By Jay A. Coffin
When Michael Sims moved to the United States from Bermuda six years ago, he had no idea where his golf career would lead him.
The 22-year-old son of a golf and tennis director at the Southampton (Bermuda) Princess resort, was more of a tennis player in his childhood but made the transition to golf at 12 years old. Sims began to get serious when PGA Tour veteran Brad Faxon visited the Bermuda Junior Golf Association for a clinic.
“For me, that was a special thing,” said Sims, who won the Players Amateur July 15 at Belfair Golf Club’s West Course. Sims shot 63-66 in the final two rounds at Belfair to finish at 12-under-par 272 on the par-71 layout. “For a tour player to come down was big. I don’t think he even knows the effect he had.”
After four more years of practice, Sims moved to Boca Raton, Fla., for his final two years of high school and began working with Bob Toski.
He then landed a scholarship at the University of Rhode Island after a friend from the Canary Islands, who went to URI a year earlier, recommended he visit the Kingston campus. Once arriving in Rhode Island four years ago, Sims befriended Wannamoisett (R.I.) Country Club pro Steve Napoli, who became his coach.
“I’ve been lucky to have good people around me,” Sims said. “Toski, Napoli; I’ve been very lucky. It’s also a great feeling knowing you have support back home.”
Six years of determination paid off July 6 when he outlasted Bryce Molder, ranked No. 1 in the Golfweek/Titleist Amateur Rankings, in 38 holes to win the North and South Amateur at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort.
His outbreak of good fortune has Sims thinking about a pro career, but he said he will hold off on plans until after the U.S. Amateur and possibly until after representing Bermuda at the 2002 World Amateur Team Championship.
At the Players Amateur, Sims shot 73-70 in the opening two rounds and was tied for 19th place. He made his move in the third round when he shot a course record 63 and jumped into a tie for the lead. Six weeks earlier, Sims shot a course record 62 while playing with his father, Bruce, at the Mid-Ocean Club in Bermuda an hour after arriving from Boston.
“What are the chances of leaving Boston on time first,” Sims said, “then to go out and shoot 62?”
The 63 was the best round of the day by four and included eight birdies, four consecutive on Nos. 10-13. During the four-hole stretch, Sims didn’t have a putt outside 6 feet.
Entering the final round tied for the lead with John Engler and 1993 U.S. Amateur champion John Harris, Sims made birdies on No. 2 and on the par-3, 199-yard third hole from a foot. He then birdied No. 6 from 5 feet, No. 8 from 4 feet and the ninth from 8 feet to make the turn at 5-under 30 and take a four-shot advantage.
“I kept telling myself ‘don’t let up,’ ” Sims said. “I had to just keep playing the way I was playing, stay loose, be patient and have fun.”
Sims closed with two three-putt bogeys and two birdies to shoot 36 on the back side for his 66.
Engler and Harris made early efforts to hang with Sims before fading. Engler shot a four-birdie, three-bogey final round of 70 and finished second four shots behind.
“I just ran into a little buzz saw today,” said Engler, a 22-year-old left-hander who recently completed his final year at Clemson University. “I felt like I played pretty decently. I knew it was going to be the person who hit their irons today that would win and he did.”
Harris, a 49-year-old from Minneapolis and member of the 1993, ’95, ’97 and 2001 U.S. Walker Cup teams, was 5-over-par in the last four holes and closed with a 74.
“I just played poorly all week,” Harris said. “Today it finally caught up with me. Michael played fantastic and it was a pleasure to watch him play.”