West Caldwell, N.J. – Thomas Wolfe might have written, “You can’t go home again,” but Paul Simson never believed it.
It certainly didn’t hold true this past week at the 58th USGA Senior Amateur Championship at Mountain Ridge Country Club, where Simson claimed his second championship for golfers 55 and older with a 4-and-3 victory on Thursday over Curtis Skinner.
A longtime resident of Raleigh, N.C., Simson, 61, spent his childhood in Chatham, N.J., about a 25-minute drive from Mountain Ridge. He graduated from The Pingry School, then located in Hillside, N.J., and now situated in Martinsville in Bridgewater Township, before leaving the Garden State to attend the University of New Mexico.
But so much of Simson’s character and livelihood was shaped in Chatham and at Fairmount Country Club. His parents were members at Fairmount. It’s where he learned the game and met his wife.
“It was Simson Family History 101,” said Phillip Simson, Paul’s 31-year-old son who has caddied for his father in both of his Senior Amateur victories (2010 and 2012). “It was special to see this week.”
On Sunday afternoon following his final stroke-play qualifying round, Simson, who was born in Summit, N.J., and his son visited the family cemetery plot. They went back to his old neighborhood and met old friends. They drove to Fairmount and made a beeline for the ninth green, where Paul first spotted his future wife, Chris. Behind the ninth green is where Paul proposed to Chris and where they posed for wedding pictures.
Simson’s golf history in the Garden State can be traced to his great grandfather, Henry Feucthwanger, who was the club champion at Madison Golf Club in 1909 and 1910 and at Canoe Brook Country Club in 1917. His grandfather was also a club champion at Madison, for Simson discovered his medal among his mother’s belongings.
At Fairmount, Simson was the club champion in 1967 and 1969 and his mother won the women’s title in 1968.
“Fairmount has been very good to us,” said Simson. “It’s neat that there is a heritage of good golf in my family.”
Growing up, Fairmount had strict rules regarding junior golfers. Simson said he couldn’t play the course before 4 p.m. until his handicap dropped to “10 or 12.” He spent hours on the practice putting green and driving range, honing his skills to the point where nobody wanted to challenge him to short-game contests.
“I learned a lot of good habits as far as how to play the game and good etiquette,” said Simson.
Simson eventually moved from New Jersey, first attending the University of New Mexico because of its strong golf facilities and solid business program, then settling in Dallas after graduation. His insurance company transferred him to Raleigh in 1979, and he has been in the Tar Heel State ever since.
Interestingly, Simson had competed in just one previous USGA championship in northern New Jersey prior to this week. The 1985 U.S. Amateur was conducted at Montclair Country Club, where he lost in the round of 16 to Peter Persons, 4 and 3. Simson never qualified for any of the several U.S. Opens in the area, nor did he qualify for the 2004 U.S. Amateur at Winged Foot.
But Simson had an inkling something special would happen this week. A nagging thigh injury that had hampered him most of the summer was finally healed. And he was at Mountain Ridge, a course he had occasionally played in the late 1960s while at The Pingry School. Although the Donald Ross layout had been recently renovated, the routing was basically the same as Simson remembered it.
“You always experience some of what I call ‘travel trauma’ wherever you go,” said Simson, “but it was minimized this week because I was among friends.”
“It was really special to have this week with him up here,” said Phillip, whose third wedding anniversary to wife Laura was Wednesday. The couple plans to celebrate the occasion on Friday night. “I know this [victory] means a lot to the family being from New Jersey and growing up here.”
Simson’s golf was spectacular. He was the equivalent of 20 under par, with concessions, for his six matches, only one of which reached the 18th hole. His bogey on the fifth hole in Thursday’s final ended his consecutive holes without a bogey at 36.
When the match ended at the 15th hole, Simson smiled and hugged his son. Phillip, who runs a promotional products business, is a solid 2-handicap golfer, but doesn’t play to the level his father does. He has enjoyed carrying the bag in major events such as the 1998 U.S. Open, numerous U.S. Senior Opens and British Senior Opens and all seven of his father’s USGA Senior Amateur appearances.
“It’s incredible,” said Phillip of this most recent victory. “Words can’t describe it.”
“I can’t believe I played this much golf and I can’t even talk,” said Simson, choking up. “We went by all the houses where I grew up … pretty cool stuff.”
It was a perfect homecoming, indeed.
Odds And Ends
This was finalist Curtis Skinner’s fourth USGA championship, but the first time he had made reached match play. Before making his run this week, Skinner said a major highlight was qualifying to play the 2011 U.S. Senior Open at Inverness, where he missed playing the weekend by one shot. “That was one ride that I really enjoyed,” he said… Skinner doesn’t have a so-called “home club” in Chicago, but he keeps his handicap at Pine Meadow. He lives a few miles from Conway Farms, site of last month’s U.S. Mid-Amateur. …Skinner, a Chicago native, attended Southern Methodist University in the late 1970s and his fraternity house was adjacent to the fraternity where the late two-time U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart was a member. Skinner said he wasn’t a good enough golfer to play for the Mustangs …Simson did play in the Mid-Amateur and lost a 2-and-1 first-round match to eventual winner Nathan Smith, despite shooting two under par for 17 holes. “I like to tell people that I finished second,” said Simson, laughing. “He just played a great match.”… Among those in the gallery on Thursday were 20-time Mountain Ridge club champion Jay Blumenfeld and 2012 U.S. Amateur match-play qualifier Andrew Biggadike, a Belmont, Calif., resident who has been temporarily living in nearby Ridgewood. Biggadike was helping to take care of his father, who passed away in late August from pancreatic cancer. Biggadike, who represented California in the recent USGA Men’s State Team Championship at Galloway National G.C. in Galloway Township, N.J., said he will likely be moving back to Northern California at the end of this month. Biggadike lost in the first round of the Amateur to 2012 Senior Amateur semifinalist Doug Hanzel… Blumenfeld and Simson are longtime friends and they sat together for the Senior Amateur’s annual Sweet 16 Dinner on Tuesday night at Mountain Ridge. “Jay Blumenfeld was a very good host this week,” said Phillip Simson… Next year’s Senior Amateur will be conducted at Wade Hampton G.C. in Cashiers, N.C., though Simson won’t have an advantage. “I have never played there,” he said … Both finalists are exempt into the 2013 U.S. Senior Open (Omaha C.C.) and 2013 U.S. Amateur (The Country Club). Simson receives an exemption into the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur (C.C. of Birmingham). Skinner, who keeps his handicap at a public course, is also exempt into the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Laurel Hill G.C. in Lorton, Va.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.