Newburgh, Ind. (Sept 15, 2006) -– Even without one of his lucky old straw hats, Paul Simson, 55, of Raleigh, N.C., made quite a statement during the first round of the USGA Senior Amateur Saturday at Victoria National Golf Club.
His trademark is wearing a straw hat in competition and with a new one on his head, he posted five birdies and a bogey to shoot a 4-under-par 68 to lead the field by two strokes.
“I wasn’t allowed to bring one of the old ones,” Simson said of his hats. “I usually have some pretty ugly old ones. You know, the ones that go every which way. But, my wife said: ‘Bring a new one.’”
The new head gear wasn’t all Simson brought to the challenging layout in southern Indiana.
“I’ve had a real solid summer,” Simson said. “My stroke average is as low as I’ve ever been and it’s all because I’m hitting the ball much better. I seem to have a good pattern going.”
That trend includes victories in the British Senior Amateur, the North Carolina Senior Amateur and the North and South Senior Amateur in the last two months.
Only Simson and two others players managed to break par. Sam Farlow, 59, of Birmingham, Ala., a quarterfinalist in 2003, shot 2-under-par 70, and 2005 quarterfinalist Bob Mielcarz, 57, of Concord, N.H., shot 1-under-par 71.
“It could have been significantly lower,’ Simson said of his enviable 68. “I didn’t make a whole lot of putts. I only made a few. I’m used to making a lot.”
“71 is a good score,” Mielcarz said. “I would have been pleased with 74, quite frankly. It was a kind of a roller-coaster out there.”
Seven players, Paul Schlachter, 57, of Pittsburgh, Pa., 2003 semifinalist David Boesel, 58, of Orlando, Fla., Mike Bell, 59, of Indianapolis, Ind., Gary Vanier, 55, of Pleasant Hills, Calif., David Ralsey, 58, of Bethesda, Md., 2004 semifinalist Michael Walters, 58, of Tampa, Fla., and Doug Crawford, 56, of Wayland, Miss., shot even-par 72.
Greg Reynolds of Grand Blanc, Mich., the 2002 champion, posted a 73. In his fifth Senior Amateur, he realized how difficult Victoria National was playing, even with six holes moved up a total of 167 yards because of heavy pre-championship rains.
“This is probably the hardest course we’ve played so far,” said Reynolds. “There is disaster looming on every hole. You make a really bad swing and then you can make a really big number. It will be more fun to play in match play because you can free-wheel it a little bit.”
Defending champion Mike Rice of Houston, Texas, shot 79; 2004 winner Mark Bemowski of Mukwonago, Wis., shot 74; and 2001 and 2003 champion Kemp Richardson of Laguna Niguel, Calif., shot 75.
Stroke play ends Sunday with the top 64 scorers advancing to match play, which begins Monday. All six rounds of match play are scheduled for 18 holes each, culminating with the final on Thursday.
The USGA Senior Amateur, for players 55 and older, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA.
Story written by Pete Kowalski of USGA Media Relations. E-mail him with questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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