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Tim Simpson
Tim Simpson is nine shots behind leader Fred Couples but grateful for a second chance to play the game he loves. (Getty Images)

Risky surgery gives Simpson back his game, and his joy

Five years ago, a neurological problem got so bad that Tim Simpson elected to have a delicate brain surgery that could have killed him. But it worked, and now he's contending again.

PARKER, Colo. (AP) -- Tim Simpson loves golf so much he was willing to risk his life to keep playing.

Contending with a neurological condition that caused his left hand to shake so badly he struggled to play, Simpson elected five years ago to undergo a radical and risky surgery called deep brain stimulation.

Now, the tremors are more controlled and his game is again in a good place.

Simpson is 2 over after two rounds of the Senior PGA Championship, trailing leader Fred Couples by nine strokes heading into the weekend.

"I played fantastic both days," Simpson said between chip shots on the practice range Friday after his round. "I played brilliantly tee to green, just haven't made the putts I'm capable of making."

There was a time when playing the game was a chore, the tremors in his left hand just too bothersome. He said his disorder mimics the mannerisms of Parkinson's disease.

So, doctors implanted a device through a hole in the right side of his brain and then lodged a transmitter under his left clavicle. The two were connected with a wire that ran underneath the skin around the top of his head and down along the back of his neck near the ear. It acts as a "super pacemaker," sending electrical pulses to areas in the brain that control movement.

Before the 9-hour operation, Simpson was warned that his body could very well reject it, that he could suffer an aneurism and maybe even die. But there was a very real possibility it could help, and that's what he clung to.

"If they missed it by one millimeter, the surgery would be a failure," said Simpson, who has noticeable bumps where both devices are implanted.

The operation was successful and he said the tremors are virtually nonexistent, except when he turns the unit off. "It gave me my golf and career back," Simpson said.

Simpson was in the prime of his career on the PGA Tour -- a four-time winner, among the top-10 money leaders -- when his left hand began shaking one day. It may have been the result of a genetic condition, or perhaps it had something to do with the Lyme disease he contracted shortly after playing in the 1991 Masters.

Simpson was staying at a friend's rustic cabin during a hunting trip when he woke up covered in deer ticks.

"In 36 hours, I had all the symptoms (of Lyme disease)," said Simpson, who lost 85 percent of his big-muscle strength.

Soon after, the shaking began. For years he tried to deal with it, compensating as best he could, but nothing really seemed to work. Then came the procedure and the chance to play the game he loved, the way he loved to play it.

So, he took a chance.

"I'm grateful I get a chance to play," Simpson said.
 

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