West Caldwell, N.J. – Paul Simson has played in 55 USGA championships during his long career, but few rounds have been as satisfying as the one he experienced Wednesday afternoon in the semifinal round of the USGA Senior Amateur.
Simson, 61, made five birdies, one eagle and 10 pars at Mountain Ridge Country Club in a 3 & 2 victory over Jim Knoll, 60. “It was smokin’ out there,” said Simson, 7-under-par for 16 holes.
Indeed. These were legitimate scores, not match-play concessions. Simson, the 2010 USGA Senior Amateur champion who is seeking his second title, was on fire.
So was Knoll for that matter. He was 3-under-par against Simson, but it wasn’t enough firepower against a man who is attempting to defy Father Time. At 61, Simson has remained consistently competitive. In the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur, he was 2-under-par in losing to eventual winner Nathan Smith 2 & 1 in the first round of match play.
“I don’t think about age,” said Simson, who lives in Raleigh, N.C. “I’m just going to keep playing as long as I can.”
In Thursday’s 18-hole final, Simson will go against 55-year-old Curtis Skinner of Lake Bluff, Ill. Simson is an insurance agent, while Skinner is a futures broker. Because they reached the Senior Am final, both players already have earned 2013 exemptions to the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Amateur.
Skinner defeated Doug Hanzel of Savannah, Ga., 2 & 1 in the semifinal round. Hanzel, a physician in Savannah, Ga., was 3-down before he won 13, 14 and 15 to square the match. At 16, Skinner responded by hitting an 8-iron to 4 feet and making the birdie putt. He then won 17 with a par to end the match.
It was a crazy day for Skinner, who technically won three matches on Wednesday. He finished his second round match, suspended by darkness on Tuesday, by beating Canadian Graham Cooke with a par on the first extra hole. Then he defeated Steve Golliher of Knoxville, Tenn., 2 & 1 in the quarterfinals before taking on Hanzel in the semifinals.
Knoll, a salesman for a printing company and the Northern California Senior Player of the Year in both 2011 and 2012, defeated defending champion Louis Lee 2-up on Wednesday morning before losing to Simson in the afternoon.
Knoll said he felt like a winner. He played extremely well, and his phone and email account both overflowed with messages from family and well-wishers.
“Losing to Paul is nothing to be ashamed of,” Knoll said. “I think everybody knows this. He is a fabulous golfer.”
Simson can be an imposing figure. In Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, his opponent, Stephen Sharpe, was 5-down through 10 holes and decided to concede the match so he could catch an airline flight to his home in Greensboro, N.C.
Because of persistent rainfall, competition was suspended with Simson and Sharpe playing the 11th hole. Rather than wait out a long delay, which turned out to be more than an hour, Sharpe waved a white flag of surrender.
In his previous appearance Senior Amateur victory in 2010, Simson defeated Pat Tallent 2 & 1 at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, Fla.