Simson, 60, in contention at Mid-Am

Paul Simson

RICHMOND, Texas - Make way and don’t count out the “old guy.”

At this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, that would be Paul Simson.

With the average age of the 264 player starting field being 37.09, it’s been the 60-year-old insurance agent from Raleigh, N.C., who has been turning some heads during the first two days of stroke-play qualifying in this 31st national championship for players 25 years and older.

After completing his final two holes of the weather delayed first round Sunday morning at The Houstonian Golf Club - the last with a bogey - Simson held the early lead at 5-under 67. He moved over to Shadow Hawk Golf Club for his second round, shot a 1-over 73 to stand at 4-under 140 and easily qualify for the 64-player match-play portion of the event, which begins Monday.

“I was really trying to get the (qualifying) medal,” Simson said shortly after completing his round. “It really would have been neat to get the medal at the (U.S.) Senior Am (which ended last week) and do it again here. I don’t think anyone has ever done that.”

It would not come to be, however.

Shortly after Simson finished and just before another afternoon thunderstorm swept through the area and halted play, former three-time Clemson All-America John Engler came in as the leader in the clubhouse with a 5-under 139 total.

The left-handed Engler, 32, of Augusta, Ga., followed his opening round 4-under 68 (eight birdies, two bogeys, one double bogey) at Shadow Hawk with a 1-under 71 (three birdies, two bogeys) at The Houstonian.

“Even though I haven’t been practicing much because I’ve been working more, I’ve been playing well lately,” said Engler, who played the Nationwide Tour and two years on the PGA Tour (2006-’07) before regaining his amateur status in 2010. “Before coming here I went to see my teacher Todd Anderson and we worked on a few things. And right now I’m driving the ball well and putting well, which is a good combination in USGA events.”

Engler was involved in an auto accident in 2003 and among injuries he suffered was one to his right ankle, which still causes problems from time to time. He came back from that by earning his PGA Tour card and playing the 2006 season, but when the ankle began causing problems again, he dropped off the Tour in mid-season ‘07.

“You would think that playing golf would really affect it (ankle),” Engler said. “But it’s fine when I’m playing. It’s the walking that really is the difficult part.

“I still do physical therapy and work out a lot and overall it’s holding up pretty good,” said Engler as he was leaving the course to “put the ankle up and give it some rest because hopefully it will be a long week (in match play).”

For the second consecutive day, weather issues plagued the Mid-Amateur. Play was suspended at 1:55 p.m. (CDT) for 3 hours, 45 minutes. The competitors in the morning wave were able to complete their second and final round of qualifying. It didn’t appear that any golfers in the afternoon wave were going to finish prior to darkness.

For Simson, though, advancing to match play at this stage in his life is another feather in his already stellar cap.

“Hey, I’m quite happy to make match play,” said Simson, who last year hit the big trifecta of senior amateur golf, becoming the first player to capture the U.S., British and Canadian Amateur titles. “I played really solid yesterday and played well today. I just didn’t hit it that close today and didn’t make as many putts.”

His opening round consisted of seven birdies and a pair of bogeys and he followed with a more conventional one-birdie, two-bogey second round.

While this is Simson’s 15th U.S. Mid-Amateur, it is, oddly enough, his first since 2004 when he was co-medalist at Sea Island, Ga. His best finishes in this championship were the semis in 1991 and 1998.

The reason for most of that was while the bulk of the Mid-Am qualifying was going on in the U.S., he was overseas competing in the British Senior Am.

“It just never really worked out with my schedule,” he said.

This year Simson, who in 2010 was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the Carolinas Golf of Fame, was exempt from U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifying via his win last year in the Senior Amateur.

It’s been quite a busy summer for Simson, especially on the senior side of things. He played in both the British and U.S. Senior Opens, making the cut at the British, and on the amateur side was medalist and quarterfinalist at the U.S. Senior and second at the Canadian Senior. He also won the North Carolina Senior Amateur and the North & South Senior Am.

And, like he’s done so far this week, he’s proven there is still plenty of flight left in the old dog against his younger counterparts, some who could be his grandchildren.

Simson tied for 34th at the Northeast Amateur was advanced to the Sweet 16 and the North & South Amateur.

“I still have decent length (260-270 off the tee) and still have a good short game,” Simson said. “I absolutely feel I can compete with these (younger) guys. I still can give them a run for the money.”

For the most part, Simson said he won’t change his mindset much heading into match play.

“Sure there are times when you change your strategy depending on what your opponent is doing, but for the most part in match play I just try to play the golf course,” he said. “I’m a lot shorter (off tee) than these guys so most of the time I’m hitting (second shot) first. But I’m usually knocking it on the green and putting pressure on the other guy.”

One thing Simson knows as he heads into Monday’s opening round of match play - “I probably can’t sneak up on anyone anymore.

“There was a time when (an opponent) would see me as this old, pudgy guy and figure he would walk all over me,” Simson said.

Well, he is a little older and he’s still a bit plump around the middle.

He’s 60 years old and he’s still ready to rumble this week among the best of the mid-amateur contingent. And you can be assured, after all these year’s, Paul Simson is still nobody’s walk over.

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