowd said the man seemed to appear out of thin air.
"Webb was so calm and collected when the rest of us were flabbergasted," Dowd said. "A lot of people said that took away from (the ceremony) but Webb thought it added to it."
The rest of the evening was a media blitz before Webb and Dowd headed to the airport to catch the red-eye home. Neither slept. They just went over and over the day's events. And once the plane landed, the first order of business was to "love on James," Dowd said, calling the week a "blessing for our marriage."
"I try and keep everything in perspective," she said. "Life is like a breath -- it's here today and gone tomorrow. I want to cherish every moment and it was such an accomplishment. But Webb had another tournament to play the next week.
"You hope this was the first of many, and it will go down as an incredibly special time in our lives. But I think as I look back over the year, more than anything, I am proud of Webb. This has not changed him one bit. He is the same man I met as a freshman in college -- maybe a little more mature -- but the same values and the same morals. I am really proud of him.”
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