Paul Simson (USGA photo)
began playing golf as a 10-year-old. At 71, he’s still at it.
A native of Chatham, N.J. Simson has called Raleigh, NC home for the last 43 years. He gave pro golf a try after walking on at the University of New Mexico and eventually earning All-American honors. But after coming within one stroke of earning his PGA Tour card, he regained his amateur status in 1978. At age 50, he missed making the Champions Tour by two shots.
As a senior and now a super senior, the retired Raleigh insurance executive has compiled a sparkling resume, highlighted by two U.S. Senior Amateur titles (2010 and 2012) plus a runner-up finish (2017) along with Canadian and British Senior Amateur crowns (both in 2010) and more than 40 Carolinas Golf Association titles.
He is the first person to win the U.S. Senior Amateur, the British Senior Amateur and the Canadian Senior Amateur in the same year, a feat he accomplished in a span of 55 days.
Throw in over 40 Carolinas Golf Association championships and a dozen club championships at North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh and it's easy to see why Simson is one of the top amateur golfers North Carolina has ever produced.
His success in the North & South Amateur alone has etched his name on Pinehurst's Wall of Fame along with such greats as Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III.
In this edition of Catching Up, the North Carolina golf legend talks about his upbringing in the game, his career and keys to staying competitive.
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Catching up with Paul Simson
You’ve played golf for more than 60 years. What memories are the most precious to you?
Probably the first real competitive success I started having as a mid-am was in 1991 when I won the North Carolina Amateur, the Carolinas Amateur and the Carolinas Mid-Amateur all in one year which has never been duplicated. That’s probably the first real competitive success I had outside of when I turned pro. I won my first Carolinas Golf Association event in the fall of 1990 and then in 1991 I set the world on fire with the CGA. And now, I’ve won 44 of their events.
How is it your game has held up so well all these years?
I think technology has really helped a lot of the older players. The technology and the knowledge about the ball and shaft have really helped senior players especially. It certainly has helped younger players hit the ball further and compete at such a high level, but I think that for more veteran players, the technology has enabled us to extend our competitive days far beyond whatever I thought would be something that I could do.
Do you ever reflect on how your life might have gone differently if you had remained a professional?
I think about it. Your mind wanders a little bit. But quite frankly, I think that the road I took was the best for me, and best for my family. I have enjoyed playing amateur golf immensely, with the competition, the places I’ve gone the people I meet, and the friends that I have that run in the amateur circle. It’s a great group of people and it’s a great group of volunteers and folks that enable us to play far and wide on some of the best courses in the world.
You’re on the Pinehurst Wall of Fame along with some pretty impressive company.
I’m on there nine times (for winning two North-South Amateurs and seven North-South Senior Amateurs). I don’t think anybody has their name up there more than I do. I can remember back in 1995 when I won first North-South I wouldn’t even walk down there because I didn’t want to look at all the names and think that maybe my name would get up there at one point. And now, here I am almost 30 years later and my name is up there nine times. That’s a pretty exciting thing.
What’s it like to see your name on the wall in the USGA’s Hall of Champions at Golf House?
Winning a national championship is pretty special, but winning a USGA championship and having your name in basically the Mecca of golf; there is nothing more exciting or more humbling. Something like that will never, ever go away.
One of the things that’s really nice is the USGA treats all of its champions equally. You get the gold medal for winning. Your name (on the plaque on the wall in the Hall of Champions) is the same size as the U.S. Open champion’s name. you get the same rings as the champions of all the other championships that host. It’s an exciting thing.
Would your career have been incomplete without winning a USGA championship?
I would have been satisfied with whatever had happened, but I the winning national championships I’ve two U.S. (Senior Amateurs). I’ve got a British Senior and I’ve got a Canadian Senior. (But) winning a USGA event, that’s the pinnacle. And while I would still be very happy with my championship record, to have two USGA championships is a very, very rewarding thing for me.
Do you have any specific competitive goals remaining?
Not really. I’d like to win all of the championships that I’ve won again and that’s always in my mind when I go to a tournament. I haven’t lost any distance to speak of, maybe a few yards here and there, but I’m still in very competitive ranks. In the super senior ranks I’m among the top few players. So, I have the goal to continue with a senior career and a super senior career as long as I can. I would love to win a third U.S. Senior Amateur.
There’s a lot of camaraderie among the players that compete at your level. What is it about golf that breeds that camaraderie?
I think first of all, golf is ‘A gentleman’s game.’ In most circumstances, it brings out the best in people, whether you’re playing well or playing poorly. There is truly an aura of sportsmanship and the camaraderie that comes with sportsmanship. And I think that that permeates the amateur game, especially at the higher levels, because all understand what it takes to become good, and the work that it takes to become good.
One of the things I always tried to do was be the first to congratulate a Carolinas Golf Association champion, even though it might not be me. But I think that’s just important. At all of the events, most of the competitors know each other. We socialize, and stay together. We’re at the same hotels. Sometimes we’ll share a B&B or a house that we’ve rented, or something like that. We go to dinner and we cut up and have a good time with each other. We enjoy each other’s company.