Pro golfer Webb Simpson has earned the respect of his peers while putting family first.
by Liza Roberts | photographs by Bob Karp
Ten years ago, 26-year-old Webb Simpson had just returned home to Charlotte from his third PGA Tour victory, with the U.S. Open trophy under his arm. He and his wife Dowd had a little boy, James, and a baby on the way.
Simpson was packing a lot into his years then, and his pace has only quickened. Now 37, he’s a father of five with seven PGA Tour wins to his name — 11 second-place finishes and 82 top-10 finishes. Along the way, he has become a respected leader in the world of golf, a player’s player and an exemplar of the sport.
“Webb is a fiery competitor and a player who has served as an incredible role model to so many of the young guys on tour,” says Davis Love III, announcing Simpson as one of four assistant captains of the U.S. team for the global Presidents Cup tournament at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club this month. Simpson will walk over from his home by the course’s seventh tee to represent his country, joining Fred Couples, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Love in helming the 12-man U.S. team in this biennial international competition. It’s a major honor in a sport that takes these roles seriously, one Simpson has earned over the course of his 14-year PGA career.
“To add someone with his experience to the team room, who is also a peer and one of the top players in the game, will be a great addition to the week at Quail Hollow,” Love says. “I know he’s excited to help lead the U.S. team on his home course.”
Simpson, a Raleigh native and Wake Forest University graduate, says he appreciates these high points more now than he probably did at an earlier point in his career. Like any elite athlete, he’s had his challenges: dry spells, a recent injury and changes to the game itself. In 2016, when the PGA banned the practice of anchoring a putter against the body, Simpson’s short game went into a tailspin. He’d used a belly putter for 11 years, and putting was one of his strengths. Learning a new technique with a new club was not what he’d bargained for.
“I started putting very inconsistently,” Simpson recalls. “My world ranking started dropping. I would think, I want to quit this. I was once such a competitive golfer, at the top of the PGA Tour, and now I can’t even make a team. I can’t even make it to the Tour championship.” But his father’s voice rang in his ears: “My Dad raised me in such a way that quitting was never an option. He was always in the back of my head.”
The Simpson family joins together to bake cookies in their Charlotte home.
Webb learned his sport at his father’s side as a child at Raleigh’s Carolina Country Club, and Sam Simpson was his son’s staunch supporter until his death in 2017. So Webb Simpson didn’t quit, but he did stubbornly keep making the same mistakes. Finally, after struggling with three-putts at the Barclays tournament that year, his caddy, Paul Tesori, put it to him straight: Stop being so closed-minded, he told Simpson. Hire a putting coach, find a sports psychologist and quit trying to figure this thing out on your own. “And really good stuff came from it,” Simpson says. “I learned a new method, the arm lock method, and I believe that ultimately led me to winning the Players in 2018.”
2018 was a seminal year for Simpson. It had been four and a half years since he’d won a golf tournament on the PGA Tour, and when he won the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., it felt like it was as much about the people around him as it was about himself: “It’s where my caddy grew up, so it’s kind of his home tournament. It was Mother’s Day. I was so happy to share that with my wife, and my mom, so soon after my dad died. We got to celebrate together, happy tears and sad tears,” he says. “When I look back on the last 10 years of golf, that’s definitely been the highlight.” Another milestone that received fewer headlines but represented a personal watershed: In 2018, Simpson finished fifth on the PGA Tour in putting.
By Simpson’s side through those professional reversals and triumphs, and through the loss of his father, was his wife and their five children: James, 11; Willow, 10; Winnie, 8; Mercy, 6; and Eden, 3. “It’s just an absolute joy to raise five kids with my wife,” Simpson says. “Marriage has been a gift. I love being married to Dowd, for every reason, and I am so thankful to her over the past 10 years for being there for me every step of the way.”
Before James started kindergarten, and before there were five, Dowd and the kids were there with Webb every step of the way, even when he was on the road. These days, that only happens a half-dozen times a year, because the four oldest are enrolled in school — and not just any school. Dowd co-founded Oaks Christian School in 2018 when she and Webb couldn’t find the school they dreamed of: one with small classes that cultivated a love of learning through experiential, hands-on projects, a Christ-centered approach and an emphasis on community service. Oaks opened with eight students in kindergarten through third grade and quickly grew. The school now teaches 90 students in kindergarten through seventh grade and recently partnered with Calvary Church to become Calvary Christian Academy. Co-founding a school and shepherding its meteoric growth has been an unexpected but gratifying experience, Dowd says, for herself and for her children.
The Simpsons family. (L to r) Winnie, Dowd, Willow, Mercy, James, Webb and Eden at their Charlotte home.
While the kids can’t always be with their dad on the Tour, Simpson has changed his schedule so he can be home with them more often. He’s pared back to 20 tournaments per year (the Tour average is about 28) and has spaced those tournaments out so that he’s generally gone for no more than six days at a stretch. “I got to a point a few years ago where I had to say: I can’t look at this as what is best for me professionally,” he says. “I have to look at what is best for my family, and then I will make my schedule around that. They are the priority, not my work.”
Having his priorities straight is one reason he’s admired by his fellow pros. In February, PGA players elected Simpson co-chair of the 16-member PGA Player Advisory Council, which advises the Tour Policy Board on issues and policies affecting players and the Tour.
“He’s a statesman among his peers,” says Ted Kiegiel, director of golf at Carolina Country Club, who coached Simpson for years and remains a close friend and adviser. “He’s seen as someone who is measured and stoic, making good decisions … he’s extremely well-liked; he’s a magnet for people who want advice.”
Simpson describes himself as an optimist, and that’s clear when he talks about nearly anything, but especially about what’s next. “I want to see what the game of golf has for me,” he says. “I’ve got six to eight more years of high-level golf that I believe I can play.” He’s always dreamed of captaining a Presidents Cup team or a Ryder Cup team.
Another dream: “To win another major, especially the Masters.” What about another 10 years from now? “The Champions Tour,” he says. “I’ve always thought that would be really fun.” But ask him about the thing that thrills him most about the future, and golf doesn’t come up: “My oldest is 11, and I’m so excited about the next few years from a family standpoint. It’s just so fun, watching them grow up.” SP
Webb Simpson’s Top 10 North Carolina golf courses:
Country Club of North Carolina,
Dogwood Course; Pinehurst
Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst
Mid Pines Country Club, Southern Pines
Carolina Country Club, Raleigh
Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte
Eagle Point Golf Club, Wilmington
Country Club of Landfall,
Nicklaus Course, Wilmington
Porters Neck Country Club, Wilmington
Diamond Creek Golf Club, Banner Elk
Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro