LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – In his opening remark while receiving his latest golfing honor, Paul Simson said, “This is really the apex for me in my (amateur) career.”
Considering everything the Raleigh, N.C., resident has done over his long and storied career in the amateur game, that was a pretty strong statement.
It came this past Tuesday night on the eve of the 106th Southern Amateur Championship when Simson was inducted into the Southern Golf Association Hall of Fame during dinner ceremonies at Chenal Country Club.
“What a wonderful honor,” he said. “It’s very, very special.”
One reason: The exclusiveness of this Hall of Fame.
It was established by the SGA in 1972, and its first inductee was Robert T. Jones Jr., who was inducted posthumously at the 1972 Southern Am at Green Island Country Club in Columbus, Ga.
It is unique in that it does not necessarily induct a member each year, nor does it select multiple inductees in any one year. In the hall’s 41st year, Simson becomes only the 23rd member and the first since Hubert Green in 2006.
Hall-of-fame honors are nothing new for Simson, who lists six such accomplishments.
In addition to his latest SGA induction, he has been inducted into the Pingly High School (Martinsville, N.J.), Wake County, National Senior Amateur, Carolinas Golf and North Carolina Sports HOFs.
In introducing his longtime friend and fellow competitor Tuesday evening, Tim Jackson of Germantown, Tenn., joked, “Paul grew up in New Jersey. So now we have a Yankee that’s going into one of the most stoic Southern institutions in golf.”
On more serious notes, Jackson, who was inducted into the SGA Hall of Fame in 1999, said, “Paul is a champion in every aspect. It’s not how many titles you win but how you handle defeat with dignity and honor, and Paul Simson has always done that. He is the prime example of honesty and integrity.
“He loves to compete and he enjoys the people he’s with,” Jackson said. “He is what the game of amateur golf is all about.”
On hand for the induction were Simson’s wife, Chris, and their son, Phillip.
“He is an outstanding golfer, but he’s even a better father and better person,” said Phillip, 31. “He loves golf and has a passion for life. His name will be (enshrined) in halls of fame such as the Southern Golf Association, and for that I and our family are truly honored.”
Jackson went on to say, “Before he packs it in, he will be considered one of the top 10 amateurs of all time.”
The thing is, don’t expect the 61-year-old Simson to be packing it in any time soon. He’s still going as strong as ever as a competitor, having amassed some 200 amateur titles, including becoming the only player to win the U.S., Canadian and British Senior Amateur crowns in the same year (2010).
And it’s full steam ahead in 2012.
Already this year he has tied for third at the Coleman, finished second at the Lupton Cup, won the senior division of the Crane Cup, and captured the National Hall of Fame Senior. When he teamed with Don Detweiler last month to win the Carolinas GA Senior Four-Ball, it enabled Simson to tie amateur great Dale Morey’s record of 24 CGA victories. A few weeks later, Simson moved into a league of his own, posting his 25th CGA title by successfully defending the North Carolina Senior Amateur.
He is playing this week in the Southern Am, competing against players who could be his grandchildren. Next week, he will partner with Phillip in the 10th anniversary of their victory in the Carolinas Father-Son Championship.
He will leave for England on July 28 “to play some recreational golf with my buddies over there,” and then head to Wales for the British Senior Amateur, which he has won three times.
Then he’ll play in the U.S. Mid-Amateur, the North Carolina Mid-Am, the U.S. State Team Championship and the U.S. Senior Am.
A busy schedule, for sure, but as Simson put it, “I don’t know what else to do, and I love tournament golf.”
In his opening round at the Southern Am on Wednesday, Simson showed he still can hang with some of the talented youngsters. He had a three-bogey, one-birdie round of 2-over 74. He was low man in his threesome that included Alex Carpenter (75), the 2010 Southern Am champ and a former NCAA Division II Player of the Year, and Tucker Wadkins (77), a member of the University of Arizona golf team and son of 21-time PGA Tour winner Lanny Wadkins.
“I don’t think I’m getting any shorter (off the tee), but these kids are sure getting longer,” Simson said, laughing.
Still, it’s a matter of getting the ball into the hole in the fewest strokes, and Simson remains pretty good at that.
And now, he has added another notch on his hall-of-fame belt.
“I look at the names on that (SGA Hall of Fame) list, and I can’t believe my name will be there with them,” said Simson, referring to the likes of Jones, Morey, Billy Joe Patton, Jackson, A. Downing Gray, Joe King, Fred Ridley, William Campbell and Green.
Believe it, Paul. You belong right there with them.
• • •
AND THEN THERE WERE TWO: Of the 35 amateurs in the starting field at last week’s U.S. Senior Open in Michigan, only two managed to make the 36-hole cut: Doug Hanzel, 55, of Savannah, Ga., and Sean Knapp, 50, of Oakmont, Pa.
Hanzel went on to finish as low amateur, tying for 53rd with a 9-over 289 total, while Knapp was T-60 at 12-over 292.
Reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Randy Lewis missed the cut by nine shots after rounds of 80-73 (13 over), while Tim Jackson, a two-time U.S. Mid-Am champion and U.S. Walker Cup player, missed his first cut in his fourth U.S. Senior Open, shooting 73-74 (7 over) and missing by three strokes.