The Way of an Eagle
by Bob Darden,
P. J. Richardson,
This devoted and loving family man has quietly become one of the most successful--and feared--players on the PGA Tour. Through 1994, he'd earned more than $4 million in prize money and taken home six trophies: the 1980 Western Open, the 1984 Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic, the 1987 Greater Greensboro Open, the 1987 U.S. Open, the 1989 BellSouth Atlanta Classic, and the 1993 GTE Byron Nelson.
But then, Simpson has always been a successful golfer. He was the winner of the 1976 and 1977 NCAA Championships while at USC, the 1976 Porter Cup, the 1975 and 1977 PAC-8 Championships, the California and San Diego junior titles, as well as the 1979 and 1981 Hawaiian State Opens. He's also won various unofficial tournaments both in the U.S. and in Japan.
It seems that Simpson is at his best in the U.S. Open, where he has challenged for the cup virtually every year, including 1991, when he narrowly lost a play-off to Payne Stewart.
Simpson shows no signs of letting up either--opening 1995 with an eighteen-under-par sixteenth-place tie at the Bob Hope and a twelve-under-par tie for fourth at the Nissan in Los Angeles.
I came from a very good, very moral family. My mom and dad were elementary school teachers in San Diego. I went to Sunday school a few times when I was a little kid, church a couple times more, and that was it. When I was ten, I started playing golf. My dad was a great amateur golfer in San Diego--one of the best in the state. Playing golf was, for us, much more important than going to church on Sundays, so we didn't go to church any more after I took it up.
I don't remember talking about religion while growing up. We were raised to do well in school, and I was always a good student. By the time I was in high school, I had intellectually blown off Christianity--I didn't believe any of it. In my mind, at least, I thought Jesus was probably a good teacher, but there were just too many rules and regulations that I didn't want to follow. I was a pretty dedicated agnostic at the time. I was very skeptical.
But in high school--my senior year--I met my wife-to-be, Cheryl, and she was a Christian. She'd grown up going to Sunday school, and her parents were Christians, but she didn't have a great knowledge of the Bible--she just knew that Jesus was the Son of God and that you had to put your trust in Him to be saved. A simple faith.
Fortunately for me, she didn't know anything about the problems of being unequally yoked--Christians marrying non-Christians. I did my best to show her the error of her ways when it came to religion, but I was too interested in Cheryl to let that stand in my way. We hit it off so well that eventually we just didn't talk about religion. I definitely didn't believe any of it. I loved my rock and roll. I was a political liberal--bordering on radical. And I always loved to play golf.
I'd been playing golf steadily since I was ten. I was good enough to win the state Junior title, was second in the U.S. Junior, and got a scholarship to USC. I never did drugs, heavy drinking, or anything like that, because I wanted to do well in golf and do well in school. I went out with Cheryl, and that was about all. I really wanted to be as good as I could be in golf, because I loved playing, I loved the competition and I had that drive.
I was fortunate enough to win the NCAAs my junior and senior years, and that gave me enough confidence to give it a try as a pro. That had always been my dream, but I was realistic enough to know most don't make it. Most of the kids who dream about being a golfer never even get a chance to play the PGA. Or any pro sport, for that matter.
Still, I was one of the lucky ones. I made the Tour.
That's when I met Morris Hatalsky. He's a fiery guy, a tremendous competitor. But if you had to pick a most-like guy on Tour, Morris is one of the picks. Everybody loves him.
Morris also grew up in San Diego. He's about three years older than I am, so we rarely played against each other. But I obviously knew who he was.
When I got on the Tour, he was already out there. And, for some reason, maybe because Morris has a heart for evangelism and seeing people come to Christ, we got together. I used to argue with him all of the time. We'd argue about social issues and religion and everything because I was sure that Christianity was wrong. I thought there was a better chance of Buddhism being right, or some Eastern religion, than Christianity. Morris enjoyed a friendly debate as much as I did, so we argued all the time.
In the end, it was one-on-one evangelism, person to person, that made the difference. I could argue with Morris, but at the same time I could see him live his life, and I could trust that he was telling me the truth.
Finally, in 1980, he persuaded me to come to a Bible study. He remembers this too. The talk that night was on Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd." We talked about that for the entire hour of the study, what it meant to be a shepherd, what it meant to be a sheep. They said that sheep can't take care of themselves without someone to watch over them. They said that God is the Great Shepherd and that we are His sheep.
I got out of there and turned to Morris and said, "You mean your whole goal in life is to be a sheep? Not me, buddy! I don't want to be a sheep, Morris!" It was a while before he asked me to go again!
In 1981 they asked me to come to an open discussion group led by Larry Moody, who was deciding whether to come on the Tour and lead the Bible study. There had been a Bible study led by other players. It was a small thing, only three to five players attending, and they'd finally reached a point where, if they were ever going to see the Bible study grow, they needed someone to come out who could lead them, who could teach on topics--as opposed to guest speakers all the time.
Larry Moody had the time and he'd previously worked with the Baltimore Colts. It was a fortunate set of circumstances that brought him here--fortunate for me at least.
The open discussion group was where we could come and ask any question on God or life. There wasn't anything pushed down my throat. All Larry did was give biblical answers. It was totally nonjudgmental. This really appealed to my intellectual nature. Whenever he came out, I tried to think up questions to stump him because I wanted to prove him wrong. I didn't want my kids growing up going to church and having that stuff forced down their throats. I wanted them to make up their own minds.
One night I finally challenged Larry. I asked him about the hypocrites in the church--the people claiming to be Christians and not acting that way--and how they really turned me off. He simply challenged me to find out if Christianity is true or not. "There are hypocrites in any religion, whether you believe in something or not," he said.
"In fact," he added, "that's not as important as whether or not you believe in the truth. You can believe that you can fly off the Empire State Building. You can totally believe it, but you're still going to jump off and go splat! Your belief is only as good as the truth of what you believe in."
That really challenged me to search and find out the truth. So I started reading books. I started reading the Bible for the first time ever. And Josh McDowell really appealed to me because he went through the same kind of search, trying to prove it wrong. The more evidence you look at, the more it proves Jesus--and who He claims to be.
It was a gradual process for me. I think it was the intellectual part of me that first became sure it was true.
Meanwhile, my golf was going fine, and my marriage was going well. Our first child was born in October 1984, so my wife was pregnant at the time.
It finally happened while I was coming home from the Memorial Tournament that year. I was flying home reading Josh McDowell's More Than A Carpenter, where he talks about praying for the first time and accepting Christ into his life.
And, at that moment, I couldn't argue with it anymore. There was too much proof that Jesus was God and that He did come and die for our sins. So I prayed on the plane--the same prayer I read in the book because I didn't know how to pray. I'd never prayed before. I didn't believe that there was a God before. Now I did.
I showed up the next week at the Bible study with a Bible, and Larry Moody said, "Whoa!" I'd been to previous studies, mostly because I'd developed a friendship with Larry, and that friendship, I felt, was not contingent on my becoming a Christian. I knew that even if I never became a Christian, we'd still be friends. That meant a lot to me. That friendship gave him the platform to share the truth with me. It was the same with Morris. That was 1984.
Cheryl was really happy when I made the decision, although she was probably wondering, What's this going to do to this guy? I think overall she was happy with my decision.
After that, I had one of my best years ever in 1984. I get asked all of the time, "Does being a Christian make you a better golfer?" I don't think in any way that God makes my ball go into the hole. But what He does--when He promises us an eternal life and an abundant life--is promise us a better life here if we follow His commandments.
He also gives me the ability to keep things in perspective and have the right attitude. So, in that respect, being a Christian has made my life better. And my golf better. It gives me a reason to do my best and a reason to be content in the good times and the bad times. And there will be definite ups and downs in golf--for everybody. It's been a great time.
The two moments I best remember, I don't know how to rate. Everybody figures one would certainly be winning the U.S. Open in 1987. That was memorable because it was the greatest event I could ever hope to win. If I could pick one major--for Larry Mize it would be the Masters--it would be the U.S. Open. We've both been fortunate that we've won the tournaments we would pick as the most important. To beat Tom Watson at the Olympic Club was pretty special.
But what I remember equally well was the Bible study before that U.S. Open win, when Larry asked the question, "What is your contentment?" Larry's thesis was that if your contentment comes from Jesus Christ, then it doesn't come from winning or losing or where you are on the money list.
I went from a frustrated golfer at Westchester to a golfer who really had peace and contentment--and one who, in some ways, really baffled the press. They asked me afterward about what was going through my mind as I approached the last hole. I told them that I really had peace and joy that week and that I thought that had enabled me to do my best and win. Then they asked me, "You'd never won a major, Scott. Why did you seem so relaxed out there while you won?" So I shared why I was relaxed, why I did feel contentment.
That win was special, especially because my dad was laid up with a bad back, and he was watching at home on Father's Day, awaiting back surgery in a couple weeks. That was really special. That was definitely one of the top two.
The other would have to be in 1993, when I won the Byron Nelson. I hadn't played very well and hadn't won since 1989, even though I'd lost the play-off at the U.S. Open in 1991 to Payne Stewart.
At the Byron Nelson, I had a lead of four shots, then I made a bogey and it went to three, made a bogey and it went to two, made another, and it went to one. And at that last hole, I was staring at another bogey! After a hundred-foot bunker shot, I had a twelve-foot putt for par, and if I made that shot, I would win the tournament. If I missed, it would go into a four-way play-off. And I didn't like my chances in a play-off after finishing with four bogeys!
The thrill of hitting that putt, the last putt of the tournament, and hitting it right where I wanted it to go, and watching it break off the right edge right into the hole, it was the most thrilling moment I've had on the Tour. That was really special.
It was even more special since I was winning Byron Nelson's tournament. If I have one hero in golf, he'd be the one. He's come to our Bible studies and shared just how important his faith is to him. He's said how great everything has worked out in his life, how he has more friends than anybody he's ever known, and how it is only because he's tried to do his best to do what the Bible has told him to do. It is that simple. He's had his failures and his successes, but he's always had that goal in mind: to follow the Book!
And the neat thing about Byron Nelson is that you don't see many guys who are in their eighties with so much joy in their lives. Byron's so thankful for the good things, and he still has such a real expectation of even better things.
So often we see people get older, and they're bitter about things that didn't happen right or things they would change. Byron isn't that way at all. That's what's so attractive about him, I think. I'd love to be like that--if I get the chance to live eighty years! To really live it out and really finish the race. He's sprinting to the finish line.
Those are my two highlights, and they beat any lowlights I might have had through the years.
I think the best thing about my game is consistency. I'm not really flashy in any area, but I hit the ball consistently. I'm not a real long hitter, and I'm not the straightest driver, but I think I'm long enough and I'm pretty straight--which is why I've done well in the U.S. Open. And I think I have a good short game. Not the best of all time, but a good one.
I believe that consistency is both mental and physical. Mentally you just try to stay at an even keel. You look at the great players in history and the majority of them stay emotionally calm through the ups and downs, and I think that helps them to be consistent. That's true for Bobby Jones to Byron Nelson to Ben Hogan--all the way to Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
I think it is a discipline, to learn how to concentrate on each shot and let go in between. Letting go means: Just mentally relax. Talk or walk around or something like that.
You practice to get all the mechanics down, then you do it.
Golf is different from a reactionary sport like basketball or tennis where you have to clear your mind a little more to let things happen. Golf is more like shooting a free throw than charging with a basketball, because you have all that time to think about each shot.
What you need to do is quiet your mind and go through your routine.
For me, one of the big keys is to have a routine. For me, it is taking two waggles, stepping out, looking at the target, taking a practice swing, then two more waggles, then look at the target one more time, and then I go. I don't vary the routine. If I can't get a routine I'm comfortable with, one that I can use on the practice tee, then I won't be able to hit the same shots in competition.
Anything you change messes you up, tightens you up. You need to keep the same grip pressure, the same everything. That's the purpose of practicing.
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