Paul Simson put on a show for the third straight day at High Point Country Club’s Willow Creek course, unleashing a steady barrage of shots that went fairway-green-cup.
Then came not one, but two hiccups on the par-3 16th hole as the National Senior Amateur Hall of Fame tournament neared its conclusion. Simson’s first tee shot went so far right into trees that he hit a provisional – which also drifted right into an ugly lie. He found his first ball in someone’s back yard. And he had to play it, because the out-of-bounds stake that was supposed to mark the territory was missing in action.
“I’m just glad I’ve got a seven-shot lead, because I could make a seven here,” Simson told his playing partners as he tried to maintain his sense of humor.
He maintained his nice lead, too: Downhill lie in the ivy with a tree branch at his head; ball punched out over the gravel walking path, over the creek, through the sand trap and across the green; a chip to some six feet and then two putts for a double-bogey.
A birdie on the par-4 17th put him back to 6-under for the tournament, and a one-handed tap-in bogey at No. 18 gave Simson the championship for the second time in three years.
“Sorry we couldn’t put any pressure on you today,” playing partner Ted Smith said as the players shook hands.
“No suspense,” agreed Simson.
Later, he lamented his struggle to the end.
“That was an awful shot. I think I shanked it,” he said of No. 16. “It could’ve gotten real interesting if both of them had been out of bounds. But I didn’t lose any of my lead I had going into today. I got eight ahead at one point and floundered a little. I was a little disappointed in that – guess I’m just anxious to move on to the next one.”
Simson’s wayward shots were few and far between as he scorched the field of some of the nation’s best amateurs over the age of 55. Following rounds of 3-under-par 69 on Wednesday and Thursday, his closing 73 gave him a 211 total that was five shots better than Chip Lutz and Larry Clark.
Lutz, playing in his first Hall of Fame tournament after turning 55 earlier this year, had hoped to apply pressure from the start in the final pairing, but it was Simson who birdied the third and sixth holes.
“I didn’t put any pressure on him early,” said Lutz, from Reading, Pa. “I was 2-over early and made a few birdies coming in. At least I got it back to level, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Trailing by a half-dozen shots, can a golfer enter a tournament’s final round hoping to see a U.S. Open-like collapse from the leader?
“You don’t ever hope for that on your fellow competitors, but you never know,” Lutz said. “Golf is a funny game and you’ve just got to keep playing well.”
Simson, the 59-year-old Raleigh resident who was inducted into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year due to his golfing prowess, wasn’t about to pull a Dustin Johnson. Simson, still working as president of the Stan Taylor Insurance Agency, won for at least the fourth time this year and has his eyes set on qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open next week at Greensboro Country Club’s Farm course. Nearly 100 golfers will be vying for three spots.
“It’s been a pretty good year so far,” Simson said. “I’m looking forward to making that.”
While Simson was busy winning his second Hall of Fame title, a Hall of Fame member was wrapping up his third championship in the Super Senior division.
Bill Ploeger, who took back-to-back titles in 2007-08, carded a 76-72-71–219 to top Spencer Sappington by two shots and Skip Snow by three. Sappington recorded rounds of 71-78-73, while Snow went 73-73-76.
“I played with two of my best friends today,” Ploeger said. “Anytime you beat Spencer, you’re doing pretty well.”
Simson and Ploeger each received attractive crystal trophies at the end of their rounds, which proved exciting for the 70-year-old Ploeger. He hadn’t captured a tournament since his last victory at Willow Creek.
“It’s been a while since I’ve won anything, so it feels good,” said Ploeger, from Columbus, Ga. “It’s extra special to win here. The golf course is the best it’s been since I’ve been coming, about 8-10 years now. And the way the people treat you – that’s why it’s one of the best tournaments in the U.S.”