CHAMPIONS
North Carolinian will get strong test from field, Kinloch Golf Club in September May 6, 2011 By Andrew Blair

Paul Simson has relished being a USGA champion and he will try to keep his Senior Amateur title in September when he defends at Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Manakin-Sabot, Va. – Paul Simson, the 2010 USGA Senior Amateur titleholder, admits that he’s still enjoying the designation reigning champion.

It’s been nearly seven months since the Raleigh, N.C., resident defeated northern Virginian Pat Tallent, 2 and 1, in the Senior Amateur’s deciding encounter at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, Fla., to notch his first USGA triumph.

These days, Simson, 59, says that it has been nearly impossible to stop smiling after he completed a career-altering 55-day stretch in 2010. During that span, he won the British and Canadian amateurs before completing the memorable run by taking home the USGA title that he’d long sought.

Simson, one of the nation’s premier senior amateurs, was still grinning ear to ear at USGA Senior Amateur media day, held on May 6 at Kinloch Golf Club. The tony private club, just outside Richmond, Va., will host this year’s national championship, Sept 10-15. Simson was joined at the session by the past two Senior Amateur victors in club founder and central Virginian Vinny Giles, the champion in 2009, and George Buddy Marucci Jr., the winner in 2008 and the USA Walker Cup Team captain in 2007 and 2009.

Any top-notch competitor will likely acknowledge that winning any national championship is a landmark achievement. But collecting three in less than the three months? Come on. When he thinks about being the first golfer to hold the three senior national amateur titles in the same rotation, Simson can only allow the sweet taste of victory to resonate.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder, ‘Did it actually happen?’ Simson said. A friend of mine [Tim Jackson] told me, ‘It won’t sink in until around Christmas.’ And he was right. Around Christmas, I was sitting back, holding a glass of red wine in my hand, and it started to sink in.

For the past two champions, Simson and Giles, winning the Senior Amateur proved to be a seminal moment in their storied amateur careers. Giles, the 1972 U.S. Amateur champion, noted that the only significant title missing from his trophy case was the USGA Senior Amateur, a craving fulfilled in 2009 when he drained an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Chicago’s Beverly Country Club. 

The same goes for Simson. He’d played in nearly every USGA championship for which he’s been eligible since qualifying for the U.S. Junior in 1967. The wait finally ended last year – and the win came with plenty of perks.  

With his triumph, he’s exempt into the next 10 Senior Amateurs. Longing to compete in the U.S. Senior Open, he’s exempt into this year’s championship, which will be conducted July 28-31 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. A week earlier, he’ll start at the British Senior Open Championship, set for July 21-24 at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England.

Right At Home
 The Senior Amateur is on Giles’ home turf this fall as the championship makes its first visit to Kinloch, which opened in 2001. The Virginia amateur legend helped to found the club with C.B. Robertson III.

Once planned as a daily-fee layout, Giles remembered walking the layout after the acreage was cleared and knowing, almost intrinsically, that they had a special plot of property with a 70-acre lake serving as the centerpiece of the golf-centered exclusive club.

His hunch proved to be correct. Already a course with a rare maturity to it, the Lester George design has consistently been ranked among the top 50 tracks in the U.S. USGA officials intend to take full advantage of the high shot value characteristics inherent at Kinloch as the commonwealth welcomes its 18th USGA championship. (Two days after the Senior Amateur concludes, the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur will get underway at Bayville Golf Club in Virginia Beach.)

Players are routinely treated to what the club and patrons refer to as The Kinloch Experience, in which the every need of golfers is attended to, seemingly hand and foot.

From a setup standpoint, competitors can expect a slight departure from the cozy confines of Kinloch. Stretching to between 6,750 and 6,800 yards, the course will likely play as the longest (yardage-wise) Senior Amateur venue in the past six years, said Ben Kimball, the USGA’s  staff-in-charge for the championship.

That said, officials admitted they’d be foolish to discard the multiple shot-option flavor and the course’s emphasis on strategy, especially at two short par 4s, Nos. 4 and 15.  

It’s an amazing piece of property, Kimball said. It’s really going to make players think. It’s going to be a physical test as well as a mental test, so at the end of the week, we’ll have a great national champion.

Typical of any USGA setup, Kimball added, We’ve got some other tricks up our sleeve.

A veteran of national, regional and state championships, Giles, 68, said the Senior Amateur is the perfect event to showcase Kinloch.

The national championship is part endurance test. After two days of stroke-play qualifying, there are six rounds of match play, culminating with the scheduled 18-hole final. Giles is confident that when all factors are combined the best player will be identified at the conclusion on Sept. 15.

The championship will be tremendously successful, he said. I think, depending on the weather, the advantage will be with the big hitters, favoring the guy who can keep the ball in the air for a long time.

That’s good news for Simson, who navigated the uncertainties of match play by complementing length with accuracy to wear down opponents last year. Having played the Kinloch layout on multiple occasions, including in a competitive environment at regional team matches, the Tar Heel said he feels comfortable on Virginia soil.

In a newfound position as the event’s defending champion, Simson said it’s a moniker he more than welcomes.

This is going to be a tremendous venue, said Simson. I’m really looking forward to it.

Andrew Blair is the communications director for the Virginia State Golf Association whose articles have appeared on USGA websites.