As day began to fade into night at Harbour Town Golf Links on Sunday, Webb Simpson walked down a quiet 18th fairway, the sunset complemented by his yellow shirt. He wore it in honor of his dad, Evander Samuel Simpson III, who passed away just over two years ago. It’s only fitting that on Father’s Day, Webb found something special.
After a weather delay of nearly three hours, Simpson birdied five of his last seven holes to claim the 2020 RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing title and the tartan jacket that comes with it.
In doing so, the winner of the 2012 U.S. Open — which he also won on Father’s Day — set the new four-day Heritage record, a ridiculous 22-under-par 262, which broke Brian Gay’s 20-under mark set in 2009.
“I love this golf course. I love this area. I’ve never quite gotten it done here,” Simpson said. “I was close in 2013, losing to Graeme McDowell in the playoff. So it feels great.”
The start of the day saw four golfers tied at 15-under, including Simpson. And after Dylan Frittelli set the pace with a 9-under-par round, the final pairings knew that another low score was needed. But as the last group of Tyrrell Hatton and Abraham Ancer just got things started, those closing statements were forced to wait.
At around 2:35 p.m., an uninvited pop-up storm found its way onto Hilton Head Island and hung around for more than two hours. The question of whether a Sunday finish would even happen was suddenly in major doubt. Even on the longest day of the year, the sun sets on the island at half past 8. But right before our hopes of a Sunday finish were about to go dark, the storm exited Harbour Town, and play resumed at 5:20.
The competitors stormed out of the starting blocks, leading to a massive logjam at 17-under par. Coming back to the course following a near-ace on the par-4 ninth, Brooks Koepka followed up an eventual eagle with a pair of birdies to start the back nine and reach that minus-17 mark, and it looked like the hot streak could continue.
Meanwhile, on the front nine, Hatton asserted himself as the man in charge. After thinking about it all afternoon, he drained a seven-footer immediately after the delay, and suddenly all the momentum was with him. With subsequent birdies on the third, fifth, and sixth, Hatton was 19-under and eyeing the tartan jacket. But his partner, Ancer, was matching his every move with brilliant iron play, leading to an easy birdie on the ninth to match Hatton’s outward 32.
As the two approached the back nine with stagnation from the rest of the field still on the course, it certainly looked like a two-man duel for the title. But there were still some surprises left. Although Koepka went cold down Harbour Town’s daunting home stretch, others began to find the next gear.
Chile’s 21- year old sensation Joaquin Neimann scored birdies on the difficult 12th, the par-5 15th, and the tricky 16th, snatching away the lead at an astounding 20-under par.
And then there was Simpson. Coming so close at Harbour Town in 2013, the Charlotte native was looking for a different script to his story this time around. After being stuck at 17-under since he birdied the fifth, a comeback was starting to look bleak, especially while staring into the mouth of the back nine gauntlet. Nearly everything in Simpson’s final round was going to plan, except the putts just weren’t falling. But after a 22-footer dropped into the cup on 13, marking back-to-back birdies, he was right back in the mix.
Following a par save on the treacherous par-3 14th, Simpson took a risk on the ensuing par-5, cutting through the trees with a 5-wood on the dogleg left and reaching the green in two. He converted the two-putt birdie, but he didn’t stop there.
So many PGA Tour events come down to the stroke of the putter, and this Sunday was no different. Simpson rolled in a clutch 14-footer on 16, and then sank a difficult downhill putt on 17 to jump to the lead at 22-under, where he stayed for good. The field was fading fast.
With a late mistake from Niemann and inconsistencies from Hatton, Ancer was the lone challenger left with a chance to reach Simpson’s mark. After he delivered on a must-make birdie putt on 17, Ancer needed one more on the closer to force a playoff. His approach shot to the safe right half of the 18th green left a daunting 37-footer. The line was solid, but the tying bid ran out of steam just as the sun set, giving Simpson — a father of five — a memorable Father’s Day win.
“The last kind of 10 holes were a blur because guys are making birdies, we’re trying to finish before night comes, and so to finish with five birdies like that was really special,” Simpson said. “To see the putts go in when I needed them, that was really fun to see the ball going in the hole.”
A veteran of Harbour Town Golf Links, Simpson used his knowledge of Pete Dye’s greens to his advantage when he made the winning charge on Sunday’s back nine. He cited his expertise of the ball releasing more on 17 by sending the ball short of the flag, setting up the putt that clinched the title.
“I think those things from [playing] 11 years here really helped,” he said. “Because when you know certain facts like that, it helps you to be more confident.”
With the win, the Team RBC Ambassador picked up his seventh PGA Tour victory and took over the top spot in the 2020 FedEx Cup standings. But he also did something even more important. He honored his dad on a special day, a tribute to the man who has meant everything to Webb’s life.
“This morning I thought about him, and when I was on the golf course, I thought about him,” Simpson said. “I started wearing yellow on Sundays in his honor. Yellow is his favorite color. My kids know that. Whenever they give me a card, it’s always in yellow crayon or yellow marker. So still feeling my dad all around me from memories. He loved golf. He would have loved watching today.”
Story by Wes Kerr
Wes Kerr is a graduate of Hilton Head Island High School and Davidson College. He has a passion for statistics and analytics.