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One Jewel Missing from Simson's Crown

Paul Simson has not won the U.S Senior Amateur championship.

Nothing terribly unusual about that statement. Neither have most of the 2,287 male amateurs over the age of 55 who tried to qualify for next week’s tournament at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando. Indeed, the tournament has only been in existence since 1955, and given a few multiple winners, less than 50 men can lay claim to this title. Not all of them are still among us, so it’s a rarefied club indeed.

But, Simson has won the British Senior Amateur title. Three times in fact, including two of the last three. And he won the Canadian Senior Amateur this summer, laying waste to the field in a 15-stroke romp.

But no USGA championships, despite trying nearly 50 times over the past 25 years. Yes, he was low amateur at the 2001 Senior Open. And he has been the stroke-play medalist at the Senior Amateur three times, in 2006, 2008 and 2009. He made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur twice. But no championship medals. If there’s a guy to pull for at Lake Nona, it is Simson.

Simson, 59 and the married father of one son, estimates that he has won upwards of 200 tournaments, most of them wearing his trademark straw fedora. The Raleigh, N.C., resident has won everything worth winning in the Tar Heel state. He has been voted Carolinas Player of the Year three times and Senior POY four times. In 1991, he achieved the unprecedented: He won the Carolinas Amateur, the North Carolina Amateur, and the Carolinas Mid-Amateur. All told, he has 17 CGA individual titles, and another five CGA partner wins.

Simson’s life story is not unfamiliar. A native of New Jersey, he began playing at age 10 at Fairmont CC in Chatham. He walked on at the University of New Mexico in 1968 and became a collegiate Honorable Mention All-American during his 1973 senior season. He turned pro, beat it around the mini-tours of that era, and then walked away. He was reinstated by the USGA in 1978, and went winless for several years. When the winning started in 1990, it came in bunches.

What Simson has won, however – the tournament that means the most to him – is the North & South Amateur, in 1995, and then again in 1996. That victory established him as a national player. And it got his name on the bronze plaque inside the Pinehurst clubhouse alongside the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III. For good measure, he has won three Senior North & South Amateurs.

Like a lot of guys his age and with his skill, he took a stab at the Champions Tour. He missed qualifying in 2001. After that, he decided that it was a closed system, hostile to “no name” amateurs like himself.

 Simson, beaten by eventual champion Vinny Giles in the third round of the Senior Amateur last year, would really like to win this title. “Everybody wants to win it,” he told me recently. “It’s the biggest title in senior amateur golfer. But I’m not going to be devasted if I don’t … it’s been a great year already.”

It’s easy to pull for Paul Simson next week. I would guess that many in the field at Lake Nona will be doing just that.

Simson, according to all you talk to, is a genuinely nice man who appreciates his good fortune on the golf course and revels in all things golf. Says Jack Nance, executive director of the Carolinas Golf Association and a man who has handed Simson a fair number of trophies over the past 20-plus years, “He loves hanging out with his buddies, playing cards and talking sports. He has never tossed a club, never uttered a foul word. He handles himself at all times like a gentleman.” When not playing competitively (he plays in 20-or-so events each year), he can be found at North Ridge CC, where he has captured a handful of club championships. Several of his trophies are on display there.

Nance and everyone else in North Carolina marvel at his consistency, and the energy he maintains to play well week in and week out. And even when he plays poorly – a rare occurrence – he is still a factor. He posted a 9-over-par 81 in the middle of the Carolinas Senior Amateur this month, catching a bad draw and having to play through some ugly morning weather. But he rallied and still almost won the event, finishing T3. Complaints? None from Simson. Not one. That’s golf, he would say.

Simson was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame this past May. How did he spend the day on which he was admitted? By successfully defending his North Carolina Senior Amateur title, his fourth Senior Amateur triumph. He was also inducted this summer into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame.

The secret to his success? Most people point to an exemplary short game. He’s not short off the tee, but he has said often “it’s not how you drive but how you arrive.” The shorter the shot, the more likely he will execute it. He is deadly from 100 yards out, and really good on and around the green. But Simson also points out that his ball striking has improved quite a bit over the past few years, thanks in part to technology. “Today’s technology helps all amateur players” he believes.


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