Simpson living the dream in Masters debut

02 Apr 2012 21:16

Webb Simpson was only 11 when he saw Tiger Woods win the 1997 Masters in record-shattering fashion, sparking a dream that culminates this week when the World No. 10 plays in his first Masters.

The 26-year-old American is one of 15 players making his Masters debut on Thursday at Augusta National, which he first visited to watch Woods win and first played a year later, shooting an eight-over 80 at age 12.

"My eyes were pretty wide the whole day. It was great," Simpson said, recalling how his father promised to purchase him a special putter if he birdied the 18th.

"I hit driver, 3-wood, and the pin is front left to where it is on Sunday. I hit it to about four feet and I missed it," Simpson said. "We go to the shop and he's feeling bad for me and he gets me the putter anyway.

"The next time we went back, I was 20, so eight years later and I shot eight shots better."

It's now six years after that and Simpson would not mind shaving another six strokes off his score.

"It's certainly a dream to be playing in the Masters," Simpson said. "My love affair for Augusta started when I was a young kid. I was pinching myself this morning driving down Magnolia Lane. It has been fun already."

Spectators were already cheering great shots during Monday's first official practice rounds, the roars echoing across the pine-filled layout.

"The atmosphere is so fun even practicing, I told my caddie, 'I've never heard roars like that on a Monday morning,'" Simpson said. "I'm looking forward to it. It will be a lot different to experience it inside the ropes."

Simpson might even spark a few roars himself, even though no Masters debutante has won a green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

After winning his first PGA title last August in Greensboro the week before the PGA playoffs started, Simpson won two weeks later at Boston, a birdie on the second playoff hole defeating Chez Reavie.

This season, Simpson shared third in the season-opening US PGA Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and has two other top-10 finishes in six events since.

Simpson had not played in a major until last year's US Open and he expects the same nervous start when he tees off at Augusta National.

"I was very nervous and it took a few holes to calm down," he said. "Once you hit a good, solid drive or iron shot, your nerves dwindle a little. I'm sure I'll feel it on the first hole.

"If I'm 1- or 2-over after five, it's not a big deal, just kind of find your way and hopefully make some birdies on the back."

Simpson is already learning from veteran players and his own experiences, seeing how the putting greens become faster as the first round approaches, how fairways slow to stretch out the course and how chipping in afternoon heat is trickier than in the mornings.

"It seems pretty common that guys who hit it a little further have played well, guys that can hit their iron shots higher," Simpson said. "These par 5s, you're going to make some birdies. You still have to respect the short holes.

"For me to improve, it's all about experience. It took me a while to win. I kept getting into contention but I couldn't really get over the hump. Being in the hunt and having a chance to win on last few holes really helps.

"I think that goes as well with playing a major championship. The more I can play, the more comfortable I'll feel."