On Sunday at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., Simpson will be a favorite for a number of reasons. The foremost reason is that he owns a two-stroke, 54-hole lead over fellow non-winner Tommy Gainey.
Second, Simpson is about as native a Tar Heel as there is in the field. He grew up about 90 minutes east of Sedgefield in Raleigh, and attended college at Wake Forest University, about 45 minutes in the opposite direction.
“Honestly, my first year in Charlotte, my first year was tough,” said Simpson, who shot 74-75 to miss the cut in his first Quail Hollow Championship two years ago. “I felt a ton of pressure because you want to do well in front of your home crowd and they want you to do well.
“So it’s a lot of emotions. Last year here I finished top-10 and kind of broke through you could say for local tournaments and it’s tough when you’re playing bad because you know everybody wants you to play well, but when you’re playing good, when I was able to go on the stretch, you felt like everyone is behind you. It really helps you build on those birdies and makes it a lot of fun.”
If scores are indicative of the positive vibes surrounding Simpson this week, then Sunday bodes well for the 26-year-old new father. He has posted progressively better rounds of 66, 65 and 64. A year ago he posted a final-round 63 to tie for eighth.
While Simpson admits to being frustrated by not having won yet in three full seasons on tour, he considers it part of a pattern.
“I’ve always been a little slow to win,” he said. “I think I was the best coming out of high school. I get to college and it takes me to my second semester junior year to win and I won a few more times.
“I’m seeing that pattern out here on tour now. I’m just trying to get comfortable. As soon as I start trying to win instead of trying to do what I know how to do, which is just continue to get better, I think it will take a lot longer.”
Simpson’s wait should not be too long.
Already this season he has a pair of second-place finishes, plus a pair of top-20 finishes in the U.S. Open and British Open, respectively. A win on Sunday would move him to third in the FedEx Cup Playoff point standings and inside the top 10 for U.S. Presidents Cup points.
Those are not numbers of a player struggling to find his way out on tour.
“The way I look at it, if God wants me to win, then I will,” he said. “If not, I’ll have plenty more opportunities. But I’m just going to rely on my faith and if it’s my time, great, we’re going to go out there and win. If we come up short, then it’s just the way it’s going to happen.”
Winning in front of both friends and family would just be sweeter.
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.