Paul Simson, 61, of Raleigh, N.C., won three of four holes on the inward nine to defeat Curtis Skinner, 55, of Lake Bluff, Ill., 4 and 3, Thursday and win the 2012 USGA Senior Amateur Championship at the par-71, 6,838-yard Mountain Ridge Country Club.
Simson, who won this championship for the second time in the last three years, becomes the 14th player to have captured at least two Senior Amateur titles. In 2010, he garnered his first championship at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla.
"It's an indescribable feeling to win the first one, and to win the second one, I would call it more of a thrill than an honor," said Simson, who capped a happy homecoming this week to his native northern New Jersey. "I was just so overcome the first time. But to win the second one was a real thrill."
The USGA Senior Amateur, for players 55 and older, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. The 156-player field went through 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying and six rounds of match play to determine a champion.
Simson, who shot a combined 10-under par during Wednesday’s quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, continued his nearly flawless play in the championship match. He gained a 2-up margin at No. 11 by two-putting from 38 feet for a par, while Skinner’s second shot rolled off the green and into a collection area, leading to a bogey. After nearly driving the green at the 279-yard, par-4 12th, Simson was provided relief for an embedded ball. He took advantage by chipping to 2½ feet to set up a birdie.
If there was a defining moment in the match, it came at the par-4 13th, where Simson was short of the right greenside bunker, but chipped to within close range to save par. Skinner’s chance to cut into the lead was thwarted when his 18-foot birdie putt ran by the left side of the hole.
"I figured I kind of had the advantage there," said Skinner, who was playing in his first Senior Amateur. "He hit a phenomenal sort of flop shot. I hit a putt that I thought I made, but that was a little too hard, so that was probably the turning point."
Simson, a three-time British Senior Amateur champion, put the exclamation point on his victory when he struck a smooth 4-iron on the 185-yard, par-3 14th. While Skinner was faced with a difficult up-and-down after hitting his tee shot to the right of the green, Simson holed his 18-foot putt for birdie, his third of the day.
"I saw that lie [on 13] and I just started smiling because I knew I had a good chance to get that up and down," Simson said. "And when it flew up over the bunker and landed beyond the slope, I knew it was going to be a good shot. And then I made a really good swing on 14. I really worked hard on that putt and basically took the putter out of his hand by making birdie there."
The players halved the first three holes of the match, before Skinner bogeyed the par-3 4th when his 7-foot putt burned the left edge. But Simson made his first bogey since the third round of match play, a streak of 36 holes, at No. 5. He three-putted from 45 feet and Skinner scrambled to make par after driving into a fairway bunker.
Simson regained the lead to stay on the par-3 7th. Skinner’s tee shot stopped 3½ feet above the hole, while Simson used the slope on the left side of the green to bring his ball back below the hole. He sank his uphill birdie putt of 5 feet, and Skinner missed his to the left.
"You really have to have a change in your mindset to play competitive golf four, five and six days in a row," said Skinner, who defeated two past Senior Amateur champions and the No. 3 seed on his way to the final. "It’s really draining. This is the first time I’ve done it. You just have to stay focused, stay loose, to stay kind of in the moment is very difficult, so it was a learning moment for me."
And it was a great moment for Paul Simson, an insurance agent who was participating in his 55th USGA championship. A return trip to his New Jersey ended with a championship.
"We did a lot of special things this week," said Simson, whose 30-year-old son, Phillip, caddied for him. "We went and saw the family cemetery plot, saw the club [Fairmount Country Club, where he played as a youngster]. We went by all the old houses where I grew up and where I met my wife (Chris). I got to see some old friends that I hadn’t seen in 30 years. Pretty cool stuff."
As champion, Simson receives a 10-year Senior Amateur exemption. Both finalists are exempt into the 2013 U.S. Senior Open at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club and next year’s U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Simson and Skinner also earned an exemption from local qualifying for the 2013 U.S. Open.
West Caldwell, N.J. – Results of Thursday’s championship match at the 2012 USGA Senior Amateur Championship, played at 6,838-yard, par-71 Mountain Ridge Country Club.
Championship Match (18 Holes)
Paul Simson, Raleigh, N.C. (141) def. Curtis Skinner, Lake Bluff, Ill. (143), 4 and 3