Sports

US Open countdown: Late birdies propel journeyman Scott Simpson past Tom Watson for ’87 title

87th U.S. Open | June 18-21, 1987

Olympic Club Lake Course, Daly City, Calif.

Leaderboard

Leaderboard

Scott Simpson, United States 71 - 68 - 70 - 68 277
Tom Watson, United States 72 - 65 - 71 - 70 278
Seve Ballesteros, Spain 68 - 75 - 68 - 71 282
Ben Crenshaw, United States 67 - 72 - 72 - 72 283
Bernhard Langer, Germany 69 - 69 - 73 - 72 283
Larry Mize, United States 71 - 68 - 72 - 72 283
Curtis Strange, United States 71 - 72 - 69 - 71 283
Bobby Wadkins, United States 71 - 71 - 70 - 71 283

Most fans know Scott Simpson as the smiling, slow-moving former playing partner of actor Bill Murray for years at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

But it was what happened two hours up the coast at Olympic Club that defined Simpson’s nondescript PGA Tour career.

Sure, Simpson had credentials in big tournaments. The San Diego native won back-to-back NCAA Division I men’s titles in 1976 and 1977 for USC. He ended up winning seven PGA Tour events for his career.

But that week in 1987, nobody — especially Simpson and caddie Dan Stojak — expected this to happen.

Simpson had won the Greater Greensboro Open two months earlier, but had picked up a bad case of hooking his driver off the tee to start the summer.

At the Olympic Club he held it together with solid middle rounds of 68 and 70 to leave himself one shot back of Tom Watson’s lead heading into the final round.

Poor putting led to Watson’s demise. He three-putted twice for bogey on two of the first five holes.

He regained the lead with birdie putts of 15 feet at the eighth hole, and 20 feet at the ninth hole — and held that position into well into the back nine.

But Simpson, known for his delicate short-game touch, reeled off three birdies at No. 14 (4-foot putt), No. 15 (30-footer) and No. 16 (15-footer).

Simpson found the greenside bunker at the 17th hole and blasted 10 feet past the cup, but he made the putt coming back to save par.

Watson had a final chance to tie, but his 45-foot bid on the finishing hole came up inches short.

“I never thought I was good enough to win the NCAAs,” Simpson told reporters afterward. “And I never thought I was good enough to win the U.S. Open.”

Turns out, he was good enough.

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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