||Scott Simpson focuses on a target Thursday. He's coming off a broken left wrist. (John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. – A golf championship is a long, physically taxing, mentally draining athletic exercise that unfolds methodically over the course of four rounds and – if all progresses as planned – four days. Contrarily, however, the fortunes of the competitors can turn in an instant, from one shot, one false move, one unlucky twist of fate.
Of course, life can be like that, too.
Come what may in this 30th U.S. Senior Open, Scott Simpson is prepared to handle it. He is a veteran of the golf trenches and is a tempered major champion, having bested Tom Watson more than 20 years ago to win the 1987 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Whether or not Simpson can build upon his opening 4-under-par 68 when he ventures out this morning at Crooked Stick Golf Club is a storyline worth following – not because of any past exploits on the course, but rather because of existential adversity that until recently had kept him away from it.
Simpson, 53, is competing in just his fourth event of the year, having been sidelined by a broken left wrist that he suffered in an automobile accident Jan. 17 on a two-lane road near his home north of San Diego. An elderly woman veered left of center on West Bernardo Road and struck Simpson's GMC Envoy head on. Miraculously, other than the fractured bone in his wrist and a few bruises, Simpson wasn't badly hurt. His miniature schnauzer, Gracie, who was riding in the passenger seat, suffered internal injuries, but she eventually recovered.
The woman, who Simpson said was in her mid-80s, died a day later.
"I definitely count my blessings. It all happened in a blink of an eye," said Simpson, who was in a cast for 12 weeks and didn't start hitting balls again until May. "You look at all that's happened lately to people in the game, what happened to Ken Green and Chris Smith … I am obviously very lucky that I came out of it relatively OK."
Green, a fellow Champions Tour player, lost his brother, girlfriend and his pet German shepherd in an RV accident in June. A week after the accident, Green had to have his right leg amputated. Smith's wife, Beth, was killed on Father's Day in an auto accident in Indiana that also critically injured their two children. A winner on the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour, Smith has left the game indefinitely.
"It happened so quick, I looked to veer right, but there was a barricade right on the edge of the road, so I tried to whip it left, but at the last minute she saw me and went back the other way and hit me," Simpson said. "Immediately after, people got us out of the cars, and she was talking, but I guess there were some internal injuries. I was shocked when I found out she had died. Really sad."
In the scheme of things, being sidelined from golf wasn't a hardship. "Being home was not the worst place to be, honestly," said Simpson, who underwent rehabilitation after getting the cast removed. "But eventually you want to get back out here, do what you love to do, what you need to do for a living."
Simpson isn't a flashy player. His swing has been described as "wooden," and he doesn't have the power of Watson or Greg Norman. But he is a competitor, and he manages his game well.
He showed that last week at the Senior British Open at Sunningdale, in England, where he tied for 13th. He played the third round with Watson, who inspired Simpson and many other Champions Tour players with his stirring run at the British Open two weeks ago at Turnberry.
Simpson may have beaten Watson at Olympic, but he is just as much a fan of the Hall of Fame golfer as many other people are. On Thursday, Simpson's group played behind Watson's threesome. Many of the central Indiana fans followed in Watson's wake, leaving few to watch Simpson cobble together a solid round – he hit 11 of 14 fairways and 14 greens – that put him only two behind the leaders.
"If I were buying a ticket, I'd watch Tom Watson, too," said Simpson with a shrug and a laugh.
But if Simpson continues to get the feel back in his game, he'll be worth watching as well. He's getting closer.
"I just played solid. I had a good day. I hit a lot of fairways and hit a lot of good irons. Made some putts, and that hasn't been a strong suit for me of late. It's been harder than I thought; I was hoping to come back quicker. Scoring, playing under the gun … it takes a while to get used to it. You look at someone like Greg Norman, what he does playing hardly at all, that's amazing.
"I definitely feel encouraged, very much so," Simpson added. "We'll see if it holds up. All I know is I'm just happy to be here and playing again, and I'm enjoying this. It's great. It's all good."
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.