U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Interview With Two-Time Champion Paul Simson
August 22, 2019
By David Shefter, USGA
Two-time U.S. Senior Amateur champion Paul Simson stopped by the USGA Museum in Liberty Corner, N.J., in May to show his wife, Chris, the Hall of Champions. Simson, who in 2010 claimed the U.S., British and Canadian Senior Amateur titles, is excited about playing in this year’s U.S. Senior Amateur at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C., which is not far from his residence in Raleigh. During his Museum visit, the 68-year-old, who grew up in nearby Summit, N.J., chatted with USGA senior staff writer David Shefter about competing in USGA championships and what it means to be a champion:
Question: When you walk into the Hall of Champions as a USGA champion, what thoughts come to mind?
Simson: You almost lose consciousness for all the history that’s here. It’s so overwhelming. I don’t know if that’s the way it is for a ‘normal’ person coming in here, but to have your name [on two of the plaques] and you look down and see [1989 U.S. Amateur champion] Chris Patton, you see [1990 U.S. Amateur champion] Phil Mickelson, you see [two-time U.S. Open champion] Curtis Strange, you see [1988 U.S. Junior Amateur champion] Jason Widener, who I know. [1987 U.S. Open] champion Scott Simpson. [1988 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion] David Eger. You forget that you know that many people through golf. And the extended family is just outstanding. Go back to 1986 and [U.S. Amateur champion] Buddy Alexander, who recently retired as the golf coach at the University of Florida, and Raymond Floyd was the U.S. Open champion that year. And Billy Mayfair was the [U.S.] Amateur Public Links champion. There are just so many names and so many memories that just keep flooding back.
Q: How long have you had an association with USGA championships?
Simson: I played my first USGA championship in 1967, the U.S. Junior [Amateur] at Twin Hills Club in Oklahoma City. That’s 52 years.
Q: What makes USGA championships so special?
Simson: The history and all the great names. So many great champions and so many great people. They’re great champions, but they are also really great people. That’s what keeps me coming back.
Q: Do you ever run into people you competed against in that first U.S. Junior in 1967?
Simson: I still meet some of the guys I played there. I beat [future professional] Forrest Fezler in the second round. There were some real characters back then. Then I started competing a lot more in the 1980s. I think my next USGA event was not until 1985. And since then, I think I’ve played in 66 now. So it’s been quite a ride.
Q: Are these championships the biggest events for you each summer?
Simson: I haven’t gotten any of those letters [from the USGA] saying I don’t have the game to qualify. I am still very competitive. I look forward to playing in every single one of them. I played in the [U.S.] Amateur last year at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. I missed the cut by seven strokes, but at least I was competitive. I played there in 1999 and made the cut. Then I beat [1991 champion] Mitch Voges in the first round [of match play]. I’ve not had the success I’ve always wanted to have, but I have had some success in a lot of the championships.
Q: You did win two U.S. Senior Amateur titles, which would make a lot of guys envious. What does it mean to have multiple titles?
Simson: It was a thrill to get the first one, especially in such a special year as 2010 was for me. Getting the second one [in 2012] was a validation for me that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan. And I almost got another one [in 2017]. I’m still searching [for a third]. I still have a horseshoe.
Q: Other than the two that you won, is there a special moment from any of your other championship appearances?
Simson: I can remember every single one of them. Just to digress a little bit, my dad, when he was alive, would go to all of the USGA events that I qualified for. We would always do something special outside of golf at each championship. When the [U.S.] Mid-Am was at Prairie Dunes [in 1988], I had an early round on Sunday and I qualified [for match play] fairly easily, so we decided to do something. He had seen this salt mine near Prairie Dunes. We pulled off the road and there was nobody in the office, so we just got in the elevator and went down about 600 feet into the salt mine. The foreman was there and asked what we were doing there. He told us we don’t do tours. I told him I was there for the U.S. Mid-Amateur and he said, “Oh, you’re a golfer.” So guess what? He gave us a tour.
Q: Now you take your son Phillip with you to championships. Have you carried on that same tradition?
Simson: We were in Kansas at Flint Hills National [in 2007] and he had just turned 21. So I took him down to a casino in Oklahoma and he did his first gambling. He was just playing the slot machines and he was winning like crazy. So I said let’s get out of here. USGA championships are special and we plan for them, and you make them special for the players.
Q: What in the Museum stood out for you on this particular trip?
Simson: Everything is cool. Some of the old memorabilia is amazing. [Former President] Howard Taft wasn’t a USGA champion, but he was so big he had to have a driver that was like 65 inches long. It would be illegal [today]. When you think about it, the evolution of the golf club and the equipment we play with, maybe not so much with the irons but certainly with the woods, has made some fantastic strides.
Q: Do you think about being immortalized in the Museum with your name on the Senior Amateur trophy and on the two plaques for 2010 and 2012 USGA champions?
Simson: Curtis Strange two years in a row there (1988 and 1989) for being a U.S. Open. He’s a friend of mine. His brother, Allan, I competed a lot against in the Carolinas-Virginias Matches. I don’t really think about it that much, but it is nice to know you will be here in perpetuity. You look back to the early 1900s and all of those folks are gone, but their names live on. And it’s really cool thing.
Q: Do you have one more USGA title run in you at the age of 68?
Simson: I hope I do. I think it’s in me. With match play you’ve got to be on your toes the whole time. And sometimes it just works out. You’ve just got to be good enough to beat six guys in six different matches.
Q: When you started this journey in 1967, did you ever imagine yourself approaching 70 USGA championship starts?
Simson: I don’t look back at it [like that]. I never thought I would play this well for so long. My game over the last 15-20 years has really gotten better. For amateurs to play at a championship level, you have to dedicate a lot of time. And it’s a lot of effort to get time off to do what you have to do to compete at a high level. My wife has always been good about stuff like that. When you talk about lawyers and doctors, where people actually have to pay for their time, it’s a lot more difficult for them to get the time off, whereas in some of the sales areas – real estate, insurance or whatever – you can find time. I am still playing 25-30 tournaments a year between the USGA, CGA (Carolinas Golf Association), Society of Seniors events and local events. And I even have time for a member-guest every once in a while.
Q: Is the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship the only one missing from your résumé?
Simson: I may just try to find one young long hitter where I can throw a couple of birdies in [to assist]. If I was to qualify for the Four-Ball, I would have played in every championship that I could have played in with a USGA symbol on it. That would be pretty cool.