By Rex Hoggard
Owings Mills, Md.
Bob Clark knew something was amiss. He had built a successful real estate business in southern California and had a “beautiful” family, but something didn’t seem quite right.
Without warning, the answer to Clark’s enigma came to him. “I didn’t have golf,” he said. “That provided, what do you call it, ego-mania? It’s the pride it gave me.”
If pride is what the 55-year-old was seeking, he scored all he could hope for at the 23rd U.S. Senior Open. After 72 sweltering holes at Caves Valley Golf Club, the former All-American at California State found himself 15 over par (78-70-74-77–299), tied for 56th and the championship’s low amateur.
For Clark, the gold medal presented to the low amateur is much more than just another keepsake to hang on the wall. His accomplishment at Caves Valley represents an emotional fix that had been missing from his life since he walked away from professional golf in 1980.
The gleaming medal returned Clark, just for a moment, to a time before his real estate business, before his family.
To a time when a 23-year-old Clark appeared poised for success as a professional following two college victories and a runner-up finish at the 1970 PGA Tour Qualifying School Tournament.
What followed, however, is a familiar tale.
Clark’s best finish on the Tour was a tie for 27th (1971 Quad Cities Open). He lost his card in 1972 and bounced around the world for the next eight years, playing everywhere from Canada to Australia before he “kind of dropped out” in 1980.
His pro career behind him, Clark returned home, “kicked back and got a job.” But after a few years in the working world, Clark’s competitive juices began to flow.
“I got to a point where I had to decide between maybe the Senior Tour or amateur golf. I married my beautiful wife, Lisa, and I have two young girls, 9 and 11, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to go traveling around the world and not see them grow up,’” said Clark. “I wasn’t going to make that mistake.”
In 1983, the U.S. Golf Association reinstated Clark as an amateur, and he has never been happier. He recently debuted in a tie for seventh in the new Golfweek/Titleist Senior Amateur Rankings.
“This is the best tournament I could possibly play, and to play good here and make the cut is something very special,” said Clark. He missed the cut in his three previous Senior Open appearances (1991, 1992, 2001).
“It does take bigger and bigger and bigger to get the fix. But this is the biggest,” he said. “What more could you ask for then this right here?
“If you don’t get stimulated playing this, you’re going to have problems. You shouldn’t be playing golf.”
Although his bid to claim his second consecutive low amateur medal was cut short, 51-year-old Paul Simson of Raleigh, N.C., was no less pleased with his week.
Of the 26 amateurs who started the championship, Simson and Clark were the only two amateurs who made the cut. Simson had an early lock on low-amateur honors until a third-round 82 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
Simson – who has an impressive 26-for-34 record in USGA championship qualifying, including 2-for-2 in U.S. Senior Open qualifying – followed his third-round miscue with a 75 to finish tied for 62nd.
“I was really hoping to maybe crack the top 20. I felt like the way I was hitting the ball the first couple of days, maybe that was something I could accomplish,” said Simson, who tied for 40th in his Senior Open debut last year.