For those who like Open contenders to agonize, Simpson's placidity hardly seemed fair. While Watson was wearing new creases into his brow trying to break a three-year victory drought, Simpson was content to be playing so well. "I wanted to win, but I wouldn't have been depressed if I hadn't," he says. "Finishing second, third or fourth still would have been great playing."
Simpson doesn't measure his success in life by how many golf tournaments he wins. Since becoming a Christian in 1984, Simpson unabashedly states that "God is Number 1, my wife and family are Number 2, and golf is Number 3." He never spends more than two weeks apart from Cheryl and their two young children, daughter Brea, 5, and son Sean, 1. "I try to make all my moments important," says Simpson, who continues to reside in San Diego.
Rich internal lives often seem externally dull, but Simpson is considered anything but by some of the Tour's livelier personalities. He often engages fellow player, and noted mystic, Mac O'Grady in long philosophical discussions. "Scott is one of the most open-minded guys out here," says O'Grady. "He likes new ideas." Simpson and the extroverted Peter Jacobsen are also frequent companions at rock concerts. "I'll always be a rock 'n' roller," says Simpson, who at 13 gave up the trumpet, which his father plays professionally, to devote more time to golf.
Scott and his brother, Dave, younger by a year and now an accountant, began playing at San Diego's Stardust Golf Club after Joe gave the boys a set of clubs to share. Joe assigned the even-numbered clubs to Dave and the odd numbers to Scott. Scott developed an upright action that features a long swing with little wrist cock. It produces drives that are short and straight (despite his 6'2", 180-pound frame, Simpson was 177th of 188 pros in average driving distance last year) and iron shots that rarely dazzle with backspin when they land on the green. Nothing spectacular, but as Watson said after the Open, "When Scott gets on a roll, he hardly ever misses a shot."
"I don't make many birdies, but I've always been good at making a lot of pars and avoiding bogeys," says Simpson. "I don't hit it in trouble too often.... You hear a lot about positive thinking, but there is a power of negative thinking, too. It's why you put a seat belt on, and why you aim away from the out of bounds and don't go after every pin."
Simpson won 27 junior tournaments in the San Diego area, which is rich in golfing talent. At 15 he won the California Junior championship, and at 16 was runner-up to Bob Byman in the 1972 USGA Junior. Back then he was hardly the model of serenity on the course that he is today. "I stayed pretty cool most of the time, but when I did get mad, I'd just erupt," he says. "I'd break clubs, throw my bag, generally act like a jerk. It may not look like it, but I still fight my temper. I'm a perfectionist, but there is no way to play perfect golf."
Off the course Simpson was a good student and dutiful son, even though a rebel within him was screaming to get out. "I was rebellious in my ideas, if not my actions," he says. "I would have loved to have grown up in a more rebellious period, grown my hair long, demonstrated, but I figured I was about four years behind all the good stuff."
While at USC he won the NCAA individual championship in 1976 and '77, and he was noted for his ability to outeat his hefty teammate, Craig Stadler, without gaining a pound. Still, as bright as his golf future looked, Simpson exercised his powers of negative thinking by earning a bachelor's degree in business administration. He almost had to use it when he missed qualifying for the Tour in two consecutive attempts.
"That was my low point," says Simpson. "I thought I might never amount to anything as far as golf was concerned." He made it on his third try, in the fall of 1978. Two years later, at 24, Simpson won the Western Open on the tough Butler National, outside Chicago.
Simpson had yet to become a paragon of self-control. Larry Nelson, now one of his close friends, remembers Simpson missing a short chip on the last hole of the 1980 Andy Williams-San Diego Open and flinging his wedge at his bag. The only problem was, the club missed its target and hit Nelson in the leg. Says Nelson, "If I hadn't been a Christian, we might have had a problem."