Former tour star Simpson beating all the odds -- again
The fact Tim Simpson is competing at Oak Tree Golf Club this week is a minor miracle in itself. That he is still among the living is an honest-to-goodness miracle, considering all that he has overcome in his life.
By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor
EDMOND, Okla. -- Life is filled with obstacles, some bigger than others, and people are defined by how they overcome them.
When it comes to perseverance and getting past those obstacles, there may be no better example than Tim Simpson.
Maybe you haven't heard his name in a long time, or perhaps ever.
Simpson is at Oak Tree Golf Club, a mini-miracle in itself, competing in his first Senior PGA Championship this week on a special invitation by the PGA of America.
What makes Simpson so special is that he's gone through more hell than anyone deserves and -- unbelievably -- continues to excel at his craft.
Just scrolling through his profile in the Championship player's guide, you almost scratch your head and wonder how this guy is still living, let alone playing golf at such a high level.
Here are the highlights:
- At age 7, severed tendon in left thumb and has only about 70 percent flexibility in it
- Contracted Lyme disease on a hunting trip in 1991 and was later diagnosed as having neurological damage in his left hand, a condition known as a "benign essential tremor"
- Underwent spinal fusion surgery on his neck in 2001
- He underwent brain surgery in 2005 to help alleviate the affects of the benign essential tremor and now has a pacemaker installed in his chest, roughly the size of a deck of cards, that's connected to another implant in his skull.
What was all that like and how is he playing golf?
"That's the miracle of the whole thing." Simpson said. "I just think it's part of God's plan. He's not done with me yet. My career got taken away from me with Lyme disease when I was top-10 in the world and then I developed neurological problems. I hope that I can be an inspiration to people that are battling afflictions. Maybe it's a woman with breast cancer, or a gentleman with prostate cancer, or a young person with leukemia. Hopefully they can look at me and say, 'This guy's a fighter. If he never quit, then I can keep fighting.'"
It should be noted, he's not just playing golf -- he's playing it quite well.
After a 1-over-par 72 in the second round, Simpson stands at 1 over for the tournament and eight off the lead heading into the weekend.
"I played solid," Simpson said. "I'm battling hellacious blisters on both heels and I'm hobbling around. I'm playing solid. I didn't make a whole lot of putts today. I feel like I could have made a few more putts, but I'm sure everybody feels that way. For a guy that 15 months ago was laying on an operating table having brain surgery, I consider myself very fortunate. I'm healthy, I'm playing well and I'm very excited to be here."
His stellar play should come as no surprise since he's never exactly been a slouch when it comes to golf. In 2000, Tiger Woods set a record for percentage of greens in regulation (75.2 percent). That record had been in good standing for eight years by Simpson, who hit 74 percent of his greens in 1992.
"The only thing I'd argue is that Tiger broke the record in 16 tournaments. I set it in 31, which is a whole lot harder," Simpson joked. "I'm not taking anything away from Tiger, though. He's truly amazing. I got to know him a little toward the end of my PGA Tour days and I could not have been more impressed. What grabbed me the quickest was his intelligence. You can talk to him for 30 seconds and unless you're not listening, you can tell you're talking to a very intelligent young man."
Simpson won four times on the PGA Tour, including a successful defense of his Disney title in 1990, when he finished eighth on the money list. Having turned 50 in May, he has just recently become eligible for the Champions Tour and you'll likely be seeing a lot more of him.
However, arguably the biggest victory of Simpson's career came because he was on the golf course, but not while he was on the golf course.
In 1991, he had his caddy carrying a bag that was specially designed to prominently display the pictures of missing children in the area where the tournaments were being played. Believe it or not, while he was at the Masters that year, someone recognized the pictured child and called the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children and the child was eventually recovered.
"It was incredible how it went down," Simpson said. "I was the first person to put pictures of missing and exploited children on my bag for years. Someone at the Masters saw this little girl and said, 'I know her. She lives down the street.' It was part of a bitter custodial dispute. The first time the father got her, he took her to South America. They came back to the states and over a 6-, 7-year period, every time the police would find out and go to get her -- no matter what state it was in -- he'd be tipped off and he'd take off with her."
So what happened?
"It was really interesting when the police told me how close they had gotten so many times," Simpson said. "But when they finally were able to get her and reunite her with her mother, I got to meet them and it was one of the highlights of my life. I cried my eyes out. For a guy, who most of his PGA Tour career was considered kind of a tough guy, or a hard-butt, there is a softer side to me and I really do have a big heart, especially when it comes to children."
To sum up: He beat Lyme disease, spinal and brain surgery, is battling "hellacious" blisters on his heels right now, helped find a missing child, safely returned her home and has the heart of a lion.
OK, so it's a long shot, but could you possibly have the nerve to tell Tim Simpson he can't win this weekend?
Seems like he already has.