Dec. 10, 2009
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Part of the message that former UNM golfer Paul Simson recently brought to Lobos was that there is life after athletics and the same hard work and preparation that makes you a good athlete also works in the professional world. So, be prepared.
Of course, with Simson there is an interesting footnote to that next stage called "work." The former All-Conference and All-American at the University of New Mexico just might have become a better golfer as a working-class warrior than he was as a flat-bellied Lobo.
Simson is living testament to the theory that some things do get better with age -- including a golf swing and the golf wisdom needed to swing a club better.
As a Lobo, Simson won two tournaments and did grab that elusive All-American status during his senior year at UNM in 1973. As an amateur, Simson has racked up 20-plus amateur titles.
His story gets better -- or maybe we should say Simson still appears to be getting better. As a senior golfer, he won the British Senior Amateur -- twice -- in 2006 and in 2008.
"Anytime you win a national championship, it's a special thing," said Simson, 58. The ex-Lobo returned to the UNM campus for the first time in 35 years as a featured speaker in a leadership conference. UNM athletics and The Lobo Club sponsored the gathering.
Of course with Simson, being a Carolina boy, there was another huge lure, another huge push. There were all these prestigious tournaments being held over at a course called Pinehurst. Simson wanted to get into the fray and maybe grab some of those titles and trophies that have been passed around for more than 100 years.
"My first North-South (Carolina) was special to me, too," he said. "It's such an old championship. It's at Pinehurst and to get your name up on the wall of fame with some of those greats (Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange, Davis Love III, Corey Pavin), well, it sticks out as being special."
Simson's climb onto that Pinehurst wall, to the British Senior title, is a story of perseverance, talent and that stubborn drive that usually comes from being an accomplished athlete, who still likes to compete.
Simson drifted away from his clubs as he drifted deeper into the world called "Making a Living/Raising a Family."
However, that competitive itch needed to be scratched. He dug his clubs out with a new resolve about ten years after walking away from UNM. He still loved the game and still didn't mind seeing his name atop a leaders' board.
But it didn't come easy and it didn't come quick. Simson didn't win his first major amateur title until 1990 when he won the Carolinas Mid-Amateur Championship. Simson`s frustrations with his also-ran finishes flew away like the birdies flew off his clubs. He shot a 62 in the final round -- a round that included a hole-in-one, an eagle and only two bogeys.
That win obviously cracked the ice for Simson in finding a way to win. He was the 1998, 2005 and 2008 Carolinas Player of The year and the association's Senior of The Year in 2006, 2007 and 2008. He is a 19-time CGA champion.
Simply put: Simson beats the flat bellies and the fat bellies with no prejudice and a lot of short-iron precision.
"I'm still competitive and I still feel I can win and out-think the younger, flat bellies," said Simpson, who lives in Raleigh, N.C. "But now I'm a younger guy on the senior events and I get to go whip up on the old guys, too."
Simson took a double shot at the flat bellies and the old guys this summer. He competed in the Pinehurst North-South in both the open and senior sections. He lost on the 20th hole in the open division. He won the senior event in a playoff.
Still, the last back-to-back winner of Pinehurst's prestigious North-South Championships is an ex-Lobo named Simson. He did that in 1995 and 1996. It almost seems unfair that a golfer so sharp with his clubs even gets to compete as a senior.
His titles as an amateur include the North Carolina amateur, Carolinas Mid-Amateur, North Carolina Senior Amateur. In 2007, he was voted the World Senior Amateur Player of the year by Scratch Players/Golfweek.
Simson's return to his Lobo roots was because of a Lobo Club invite. He said the reunion with Albuquerque, UNM and the Lobos' Championship Course reminded him of why he became a Lobo long ago.
"My son, Phillip, said, "Dad I'm an ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) fan, but in Albuquerque and with UNM, there is such a sense of community, such a sincerity about their athletics," said Simson.
"I agree with him 100 percent. Albuquerque and UNM create a special place to be. There is a genuine friendliness, such a positive feeling. I spent about four hours here one day in 1968 and made a decision that this was where I wanted to be. Now, I remember why."