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Ex-champ Webb Simpson earns way into US Open through qualifying

PINEHURST, N.C. — This is a special week for 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who had to qualify through regional qualifying after his 10-year exemption expired.

Simpson is a North Carolina native whose family had a home in Pinehurst during his childhood.

“I grew up here, just a short drive from Raleigh,” Simpson said, “and my dad built our house here. I love Pinehurst. We spend a lot of time here. We come here as a family a few weekends a month.”

Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, teeing off during a practice round earlier this week in preparation for this year’s tournament. Getty Images

“this is [U.S. Open] I really didn’t want to miss it. It was a little harder to get here than usual. I had to go to qualify. But to be able to qualify last Monday and be here and compete was really exciting and satisfying.

“This is a golf course that I know really well. I feel at home. I just didn’t want to miss the U.S. Open being played in my backyard.”

Simpson said he must go through qualifiers to be eligible, but that “it definitely changes perspective because when things are going well, especially when you’re early in your career or you’ve had an exemption for a few years, you don’t even think about it.”

Fallout from the arrest of Scottie Scheffler at the PGA last month continues. Earlier this week, a photo was posted to social media of a man driving into a Louisville golf club with a fake police officer dragging the man’s car alongside, mocking the detective who claimed Scheffler “dragged” the man as he fled the scene in his car.

“It’s hard not to laugh at a guy who did that,” Scheffler said. “Zander [Schauffele] He told me the story. He had a lot of fun with it. That’s part of having good friends.”

“I don’t like reminiscing, but being able to laugh about it sometimes is a good skill to have. It’s definitely hard not to laugh when they tell jokes. Some of my closest friends in particular tell some pretty funny jokes.”

Scheffler comes into the tournament having won five of his last eight matches but appears unaware of the pressure of being the world number one ranked player, saying he doesn’t “feel like there’s a target on my back.”

“Once tournament week starts, we’re all evenly matched and no one’s on the defensive. I try not to think too much about the past and I try not to think too much about the future. I just try to live in the moment.”

“I’m not thinking about winning anymore. I’m just focused on this week and preparing for the game. Just because we won last week doesn’t give us a chance to be on the field this week.”

This week’s field features three players who played in the inaugural U.S. Open at Pinehurst: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar.

Kuchar played in his 22nd U.S. Open this week, having earned a spot through qualifying.

In 1999, he was a 20-year-old amateur at Georgia Tech.

Matt Kuchar, playing in his third U.S. Open, hits a tee shot during a practice round earlier this week at Pinehurst Golf Course No.
Matt Kuchar, playing in his third U.S. Open, hits a tee shot during a practice round earlier this week at Pinehurst Golf Course No. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

He won the 1997 U.S. Amateur and finished last among the amateurs at the 1998 U.S. Open, finishing 14th and qualifying for the 1999 U.S. Open.

He is now a 45-year-old veteran with nine PGA Tour wins.

He missed the cut in 1999 and 2005 and finished tied for 12th in 2014 at the Pinehurst U.S. Open for the third time.

With Jon Rahm withdrawing on Tuesday, 12 players from LIV Golf will be in the field this week. Golfers currently on the LIV Tour have won six of the past 10 U.S. Opens.

Some of the players considered favorites to win this week include Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson and Tyrrell Hatton.

USGA CEO Mike Whan was asked Wednesday whether the organization plans to offer a path for LIV players to play in the U.S. Open in the future, since LIV does not earn world ranking points.

“Our field standards don’t have any off-field stakes,” Wang said. “It’s not a closed field. There’s no committee or invitation required. If you want to play on this field, you have the opportunity to play on this field. We’re proud of that.”

“We’ll have a discussion this offseason about whether there should be a path forward to give players who are doing well at LIV a chance to play that way. [through exemption]”I think we’re taking it seriously. I’m not holding back on what that specifically would be and how it would be curbed. We haven’t done that yet.”