LINKS LETTER, 2007 ANNUAL EDITION

PASSING IT ON

By Scott Simpson with Jeff Hopper

It has been more than a dozen years, and I don’t think I ever knew her name in the first place. But I will never forget that woman.

She was sitting alongside the eighteenth green at Pebble Beach, dressed straight out of Scotland, with a tweed skirt and matching hat. And Bill walked right up to the ropes, reached under, and grabbed her by the arm.

The next thing she knew, they were dancing in the bunker. Bill and this innocent golf fan, right in the middle of a PGA Tour event. It was one of the strangest, funniest things most of us had ever seen on a golf course.

And to think I asked for this!

The year before, at the AT&T National Pro-Am, comedian Bill Murray had made his inaugural appearance as one of the celebrity players. He was paired with John Adams, a player who was struggling to stay exempt on the tour. John naturally took the game pretty seriously and said in the paper that it was pretty tough to play with Bill, calling him a “distraction.”

I heard John’s comments, but I thought, Oh man, that’s crazy!

I was on the practice putting green with Peter Jacobsen, and I asked him offhand, “Can you believe John says that it’s distracting to play with Bill Murray? I would love to play with him. Can you imagine how much fun that would be?”

Peter knew Bill, but had a regular Pebble Beach partner in tournament favorite Jack Lemmon, so he couldn’t play with Bill. But he said, “Oh yeah, that would be such a blast!”

Then he said, “You should write the tournament and tell them you want to play with him next year.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that…”

“No, no, do it! You guys would be perfect together. You guys would have so much fun.” Peter was adamant in his encouragement.

I won the U.S. Open championship in 1987 and lost a playoff in 1991 to Payne Stewart. To play well in that tournament you have to keep your emotions in check. I had the reputation as a pretty quiet and serious golfer.

But I wrote the letter. I told the tournament committee that I thought Bill was great for golf, that he brought people out, and that his presence made things fun. You know, it is a game! For one week a year, I thought it would be great fun to play with him and I didn’t think it would bother my game.

So early in 1993, just a couple of weeks before the tournament, the AT&T folks called me up and asked, “Bill Murray decided to play again, and we were wondering if you still wanted to play with him?”

I said, “Oh yeah, definitely!”

Now, here I was walking with Bill down the eighteenth fairway that Saturday afternoon, and he turned to me and said, “You know, this has been so much fun, such a great week, we’ve got to finish it with something great. What do you think?”

I had been laughing and having the time of my life with Bill all week. What could I say now? I answered, “Well, whatever you think.”

And the next thing I know, there were Bill and the lady dancing in the bunker holding hands. He then let go of her hand and she fell backward and just kind of disappeared into the sand trap. Bill then laughed, and fell down too and started doing snow angels right there in the bunker. The whole thing was hilarious!

And yes, we did get the bunker raked.

Bill and I have played together at the AT&T ever since, and we’ve had some great times. We’ve played well fairly often, even finishing fourth as a team in 2005. Last year, when I made the move to the Champions Tour for professionals over 50, Bill came with me—to the Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in late August.

I had told him about the event, and he thought it sounded like fun. You play with junior golfers, and the weather in Monterey is usually great in the late summer.

“I have come to the conclusion,” he said, “that playing in good weather is an important part about playing your best golf.”

When he made the commitment to play, I just knew that we would have another great time at Pebble Beach. My junior partner was a young man from Arkansas named Robert Carter. On Friday, the first day, Robert was just getting ready to hit on the first hole when Bill said, “You know, he just doesn’t look like a Robert to me, and when you’re making a name for yourself you need something people will remember. I think we’ll just call you ‘Bobo.’ Come on everyone, let’s hear it for Bobo! Now hit a good one out there.”

We knew we were in for a special day!

Robert and I played with Bill the first day, then Bill and his amateur partner Chris played the second day with Bruce Lietzke. After two days they have an amateur cut, and Bill and Chris made it. So Sunday, in the third and final round, they went off starting on the back nine. When they finished up at the ninth hole, I was heading up the thirteenth. So Bill came over to see how things were going and to walk in with my group.

I had been playing pretty steady, making a lot of pars and hanging around the lead. When Bill joined us for the last five holes, he turned to my caddie Doug and said, “You know, if Scott makes a birdie or two, he could win this thing!”

Doug laughed. “Yeah, Bill, I think we’re aware of that.”

After making a birdie on the eleventh hole, I just couldn’t get another one to drop and came to the eighteenth tied for the lead. I laid up my second shot for a full sand wedge in. As we were walking up to my ball, I remembered back to February during the AT&T. Bill played in the alternate-shot celebrity shootout at Pebble Beach while I waited for him at Cypress Point Club for our traditional Wednesday afternoon round.

When Bill showed up at Cypress, I asked him how he had done. He said, “Well, we got on the eighteenth hole and I had 90 yards to the hole. I hit my sand wedge and knocked it in right in the hole!” I asked him what he did then and he said, “Well, the whole place was going nuts of course, so I just walked onto the green, gave them a small wave, and then just kept on walking. I figured if I stopped I’d never make it over here to Cypress Point.”

I thought walking right off the green and leaving everyone there was so funny, and now here I was with an 88-yard shot to the pin on the last hole of the tournament. Of course, right before I was going to hit as I was making my practice swing, Bill turned to the gallery and said, “You know, the last time I was here, I knocked it in the hole.”

The gallery laughed, figuring it was one of Bill’s jokes, but it was the absolute truth and we both knew it!

I looked at him and said, “Yeah, but I’m still better than you.” Now we were both laughing, along with the gallery and looking back on it, I really think joking around helped me hit a good shot. I believe that smiling and laughing can help you relax, and I know that is exactly why Bill said it in the first place.

I set up over that shot, and thought, Wouldn’t this be the funniest thing in the world if I actually holed it out right now? I went through my routine, focused, and made a good swing and the ball went right at the pin. The ball landed just past the hole, spun back almost going in, and stopped about nine feet below the hole. The crowd cheered, but I could tell it didn’t go in, so I told Bill, “Maybe I’m not better than you after all.” And we laughed as we walked up to the green.

I was nervous, but also relaxed and made a great stroke and watched the birdie putt fall in the top edge of the hole to put me in the lead. When Jay Haas didn’t birdie the eighteenth hole playing right behind me, I had won by a shot over Jay and David Edwards with 12-under par.

Bill was so excited he was giddy, and the whole day could not have been better. It was such a great way to win my first Champions Tour tournament, and at my favorite course in the world. My partner Bobo and I came in second, Bill and his partner came in third, and the whole day was just so much fun.

With the smaller crowds Bill could just joke around, play golf and not have to sign 1,000 autographs every day. He loved hanging out with the kids, and told me, “This was even more fun than the AT&T!”

You know, golf is a game, and it is supposed to be fun. But when you are a professional trying to win at the highest level, you also have to be serious about preparing to play, and focusing on your shots. I always try to do both, and keep an open mind about things. I’m a guy who has always enjoyed talking about the two things that most people say you’re not supposed to talk about: religion and politics. I’ve always thought, Why not? Those are the things that are so interesting and fun to discuss.

I think we can always keep learning, and I enjoy hearing both sides to issues. That is probably why I’ve never been afraid to look into things that I didn’t believe in. One of those was Christianity.

I wasn’t a Christian growing up, and I always figured those people who called themselves Christians had just been taught to believe it. I didn’t think there was any evidence for their faith. But I also knew that a lot of them were pretty sincere and that I could at least take the time to find out what and they believed and why they believed it.

One of my good friends on Tour back in the early 80s when I came out of the University of Southern California was Morris Hatalsky, who also grew up in San Diego. Morris was Jewish by birth, but had become a Christian after attending a Billy Graham crusade, talking with his good friend Don Pooley, and doing research in the Bible. He and Don both were among the pros that attended a Bible study that met each week on Tour.

But Morris didn’t fit my stereotype of those stuffy, stiff necked religious types. He was a fun, great guy! Everybody on Tour liked him. We would often have friendly arguments about politics and religion which we both really enjoyed. I wanted to find out about what made him such a great guy, and why he believed this Jesus stuff. In 1981, he invited me to an open forum where you could ask whatever questions you might have about God or life. I had lots of questions and I sure didn’t think that the Bible had the answers.

The leader of the open forum was Larry Moody, who still travels regularly with the Tour, ministering to the guys and their families out there. Larry is president of Search Ministries and went to Dallas Theological Seminary. He is an apologist, which is someone who argues intellectually for the truth of the Bible. But he wasn’t argumentative. He encouraged people to ask questions, and we would discuss anything and everything. He just gave us information about what the Bible had to say about the topic.

We became friends, and I asked Larry every question I could think of about God, Jesus, the Bible, and life. I got answers that just kept making more and more sense.

Flying home Friday night after missing the cut at the 1984 Memorial Tournament in Ohio, I pulled out a book Larry had given me. It was a just a small book, called More Than A Carpenter. It gave solid evidence and reason to believe that Jesus Christ was who He said He was, which was God, and that He actually was crucified and then rose from the dead. I read it all the way home, and it made a lot of sense.

So after three years of getting all my questions answered and reading more about the proof of Jesus Christ, I felt I had to make a decision. The proof and evidence I knew supported the truth of the Bible and who Jesus was. It’s the same kind of legal, historical proof that supports my belief that George Washington was the first President of the United States and Julius Caesar was the leader of Rome. I’ve never seen or touched them, but I do believe there’s evidence supporting the truth of who they were. The evidence supported the fact that beyond a shadow of a doubt the Bible was true. I could believe that Jesus Christ was a real person. The Bible said he offered me a great life here on earth and a better life for all eternity.

But obviously reason isn’t enough. I still had to set aside my pride. None of us wants to submit to anybody else. We want to do things our way, and be our own boss, our own person. To actually admit that you need God is where faith comes in. I had to be willing to trust my life to someone else. I know I’m not perfect, but that God loves us so much that He wants us with Him in a perfect heaven. Christ paid the penalty for my imperfection because I can’t ever be good enough to deserve heaven on my own. I decided to ask Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.

Once I took that step and said, “I do need Christ,” here is what I found: that my faith has grown in me. The more I study, the more I understand. The more I go to church and interact with other believers it just keeps reinforcing the truth of what the Bible says. I do believe that Jesus loves me, and that He can help me deal with anything good or bad that we might face in this life.

For me, this has been a tremendous journey. When you’re with anyone for a long time, you feel you get to know them better. My faith in God has gotten stronger as I’ve spent time with Him over these years. My love has grown deeper and deeper since I gave my life to Christ, and I’m just so thankful for Morris, Larry and so many others for sharing this truth of Jesus Christ with me. Three years of searching, 22 years of growing—and many more to go!

One thing God does for us when we start seeking Him is that He gives us examples to follow. Larry Mize has long been my best friend on Tour, and he shares the same faith I do, as do friends like Don Pooley, Loren Roberts and, of course, Morris Hatalsky among others. These guys have been a great support to me through the years. I also still enjoy being with others who don’t have faith in Christ, and I am always willing to discuss things with them.

But my golfing hero was always Byron Nelson, who passed away last fall. He was my height, he had a great swing, and I loved the way he played by hitting the ball so straight. In 1993, I won the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, Texas, and that victory allowed me to get to know him even better than all the books I’d read.

Each year before the tournament, Byron would host a Champions dinner for all of us who had won his tournament. We would get to talk to him and have a chance to gain some wonderful wisdom from this great man of the game.

Sometimes people get bitter as they get older, but never Byron. If anything he probably got more thankful for everything he’d had in life. He could have complained about the money he would have won with today’s purses, but instead talked about all the friends he was able to make through the game of golf. I always thought that I would love to be able to get older and still have the same love and joy and enthusiasm that were so evident in him.

He also wasn’t shy about talking about where his joy came from. He came to the PGA Tour Bible study a couple of times, and told us that he had made up his mind early in life to simply do what the Good Book said. For him it was that simple!

He amazed me when he told us that he decided as a young man to never smoke, drink, or swear. I personally don’t think that smoking and drinking are totally prohibited by the Bible, but Byron had made up his mind to do what he thought was right.

I don’t know that he was a particularly avid reader or studier, but he had a really deep faith in Jesus Christ. Byron knew without a doubt that he was going to heaven because Jesus had died for his sins. In Byron’s life you could see the fruits of living a life filled with hope and joy while walking with Jesus.

So here I am, growing older myself—at least old enough to play with the seniors on the Champions Tour! I don’t know what the future holds, yet it sure has been fun to be playing out there.

But enjoying things just for myself isn’t really what’s most important to me. I won my last tournament on the PGA Tour in 1998. It was the Buick Invitational, at Torrey Pines, in my hometown of San Diego. For the first time, my dad, my wife and both kids were all there. And what I thought was really great was that the kids were old enough to say, “Hey, look! Dad’s actually going to win!” Sharing that with them was probably a greater joy even than winning the U.S. Open.

We have great Bible studies that meet during the week on the PGA and Champions Tours, since we’re hopefully working on Sundays. It’s interesting though to see guys go to the study on the Champions Tour that wouldn’t go on the regular Tour. I think it’s partly because our perspective often changes as we get older. We realize there is more to life than just playing and practicing golf. We all have our own struggles, we might lose friends or family, and we start to realize that we won’t be living here forever. It makes us look at life with more sensitivity toward the spiritual questions we all wrestle with. We all eventually wonder why we are here and where we are going. I want to be there for those guys who might be asking those questions for the first time in their lives.

The young guys on Tour are often so busy trying to figure out how to work on their golf, stay exempt, and raise a family that they put off those questions. But many of them have been exposed to great programs like College Golf Fellowship and realize that all of life’s questions are answered in the Bible. Faith in Jesus Christ can impact their lives for the better no matter what problems they might be dealing with such as pressure with golf, family or marriage. Those guys also need to know they have the support of the older players like me.

And there are the young kids like Robert ‘Bobo’ Carter, my partner. We still talk often, usually by e-mail. He has a twin sister, Becky, who has Down Syndrome. She is a championship swimmer in the Special Olympics and Robert told me she kicks his butt in the pool! Robert knows how to serve others and helps out at the First Tee in Arkansas and with the Special Olympics. He is a great, great kid, and teenagers also have their own pressures and temptations to deal with. Even with a faith in God, people have a lot of questions, and I want to be available to him.

My goal in life is to serve Christ by being there for others as they deal with the things I’ve dealt with and to share what Jesus Christ has taught me through the years. In the same way that He impacted my golfing hero Byron Nelson, I hope He impacts me. I also strive to finish the race as a good and faithful servant, being thankful and joyful for this life, knowing that there is a better one to come thanks to His grace.

COPYRIGHT 2007 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • Scott Simpson

    7 PGA Tour wins (one majors): 1980 Western Open, 1984 Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic, 1987 Greater Greensboro Open, 1987 U.S. Open, 1989 BellSouth Atlanta Classic, 1993 GTE Byron Nelson Golf Classic, 1998 Buick Invitational

    1 Champions Tour Win: 2006 Wal-Mart First Tee Open