Notebook: Simpson battling through more ailments
Tim Simpson just can't seem to shake the injury bug, a big day for Hale Irwin at his alma mater, Play Golf America Free Lesson program a big hit, the players who don't want to see a playoff and more from the Ocean Course.
From Staff Reports
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- The various ailments that have afflicted Tim Simpson over the years have been well-chronicled: the Lyme disease that knocked him off the PGA TOUR in the early 1990s; the spinal fusion surgery on his neck in 2001; the more serious benign essential tumor that threatened his life, caused his hands to tremble uncontrollably, and resulted in doctors impanting an electrode in his brain; and the arthritis that would travel mysteriously to different parts of his body.
Now Simpson, one year into his Champions Tour career, is battling back and wrist problems.
"It just comes and goes with no warning," Simpson said of the back injury, which he termed a rib head injury. "It's like somebody shot me. What it is is where the rib connects to the disc in your spine -- it just pops out and the pain is incredible."
Despite the injury -- and his two sore wrists -- Simpson is at the Ocean Course preparing for the 68th Senior PGA Championship. With fingers crossed he's been hitting the ball nicely, and the fact the wind will play a major factor in the outcome of the tournament has him feeling hopeful about his chances.
"The key here when the wind is blowing hard like this is your mindset," Simpson said. "You've got to have patience and know that it's going to be a war from the first drive to the last putt. There's going to be some adversity but you have to just keep fighting.
"But I think this sets up well for me because I've always been a good ball-striker and you have to strike the ball well to have a chance."
Having this chance is more than Simpson could have ever dreamed of before his brain surgery. Unable to hold a club still, he had lost everything he had ever wanted: a promising professional golf career, "a trailer truck full of money" and his marriage. Then in March 2005, employing a treatment known as DBS (deep brain stimulation), doctors implanted an electrode in Simpson's brain that is attached to a surgically implanted, battery-operated medical device called a neurostimulator in his upper chest. The surgery lasted nine hours.
Miraculously, the ailment disappeared.
"There's no doubt I'm a walking miracle," said Simpson, a four-time winner on the PGA TOUR still in search of his first Champions title. "I just want to use this as a way to help people. I know God did this to me for a reason. I want to help people overcome whatever it is they're battling, be it Parkinson's Disease, the woman with breast cancer, the boy with leukemia, whatever it is.
"I know God put me here for a reason, and that's to help people. This is about life. I've always been a fighter and I've never quit. That's what I want people to know, that no matter how tough it gets, you can never, ever give up."
Commencement honor for Irwin: The winningest player in Champions Tour history with a whopping 45 victories to his credit, Hale Irwin is used to success on the course. But how does a nearly 62-year-old like Irwin relay the secret of what it takes to be successful to a bunch of newly graduated college students?
By giving an entertaining and thoughtful speech at his alma mater the University of Colorado at Boulder, for one. A 1967 graduate of the university, Irwin delivered the commencement address at a graduation ceremony on May 11.
"I told them successful people have the will to prepare. I think I've been blessed with the will to prepare," said Irwin, who played on both the football and golf teams while in college. He's now a member of the CU Athletic Hall of Fame, having twice earned All-Big Eight honors as a defensive back as well as Big Eight conference golf champion in 1966-67 and the individual NCAA Division I men's golf champion honors in 1967.
He thinks his speech went well –- "no rotten tomatoes or spitballs came flying my way" –- and Irwin hopes that he instilled some key principles into his fellow alums.
"You'll have to ask all 6,000 [students], but I enjoyed it very much," Irwin said. "I didn't want it to be a put my finger in your face and tell you what to do, one of those things. I wanted it to be something, 'this is what I've seen, this is what I've tried to do, this is what I've seen other people try to do.'
"Good things don't come easily. You have to prepare for success. You have to be respectful along the way to others. If you do those things, you are far more likely to succeed than not."
Representatives from the student council emailed him to set it up and, judging by the crowd reaction, they picked a well-received speaker.
"When some of the other speakers were up there, the kids were a little rowdy but when I was there they listened. That was a compliment and I hope they learned something."
Play Golf America Free Lessons: Di Long, an educator from Charleston, W. Va., smacked the iron shot and stared in wonderment as the ball sailed straight and high down the range. Then she hit another, and another, and each time she stood in awe as the ball flew straight and true.
"I had to look at the club to make sure I was hitting a pitching wedge," Long said. "I couldn't believe I was hitting it that far."
Long's story was not unusual Wednesday afternoon at the far end of the range at the Ocean Course. She was one of approximately 100 people who participated in the PGA of America's Play Golf America Free Lesson program that is being held Wednesday through Saturday as part of the 68th Senior PGA Championship. It's pretty simple -- you walk up to the tent, fill out a registration card and when your name is called you get 10 minutes of free instruction from a Carolinas Section PGA Professional.
Long's brief lesson was already paying dividends.
"My goal is to break 100 this year," said Long, who is volunteering this week during the tournament. "I had a 104 last year, and 106 is my lowest so far this year. I hit it right all the time but after 10 minutes, the pro got me to turn my shoulder behind the ball, set up straight and get my spine in the right position. I couldn't believe the difference."
Ron Stepanek is the Senior Manager for Player Development for the PGA of America. He said the response to the Free Lesson program has been "phenomenal."
"This is the first time, to our knowledge, that something like this has been held at a major championship," Stepanek said. "I know it's the first time at a PGA of America major. But the people have been great, great, great. We could have gone non-stop all day."
FROM GOPHER TO GOLFER: There are a number of big names playing in the 68th Senior PGA Championship this week -- Mark O'Meara, Jay Haas, Hale Irwin, Loren Roberts and Nick Price, just to name a few.
One name that's not as eye-popping as those is John Harris from Edina, Minn. After a stellar amateur career that included a number of wins, highlighted by the 1993 U.S. Amateur, Harris turned professional in 2002. He had turned professional in 1976, but regained his amateur status in 1983 before becoming professional again when he turned 50.
The 54-year-old has one win on the 50-and-over circuit. That came at the 2006 Commerce Bank Championship.
All of that is impressive, but what makes Harris such an interesting character has to do with stuff that doesn't involve golf -- sort of.
Harris created the Harris-Homeyer Insurance Company in January of 1979 along with Bill Homeyer, the father of former U.S. Women's Open champion, Hilary Lunke.
But again, this isn't about the golf.
Harris played hockey at the prestigious University of Minnesota, where he was the first captain under legendary coach Herb Brooks -- coach of Team USA's 1980 miracle on ice.
Harris was the second-leading scorer on the 1974 Gophers team that won the NCAA Championship.
GO TROJANS: Jon Fiedler from Enid, Okla. is in the field this week. This is the third Senior PGA Championship for Fiedler, who was a walk-on at the University of Southern California in the 1970s, where he was teammates with Craig Stadler and Scott Simpson, who are also in the field this week.
Currently, Fiedler is the director of golf at Las Posas Country Club in Camarillo, Calif. He has played in three Champions Tour events in 2007 and his best finish was a tie for 25th at the AT&T Classic.
Fiedler is in the field this week by virtue of being one of the top-35 finishers from the Callaway Golf Senior PGA Professional National Championship, where he tied for 18th.
GO, COACH!: Steve Groves is in the field this week participating in his second Senior PGA Championship. Like Fiedler, Groves is in thanks to a tie for 18th at the Callaway Golf Senior PGA Professional National Championship.
Groves is the PGA Head Professional at The Champions of Columbus Golf Course in Columbus, Ohio. He was the coach of the Ohio State women's team from 1980-86. His players included LPGA Tour players Rosie Jones, Meg Mallon and Cathy Gerrin.
NO PLAYOFF, PLEASE: There are five players in the field who lost major championship playoffs while on the PGA TOUR and never won a major. They are: Scott Hoch (1989 Masters), Dan Pohl (1982 Masters), Roberts (1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont), Mike Donald (1990 U.S. Open) and Costantino Rocca (1995 British Open).
FAMILY AFFAIR I: There are two sets of brothers competing in the 68th Senior PGA Championship this week -- Danny and David Edwards and Horacio and Luis Carbonetti.
The Carbonetti's of Argentina have combined for five wins on the European Senior Tour (two for Horatio, three for Luis), while the Edwards brothers have nine PGA TOUR wins and one Champions Tour win to their credit (five PGA TOUR wins for Danny; four TOUR wins and one Champions Tour win for David).
FAMILY AFFAIR II: PGA Professional Bob Ralston, playing in his sixth Senior PGA Championship this week, is the father-in-law of PGA TOUR player Glen Day. Bob's son is the PGA director of golf at Greystone Country Club in Cabot, Ark. His younger son, Heath, is affiliated with Alotian Club in Little Rock, Ark.
FAMILY AFFAIR III: New Zealand's Bob Charles, who became the first left-handed major champion when he won the 1963 British Open, is playing at the Ocean Course this week. Charles is a six-time winner on the PGA TOUR and has racked up 23 wins in his career on the Champions Tour.
The 71-year-old isn't alone at Kiawah Island this week. His son, David, is a PGA of America Director for the Senior PGA Championship and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.