Ask Scott Simpson how winning the U.S. Open last year has affected him, and it doesn't take long for him to say, "Not much, really." One change is that after nine consistent but mostly anonymous years on the PGA Tour—the result, in part, of his habit of wearing a visor pulled so far down on his head that little more than a black mustache is visible—Simpson has had to get used to being recognized, even when his rugged features and graying temples are in full view.
"It has surprised me, but it's been great," says Simpson, 32, in the unembellished vocabulary, calm tone and deliberate cadence that reflect his personality. But let's not get carried away. For every person who, over the past 12 months, has mistaken him for a sexy TV star—"Gee, he looks kind of like Tom Selleck," a woman in the gallery at the Memorial Tournament whispered to her companion—many more golf fans have confused him with another Simpson, Tim, who's also on the Tour.
Scott takes it all in with the same wide, slightly bemused smile with which he acknowledged the mile of putts he sank over the final nine holes at the Olympic Club in San Francisco last June to win the Open by one stroke over Tom Watson. And his expression doesn't change when he's asked how he felt about being portrayed by much, of the media, including a certain national sports magazine, as the spoiler who turned Watson's Cinderella comeback into the "Dread Scott Affair."
"It didn't bother me at all," says Simpson. "Most people appreciated me and the way I won, and the fact that I played one stroke better than Tom Watson. As for the media, I think they tend to get more focused on the superstars and their not winning than the public does. I was just thrilled to win the Open, even if nobody else was."
One person who was as thrilled as Simpson was his father, Joe, who is a crack amateur golfer. Immobilized with a ruptured disc, Joe had to watch the tournament on television while lying flat on his back in his San Diego home. But when his son won, Joe, a 58-year-old retired elementary school teacher, shot up from his bed and screamed. First with joy. Then with pain. A few days later, he experienced half that reaction again when he read in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that "on a thrill scale [Simpson] ranks just behind Edwin Meese and slightly ahead of a tuna sandwich."
"I found that very unfair," says Joe. The article prompted him to write the magazine a letter, which said, in part: "Scott has loved golf since I started him playing at 10 years old. Scott has always considered the U.S. Open to be the one tournament that he'd want to win. Then when he does, he gets ridiculed in your magazine."
Scott's wife, Cheryl, says many of the congratulations she received for her husband's victory were tempered with commiseration over the press coverage. "It didn't bother me," she says. "I was there. I know Scott didn't back into it, he won it. You have a player with all kinds of good values, you would think people would want to know about him."
Simpson didn't engage in recriminations. "I don't get too worked up about articles," he says. "I just try to keep improving my game and let the other stuff take care of itself." Thanks largely to that unflappable demeanor, Simpson hasn't finished lower than 41st on the money list since his rookie year in 1979. Last year he won a whopping $621,032.
His temperament steadied him during the final round at Olympic. Simpson had come to the Open playing the best golf of his career. He had already had eight top 10 finishes in 1987 and had won the third event of his career, the Greater Greensboro Open, in April. Simpson didn't panic when he bogeyed the 3rd, 4th and 6th holes. Later he gave little more than a tentative wave to the gallery after sinking birdie putts on 14, 15 and 16. He was so involved in the moment that he looked up at a scoreboard only once all day, on his way to the 17th tee, when he had a one-shot lead.
"Olympic was one of those times when I was really able to play just one shot at a time," he says. "It's a cliché, but it's the hardest thing to do in golf. It might be colorless, but if you're emotional on the golf course, you're in trouble. Other than that, I only remember making all those putts."