WEST CALDWELL, N.J. – What you get with Paul Simson of Raleigh, N.C., is an unimposing guy who looks like somebody snatched him off a bar stool and deposited him onto a golf course.
On appearance alone, the 61-year-old Simson will never be fingered as a great athlete. Yet, because of his consistency and longevity, he is without question one of the best amateur golfers ever. With his victory Thursday in the 2012 USGA Senior Amateur – a 4-and-3 triumph over Curtis Skinner of Lake Bluff, Ill. – Simson further enhanced his stature in golf history.
From the U.S. Junior to the U.S. Senior Open, Simson has played in 55 national championships. He has won two, the Senior Amateur in 2010 and now this one.
Simson is a shrimp of a golfer, not quite 6 feet tall and with a little pot belly. He likes wearing shorts, the better to show off his bird legs. He wears a straw hat when the sun is out, or a baseball cap in the rain.
Because the weather here at Mountain Ridge Country Club alternated between rain, sun, rain, fog and more rain, he was constantly changing hats.
With his revolving hats and impish smile, Simson clearly does not look like a tough guy.
He doesn’t talk like a tough guy, either. During his victory speech at Mountain Ridge, he choked up and became teary-eyed when talking about his wife, Chris. And she wasn’t even there.
Well, forget all that. On the golf course, Simson is the toughest of tough guys.
He served up a perfect example Thursday on the 12th hole, a drivable par 4 with water, bunkers and 6-inch rough. Simson had just parred the difficult 11th hole to go 2 up on Skinner, and he walked to the 12th tee with driver in hand.
“I couldn’t believe it,’ Skinner said. “He’s 2 up, and he’s going to take on all that trouble.”
This was Simson’s way of going for the kill. He may look harmless, but his actions on the golf course speak otherwise.
Here’s how precise Simson can be: He calculated the carry over the water hazard at 255 yards, while he knew “my carry distance with a halfway decent hit is 262 yards.”
So he hit driver and carried the water by, oh, 4 or 5 yards. The ball lay in heavy, tangled grass. It appeared to be slightly imbedded in the soft turf, although it was surrounded by thick, tangled grass.
Bill Katz, the USGA Executive Committee member in charge of this Senior Amateur, checked with the referee and a roving rules official to make sure the ball was imbedded (under the Rules of Golf, all it takes is one dimple to be imbedded).
Sure enough, Simson was allowed to clean and drop the ball without penalty. He almost holed the resulting chip shot and made an easy birdie. Meanwhile, Skinner hit 6-iron off the tee, wedge to 18 feet, then missed the putt.
“I was very surprised he laid up off the tee,” Simson said. “He really couldn’t afford to lose that hole.”
Simson was 3 up and in a dominant position. He would birdie the 14th with a 22-foot putt to go 4 up, and the match ended when both players parred 15. Simson, as is his style, played the entire way without a glove.
For a national championship, this match attracted precious few people. Too bad, because Mountain Ridge is an extraordinarily scenic course with a rich history. It was designed by Donald Ross and, thanks to architect Ron Prichard, has been modernized in a fashion that is largely faithful to Ross.
Shortly after 8 a.m., heading down the first fairway, the gallery of 19 included two players, two caddies, three USGA officials, one scorekeeper, four spectators and seven journalists.
Simson, the Carolina curmudgeon, was the main attraction. He may growl on the golf course or try to step on his opponent’s neck, but at the same time he exhibits the gregarious manner of a man who would invite his grandkids to ride on his back.
On this day, the only riding was done by Simson, who took a cart. Skinner elected to walk.
How skillful was Simson? At one point during the weeklong championship, he played 36 consecutive holes without a bogey. In the final match, he had four birdies, one three-putt bogey and 10 pars in 15 holes. He hit 14 of 15 greens in regulation.
After it was all over, Simson took off to join his wife in the West Virginia mountains. Skinner, meanwhile, was still in the Mountain Ridge clubhouse some three hours after the match ended.
No matter that Skinner lost. “I went against a legendary golfer, and I lost,” Skinner said. “But I played pretty well this week (winning five matches on the way to the final). So, sure, I’m celebrating.”
You know a golfer is truly talented when his opponents celebrate after losing to him. It may be the ultimate compliment.
• • •
Both players in the final of the USGA Senior Amateur used Titleist AP2 irons, and both played the Titleist Pro V1 ball. The remaining clubs were a mix from several companies.
Paul Simson’s bag: TaylorMade R11S driver (9), TaylorMade V-Steel 3-wood (13), TaylorMade R11 4-wood (17), Adams Idea hybrid (20), Titleist AP2 irons (4-PW), Cleveland 588 wedges (54, 60), Ping Zing putter, Titleist Pro V1 ball.
Curtis Skinner’s bag: Titleist 910D2 driver (10.5), Sonartec 3-wood (15), Ben Hogan hybrids (19, 21), Titleist AP2 irons (4-PW), Titleist Vokey Design wedges (54, 58), Nike Black Oz putter, Titleist Pro V1 ball.
• • •
ROUND OF 64
Jim Holtgrieve def. Patrick Tallent, 4 and 3
Gerardo Ramirez def. Jeff Burda, 2 and 1
Stephen Sharpe def. Doug Ritter, 5 and 3
Mike Rice def. Michael Stephens, 2 and 1
Joe Russo def. Stephen Fox, 20 holes
Leif Carlson def. Robert Baker, 1 up
Paul Simson def. Steve Rogers, 1 up
Kevin Carey def. Grady Brame Sr., 5 and 4
Louis Lee def. Martin West, 3 and 2
Jay Blumenfeld def. Doug Potter, 5 and 4
Donald Detweiler def. Terry Werner, 2 up
David Jacobsen def. David Talcott, 6 and 5
Jim Knoll def. Chip Lutz, 1 up
Sam Till Jr. def. Emile Vaughan, 2 and 1
Mike Gravley def. Jim Rollefson, 3 and 1
Steven Ford def. Casey Boyns, 20 holes
Pat O’Donnell def. Stanley Kinsey, 1 up
Owen Joyner def. Gary Vanier, 3 and 2
George Zahringer def. David Szewczul, 1 up
James Pearson def. Ron Vannelli, 2 up
Mark Bemowski def. Greg Osborne, 3 and 2
Douglas Hanzel def. Brady Exber, 21 holes
Hunter Nelson def. Rick Woulfe, 22 holes
Randal Lewis def. Dennis Vaughn, 3 and 1
Steve Golliher def. Neil Spitalny,, 2 and 1
John Ervasti def. David Mooty, 3 and 1
Gary Hardin def. John Grace, 3 and 2
David Pulk def. Roger Brown, 2 up
Graham Cooke def. Don Marsh, 1 up
Douglas Pool def. Douglas Farr, 6 and 4
Curtis Skinner def. Kemp Richardson, 19 holes
Greg Reynolds def. Mike Booker, 2 and 1
ROUND OF 32
Gerardo Ramirez def. Jim Holtgrieve, 2 and 1
Stephen Sharpe def. Mike Rice, 4 and 2
Joe Russo def. Leif Carlson, 6 and 5
Paul Simson def. Kevin Carey, 6 and 5
Louis Lee def. Jay Blumenfeld, 6 and 4
Donald Detweiler def. David Jacobsen, 2 and 1
Jim Knoll def. Sam Till Jr., 1 up
Steven Ford def. Mike Gravley, 4 and 2
Pat O’Donnell def. Owen Joyner, 22 holes
James Pearson def. George Zahringer, 1 up
Douglas Hanzel def. Mark Bemowski, 3 and 2
Randal Lewis def. Hunter Nelson, 1 up
Steve Golliher def. John Ervasti, 3 and 1
Gary Hardin def. David Pulk, 2 up
Graham Cooke def. Douglas Pool, 4 and 3
Curtis Skinner def. Greg Reynolds, 3 and 2
ROUND OF 16
Stephen Sharpe def. Gerardo Ramirez, 1 up
Paul Simson def. Joe Russo, 2 and 1
Louis Lee def. Donald Detweiler, 3 and 2
Jim Knoll def. Steven Ford, 3 and 2
Pat O’Donnell def. James Pearson, 1 up
Douglas Hanzel def. Randal Lewis, 4 and 3
Steve Golliher def. Gary Hardin, 3 and 2
Curtis Skinner def. Graham Cooke, 19 holes
Paul Simson def. Stephen Sharpe, conceded
Jim Knoll def. Louis Lee, 2 up
Douglas Hanzel def. Pat O’Donnell, 3 and 1
Curtis Skinner def. Steve Golliher, 2 and 1
Paul Simson def. Jim Knoll, 3 and 2
Curtis Skinner def. Douglas Hanzel, 2 and 1
Paul Simson def. Curtis Skinner, 4 and 3