In Second Round Rematch, Simson Avenges Defeat To Nichols
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Chicago – As far as rematches go, this one lived up to the hyperbole. Two seasoned senior amateurs, both with solid golf acumen and backgrounds that would make Bob Jones proud.
Between them, they have competed, unofficially, in 85 USGA championships.
In similar fashion, Paul Simson and Randy Nichols squared off in the second round of match play at last year’s USGA Senior Amateur at Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Nichols, 56, of Brookville, Ind., got the upper hand then, winning 2 and 1.
On another gorgeous day at Beverly Country Club Tuesday, the 58-year-old Simson of Raleigh, N.C., avenged that defeat, nudging in a downhill 12-foot birdie to win, 1 up. Nudge would adequately describe the stroke because the redesigned Donald Ross greens, as golf parlance goes, have more undulation than the Smoky Mountains and are slicker than an Indianapolis 500 oil spot.
“That would have gone in a thimble,” said the always loquacious Simson immediately afterward. The putt didn’t scare him as much as it probably would have others. Simson plays out of Raleigh Country Club, which is the last course Ross designed before his death in 1948. So Simson knows what to expect when he gets above the hole.
“I didn’t think he was going to make that last putt,” said Nichols, who pulled an uphill 14-footer moments before Simson converted. “But he’s got such great hands.”
The match was poetry in motion with both shooting the equivalent of five under par on the 6,672-yard, par-71 layout. Of course, match play concessions must be figured in.
Still, besides Nichols’ three-putt from 40 feet from the back fringe on the par-3 third hole, there were few flaws. Between them, they won seven holes with birdies; three others were halved with birdies. For Simson, although he wouldn’t fully admit it, the match took on special significance because of last year’s result.
“Let’s just say if I had not lost last year, I wouldn’t be as happy. There was that little extra incentive,” said Simson, who also earned medalist honors in 2008 (this year he shared it with Pat Tallent). “But I adore a guy like that so much, to dig down deep like he was.”
In other words, Nichols tried to exorcise the demons from his balky putter. He missed key birdies on No. 6, from 10 feet, and from 5 feet on No. 10. He instead halved those holes.
Nichols did erase a 2 down deficit, winning Nos. 14 and 15 with birdies. That served as a wake-up call for Simson. On the 16th, a hole he won to stem the momentum, Simson said he was relieved to put his ball inside Nichols’ on the green.
Simson conceded on No. 17 after finding the right greenside bunker and failing to get up and down. He caught his wedge out thin and the ball barely held on at the bunker’s lip, leaving an awkward lie and stance. Simson sent the next shot 30 feet below the hole, saying to Nichols, “I think you can probably two-putt or three-putt from there.” Nichols had about 8 feet to the hole.
It set the stage for Simson’s match-winning putt on No. 18, which elicited a yelp from Simson when the ball dropped in.
“He’s just a better putter than I am,” said Nichols.
"It's not as frustratingfrom the point that hadI lost and played poorly. What can you do? You can only play so well."
Also performing well were 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion George Zahringer, 56, of New York, N.Y., and Neil Spitalny, 58, of Chattanooga, Tenn. The last time the two faced one another on the course was in the 1967 New York State Junior Amateur, which Spitalny won.
Zahringer took this meeting, 1 up, but Spitalny didn’t make it easy, playing the equivalent of four under. Zahringer didn’t register a bogey and shot 5-under 66. Zahringer jumped to a 3-up lead through four holes. Spitalny never quit.
“Man, he had it rolling today,” said Zahringer.
On No. 15, Spitalny made a 35-foot par save that halved the hole and get him 1 down. He never could catch Zahringer, although he nearly made good on a prediction he made to his friend in the gallery. On the final hole and with 55 yards in from the fairway, Spitalny told him he was going to hole out. The ball stopped 2 feet left of the flagstick.
“He’s a great player,” Spitalny said of Zahringer. “I knew I’d have to shoot four or five under to have a chance to win.”
In another premiere battle that featured two past USGA champions, Stan Lee of Heber Springs, Ark., stung Stewart “Buddy” Alexander, 5 and 4. Afterward, a frustrated Alexander (1986 U.S. Amateur), the men’s golf coach at the University of Florida, high-tailed it off the course in his cart.
Lee, who won the 2007 Senior Amateur, thought the key to the duel came on the ninth hole when he was 2 up. He pushed in a 25-footer on top of Stewart’s mid-range putt to halve the hole.
“After that, I felt like I was in total control of the match,” said Lee.
From that point on Lee “kept the pedal all the way to the floor,” winning holes 10 and 14 with pars.
Lee headed into Thursday afternoon’s third round confident, knowing he’s won the championship before.
“Here’s one of the things you need [that] I’m always telling people you need to win: hard luck,” said Lee. “Unless someone gets 6 up or gets really hot out of the chute, I like my chances.”
The third round of match continues this afternoon. The quarterfinals and semifinals are scheduled Wednesday, concluding with an 18-hole final Thursday.
Ken Klavon is the USGA's Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.