Paul Simson 2010
Whether he’s leading a golf tournament or trailing, Paul Simson’s mindset remains the same.
“I always play like I’m behind,’’ he said.
Yet in the end, it’s the 58-year old Raleigh insurance executive who often finishes ahead.
With steely resolve and a sharp short game, Simson has won about 200 golf titles, many of them since 1990, not long after he began wearing his signature straw fedora. The championships include 20 Carolinas Golf Association crowns, two North-South Amateurs, three North-South Senior Amateurs, and two British Senior Amateurs.
That success in the N-S etched his name on the Wall of Fame at Pinehurst, up there with luminaries like Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III.
While listed as an amateur, the fiercely competitive Simson plays like a pro, one who has stroked his way into the 2010 North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
The key? Composure, savvy and skill, especially that touch around the greens.
“It’s what you do once you arrive (after the drive) that determines the men from the boys,’’ said Simson, the only man to win the North Carolina, Carolinas and Carolinas Mid Amatuers in the same year.
Getting better with age, Simson is still doggedly chasing one elusive goal — a USGA championship. He has competed in 46 of those events, including at least one for 25 consecutive years.
It all started in 1960 in Chatham, N.J., where he tagged along to Fairmount Country Club with his mother (Jane) and father (George).
“I loved [golf] from the outset,,’’ said Simson, who also played on three state high school soccer championship teams.
But he got the biggest kick out of making birdies and busting par. So Simson walked on the golf team at the University of New Mexico, earned All-America honors his senior year, and graduated with degrees in business and geography.
After a successful stint on mini tours, he missed qualifying for the PGA circuit by one stroke and regained his amateur status in 1978. (At age 50, he missed making the Champions Tour by two shots).
But Simson, who has played with Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Stewart Cink, remained undaunted and kept winning amateur titles.
“I’ve been able to work, make a decent living and have much more time with my family (Wife Chris, son Phillip),’‘ said Simson, an affable man with a big smile.
When Simson moved to Raleigh in 1979, he started playing more seriously again. After failing to win in his first 20 CGA starts, he broke through in 1990 by capturing the first of back-to-back Carolinas Mid Amateurs.
But maybe his most treasured triumph and “pressure packed” moment came in the drama-drenched, 1995 North-South semifinals. Simson, whose resume includes a career-low round of 62 and 10 aces (one more than his mother), needed to sink a 12-foot putt on the 18th green to stay alive against Robert Floyd.
Adhering to caddie-son Phillip’s advice on how the putt would break, Simson curled the ball into the cup, then conquered Floyd at the 20th hole. Next day he won the coveted crown.
No wonder Simson’s often called “Champ.” The label fits — just like his straw hat.