By STUART HALL
Since before Brendon Todd and Webb Simpson were teenagers, their golf paths have routinely crossed.
Todd recalls their initial meeting as junior golfers at Hedingham Golf Club in Raleigh, and Simpson beat him in the final round. For Simpson, the specifics of the first time have faded, but there was a tournament at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines when he was 13. Todd “kicked my tail,” Simpson said.
Those skirmishes helped forge a friendship that continues today on the PGA Tour.
“We’re very close,” said Simpson, who teamed with Todd to win the 2001 N.C. Four-Ball Championship. They were as 16-year-olds at the time and are still the youngest pair to win the title.
In high school is where their rivalry blossomed. Todd, though only 17 days older, was a grade ahead of Simpson, and starred at Green Hope in Cary. Simpson was the standout at Raleigh Broughton, the same school 11-time PGA Tour winner Scott Hoch attended.
In a five-year span from 2000 to 2004, Todd won three North Carolina High School Athletic Association individual titles (2000, 2002-03) before Simpson won in 2004, the year after Todd graduated. Simpson, though, led the Caps to three states titles (2001-02, 2004), and nearly a fourth had Todd not helped Green Hope pull an upset in 2003.
“Some guys want to be a professional golfer, but don’t want to put in the work,” said David Allen, who coached Todd in high school and guided Green Hope to five state titles between 2003 and 2010. “Other guys who want to be a professional golfer put in the work, but just don’t have what it takes.
“Brendon not only put in the work, but he had what it takes. It just takes some people a little longer to reach their potential.”
Simpson blossomed faster. He was an All-American at Wake Forest University and played on the 2007 USA Walker Cup team. After a brief stint on the Web.com Tour, he joined the PGA Tour in 2009, won twice in 2011 and won the U.S. Open a year later. He has also become a fixture on U.S. international teams, having played on three Presidents and Ryder Cup teams.
Now Todd appears poised to join Simpson as a regular on golf’s big stage. His rise, though, has not been as quick as Simpson’s.
Todd, 28, turned pro in 2007, joined the Web.com Tour in 2008 and won the Utah Championship en route to finishing 19th on the money list to earn his PGA Tour card for 2009.
He made only five of 21 cuts in his PGA Tour debut and returned to the Web.com Tour in 2010, missing cuts in all 13 of his starts. He played the Web.com in 2011, the PGA Tour in 2012 and split time on both last year. A second Web.com Tour win, at the Stadion Classic at UGA, helped him finish 11th on the 2013 money list and earn full PGA Tour playing privileges for a third time.
“I think we are beginning to see what we probably expected to see from Brendon three or four years ago,” said Allen of Todd, whose $2.5 million earned in 2014 through the U.S. Open was nearly $1 million more than his combined earnings since 2007.
Nearly a month after winning the HP Byron Nelson Championship for his first PGA Tour title, Todd contended at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 – a course Todd surprisingly had never played until championship week.
Todd was 4-under through 36 holes and was paired with Martin Kaymer, the eventual champion who was already running away with the title at 10-under, in the third round’s final grouping. Todd shot 79, but rebounded with a 69 on Sunday to tie for 17th in his major debut. Todd, Kaymer and Keegan Bradley were the only players to record three-sub-70 rounds for the championship.
“The fact that I put myself in position to play in the last group on the weekend in a major, I think that’s going to be a huge experience for me going forward,” Todd said. “And then to put up a round under par on Sunday and three rounds under par for the week is a priceless experience that I should be able to really use this momentum going forward.”
Allen is not surprised, as he remembers one of his earliest conversations with Todd.
“We were talking about his goals, and he said he wanted to win a state championship as a team,” Allen said. “Well, we did that. He wanted to win a national [team] championship in college. And he did [at the University of Georgia in 2005]. He wanted to be part of the Walker Cup team, but that didn’t work out. And he wanted to play on a Ryder Cup team.”
Todd, 28, is trending toward checking off that last goal. Through the Travelers Championship in late June, Todd was 15th on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, two spots ahead of Simpson. The top eight automatically qualify, and then team captain Tom Watson has four wild card selections.
At No. 51 on that same Ryder Cup list, though a long shot to make the team, is Chesson Hadley, giving the Triangle area another major presence on the PGA Tour.
Hadley, 26, played at North Raleigh Christian Academy before attending Georgia Tech, where he was a three-time All-American and won the 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Hadley earned his 2014 PGA Tour card by winning the Web.com Tour’s Rex Hospital Open and finishing third on the money list last year.
In March, Hadley won the Puerto Rico Open.
“I certainly felt like I’m good enough to win out here, but I didn’t expect to do it so quickly, like I might have to pay a little bit more dues before getting in the winner’s circle,” said Hadley, who won in his 13th PGA Tour start.
The area is also represented on the Web.com Tour with Ben Kohles and Lee Bedford.
Kohles, 24, followed in Todd’s footsteps at Green Hope, also playing for Allen and helping the school win back-to-back state titles in 2006 and ’07. He went on to star at the University of Virginia, winning ACC Player of the Year honors in 2011 and 2012.
In June 2012, Kohles became the first player in Web.com Tour history to win his professional debut, defeating Luke Guthrie in a playoff at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. The following week he became the seventh tour player to win in consecutive weeks. Kohles played the 2013 season on the PGA Tour but didn’t keep his eligibility for this season.
Bedford, 24, attended Cary Christian School, where he won the 2006 N.C. Independent School Athletic Association’s individual title, and later Wake Forest University, where he was a two-time All-American. He turned pro in 2012 and finished 139th on the Web.com Tour’s 2013 money list. He currently holds conditional status on that tour, but has yet to play in 2014.
Is the infusion of local talent on Tour a growing trend or a perfect storm of circumstances?
“A bunch of us sort of grew up playing together,” he said, “so the competition really pushed us to improve. We all benefitted. But North Carolina is also a haven for golf; there are a lot of opportunities to play, so I’m not that surprised.”
Nor will it be a surprise should Todd find himself in contention in a major again.
“It is great to see him playing well.” Simpson said. “I love Brendon’s game. He’s a grinder and he just continues to work hard, and it’s paying off.”