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Tim Simpson Senior PGA Championship
Tim Simpson rebounded from a 2-over front nine to shoot a sterling 4-under 32 on the back. (Photo: Getty Images)

'Walking miracle' Simpson one round away from miracle comeback

There was a time not long ago when Tim Simpson didn't know if he would live or die. But thanks to the miracle of modern medicine -- and all the wires and electrodes in his body and brain -- he just might win the biggest tournament of his career.

By Craig Dolch, Special to PGA.com

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- If the adage is you need steady nerves to win one of golf's major championships, it would seem Tim Simpson is on shaky ground.

Then again, with what he's overcome the last 18 years -- including having to undergo deep-brain surgery in 2005 to correct a neurological problem that caused uncontrollable shaking of his left hand -- you'd be foolish to count him out.

"I'm not going to roll over dead for them tomorrow," Simpson said.

His game sprung to life Saturday with four birdies in a six-hole stretch on Canterbury's back nine for a 2-under 68, including a 32 on his final nine holes. That left him just two shots behind leader Michael Allen, tied for fourth place, at 1-under 209.

Simpson hasn't won a golf tournament since he captured the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 1990. But the way he's been hitting the ball the last three days at Canterbury, he knows he has a solid chance.

"I like my position and if those old shaky hands stay calm, I'll be OK," he said. "But you know what? At our age a lot of guys' hands shake. Just mine shake like hell."

Simpson's medical problems started in 1991 when he contracted Lyme disease, beginning an odyssey that sent one of the PGA Tour's top golfers into a nightmarish journey that included spinal-fusion surgery, four eye surgeries and, ultimately, life-changing brain surgery after he was diagnosed with "benign essential tremors."

The brain surgery lasted nine hours, with neurosurgeons implanting an electrode in his brain and a battery-operated device -- a pacemaker of sorts for the brain -- in his chest. The operation was risky enough that Simpson wrote a letter to family members and close friends, asking them not to be sad if he died.

But the surgery was very successful, immediately ending the tremors of his left hand. He returned to playing competitive golf in 2006 and has earned almost $2 million the last three years on the Champions Tour, thanks to a pair of runner-up finishes.

"I'm really a walking miracle," Simpson said. "When I had that surgery, nobody knew, including me, that I would ever be able to compete at the level that I am. I feel like I've been given a second chance without a doubt. And I think I've been able to help a lot of other people."

Simpson was on the receiving end of a mental boost during last month's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, when it was arranged for him to be paired with former actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease. Simpson has a reputation of being one of the more gruff individuals in golf, but he became emotional Saturday just talking about his "life-changing" experience that week with Fox.

"That was one of the most incredible things in my life," Simpson said. "I can honestly say I've never met a person in my whole life that affected me the way he did. I've never met such a genuine person, such a determined person.

"And he's so light-hearted. We did a press conference and Michael said, 'I chose to take up golf over 40, with Parkinson's. Am I crazy or not?' And then everybody starts laughing and he says, 'Every lesson I take, the pro tells me be still over the ball.' Well, you know, he can't. He's moving all over."

Simpson revealed for the first time Saturday that his right hand started trembling recently. He said his neurologist won't tell him if that's part of his neurological condition or a combination of age, nerves or genetics.

"I think my neurologist is real guarded in admitting it because he's a golfer and he wants me to do good as bad as I do," Simpson said. "And I think he doesn't want me to know if there's a problem."

If Simpson were to win the Senior PGA, it would be a very popular victory among his fellow players. They know how difficult it is to play the game at this level when someone is completely healthy.

"He had a very serious health scare," Tom Kite said. "The great news is through the miracle of medicine, he's still with us. When you come that close to losing your life I'm sure that it changes your perspective of a few things."

If Simpson were to win, he knows the most difficult part might be in giving the champion's speech.

"They couldn't interview me," he said. "I would just ball my eyes out. You know what? There's a magazine back home in Georgia and they've been wanting to do a story on more for more than a year. I told the guy let's wait until the comeback's complete."

If he continues his solid play, that just might happen Sunday.
 

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