Former Southern Amateur champion Webb Simpson ready for Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard
The 34th edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard March 19-25 is shaping up to spotlight another strong field featuring international stars and top homegrown U.S. talent, including several players with special ties to the legendary host, Arnold Palmer.
Add Webb Simpson to that latter category. The native of Raleigh, N.C., is a budding star who has his own special relationship with the King, and when he returns to Bay Hill Club & Lodge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, he'll feel quite at home at the Orlando course where he cut his teeth first as an amateur.
"I love it. I love playing at Bay Hill, and I feel like it's a place I know just about as well as anywhere on the PGA TOUR," said Simpson, 26, who first debuted at Bay Hill in 2006 when he was invited as the winner of the Southern Amateur. "I would say that winning Arnold's tournament would be a really big thrill for me when I think about what he has meant to golf and to me personally."
Simpson, who like Palmer is a product of Wake Forest University, is coming off his best professional season in 2011, one that included two victories and $6.3 million in earnings, second on the PGA TOUR money list. Coincidentally, the leading money winner on the TOUR receives the Arnold Palmer Award, and that was presented to Luke Donald after a battle with Simpson that went down to the year's final tournament.
Simpson, who also had three runner-up finishes among his 12 top 10s, made the largest single-season earnings increase in TOUR history, having earned just $972,962 in 2010.
Now a resident of Charlotte, Simpson missed the cut in his Bay Hill debut but came back two years later to finish even par and tied for 31st place. In '09 he improved to joint 11th position, his best showing in his five appearances.
Simpson enjoys telling the story of his first meeting with Palmer prior to the '06 tournament and how special that was.
"My dad [Sam] knows Arnold's good friend Howdy [Giles]. So we had it arranged to go up to his office at Bay Hill," Simpson says. "I've always looked up to him. To meet him for the first time at his club was really a special time. My dad and I sat down with him and just chatted. He is really a great guy, you can tell that right away.
"It turns out my dad actually has played golf with him a few times. They played together at Isleworth the first time, and my dad was so nervous that day that on the first hole when he was trying to putt his hands were shaking so much that he kept touching the ball with the head of the putter. Arnold asked him, what did you have there, Sam, and my dad said, â€˜I don't know, either a 5 or a 10, whatever you want to count.' "
Simpson is counting on having another enjoyable visit with Palmer, even if it's just for a few minutes. It's what makes Bay Hill one of the highlights of the season.
"Arnold is a lot of fun to be around. He might be 82, but he thinks young and you can just tell talking to him that he still loves golf and he still likes to be involved in the game and the tournament," Simpson said. "You know, when you play at Bay Hill, you can't help but feel that is an honor to be there."
For tickets to the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard or for more information, visit the tournament website, www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com, or call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843. Proceeds from the tournament benefit Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.