Orlando, Fla. – Baseball has a triple crown – the leader in home runs, batting average and runs batted in for the same season – although nobody has achieved the feat in 43 years.
Horse racing also offers up a Triple Crown for any 3-year-old who can take the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes over a six-week period. That title hasn’t been claimed since Affirmed in 1978, a span of 32 years.
Golf? It doesn’t have a triple crown, but winning four majors in a single year constitutes the Grand Slam. Only Bob Jones in 1930 has produced such a feat, taking the U.S. and British Opens, and U.S. and British Amateurs in 1930, for arguably the greatest individual year by an amateur golfer.
In 2002, Tiger Woods became only the second player in history to capture the national Open titles for the United States, Great Britain and Canada, joining Lee Trevino from 1971.
Now Paul Simson can be added to that list from the senior golf perspective. The 59-year-old from Raleigh, N.C., achieved the 55-and-over set’s version of a triple crown by claiming the British, Canadian and USGA Senior Amateur golf championships in a single season. The latter achievement came on a sun-splashed Thursday at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, where Simson defeated stroke-play medalist Pat Tallent of Vienna, Va., 2 and 1, in the 18-hole final.
Whenever you are a champion of a country, it’s something special, said Simson, who won the Canadian by a whopping 15 strokes. Winning the Canadian was a huge thrill for me. But to win the USGA Senior, as far as senior golf, nothing really compares. It is the granddaddy.
I think Jim Nugent with Global Golf [Post] said it’s the crowning jewel. And it’s the crowning jewel for me. It’s a very special thing. To win all three, I just can’t believe it’s happened.
A veteran of 48 USGA championships, Simson has played in every USGA event for which he’s been eligible since qualifying for the U.S. Junior Amateur in 1967. He’s played in 14 U.S. Amateurs and 14 U.S. Mid-Amateurs, reaching the semifinals twice. He qualified for the 1998 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club and played in five U.S. Senior Opens. He even played in the inaugural USGA Men’s State Team Championship at Lake Nona in 1995. He’s been an alternate for the USA Walker Cup and World Amateur Teams.
On a more regional level, he’s twice won the Carolinas Amateur and prestigious North and South Amateur.
Basically, Simson had achieved everything in golf but win a USGA title. The 2010 USGA Senior Amateur title becomes almost a Lifetime Achievement Award for one of the country’s best amateur golfers over the past four decades. Trip Kuehne (2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur) and George Buddy Marucci (2008 Senior Amateur) completed similar feats.
Simson, arguably, has been one of the world’s best senior amateurs since turning 55, and now he finally has that championship.
Winning the Senior Amateur had been a struggle, despite being medalist three times in his four previous appearances. He could never even get past the quarterfinals.
But this year was different from the outset. Not only did Simson shoot a 3-under 69 in the final round of qualifying, but he only trailed for two out of the 93 holes in the match-play portion. In his six matches, Simson was the equivalent of eight under par, with the usual concessions. He was under par in four of the six matches, including the final, where he was three under through 17 holes.
Tallent, a former basketball player at George Washington, probably wished he could have just intentionally fouled his opponent. When Simson holed a long birdie putt at No. 7, Tallent just shook his head, mumbling to himself, What am I supposed to do, tackle him? When we used to play basketball if you couldn’t beat them, you’d whip’em. That was kind of our strategy. I think the people [watching] would have been disappointed in me if I did that.
Simson’s modus operandi all week was to jump on opponents early. And he did that in all but one match. In the quarterfinals, Tim Miller had a brief 1-up lead at the outset before Simson eventually pulled away. Against Curt Knorr in the first round, Simson was three under at the turn and 5 up in the match.
[Knorr] told me I heard you were a good putter, but this is ridiculous, said Simson laughing. Every time I putted one it looked like it was going in and he would just shake his head. I think he got so frustrated he gave me about a 5-footer to win the match on the 13th hole. He just said, ‘Pick it up, I’ve seen enough.’
But I played all week. Every single match I played solid. When you are two, three or four up through 10, 11, 12 holes, it makes it pretty easy to play that back nine. [North Carolina amateur great] Kelly Miller hung a title on me that my putter has crippled more people than polio. My short game has been very good to me in many instances. Just look at what I did today over the first seven holes.
Thanks to a couple of surprising misses by Tallent, Simson enjoyed a 4-up advantage after 12 holes before Tallent stuffed a tee shot into the par-3 13th for a winning birdie. Tallent missed a 5-footer to win the 15th hole and Simson blocked his approach to No. 16 to lose with his lone bogey of the round.
But at No. 17, Simson hit a stock 6-iron to 30 feet below the hole and coaxed his birdie putt to within inches. Seconds later, Tallent’s hat was off and he was congratulating the new champion.
He played great, said Tallent, who was vying to be the first stroke-play medalist to win the Senior Amateur since John Richardson in 1987. I missed four [big] putts and that’s what it comes down to in match play.
Simson, meanwhile, will be making room in his extremely large trophy collection for the Senior Amateur Championship Trophy.
You can bet he’ll find an appropriate spot for this beautiful piece of hardware.
I don’t know where we’re going to put this one, he said. But it’s a real special thing.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.