- By Tom Shanahan, San Diego Hall of Champions
In one way, Scott Simpson made a short trip for his induction into the Breitbard Hall of Fame. He was born in San Diego, raised on San Diego Junior Golf and still makes San Diego his home.
But in another way he made a longer trip than retired Chargers Ernie Ladd and Doug Wilkerson and many other past inductees who made San Diego their adopted hometown through sports. They only learned of the San Diego Hall of Champions upon playing sports in San Diego.
Simpson’s athletic achievements in golf have been logged by the Hall of Champions dating back to his Junior Golf days, to his time at Madison High School as the CIF San Diego Section individual champion in 1973 and to his time at USC as a two-time NCAA champion and All-American in 1976 and 1977.
“This is a real special moment for me to go into the Breitbard Hall of Fame,” Simpson said. “I’ve known about the Hall of Champions from growing up here and from the first time I was a Star of the Month. I’ve been down to the Hall of Champions a number of times. It’s very special to me because there have been so many great athletes who have come out of San Diego.”
San Diego golf followers have known about Scott and Dave Simpson – Dave was the CIF San Diego Section individual champion at Madison in 1972 — long before others in the golf world saw Scott win his first PGA Tour event in 1980 in the Western Open.
Seven years later he became a major figure in golf history by capturing the 1987 U.S. Open. His golf journey came full circle when he won the 1998 Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines Golf Course, the muni layout that so many San Diegans, both future pros and handicappers, grew up on.
“The U.S. Open was my biggest thrill in golf, and it was also special because it came on Father’s Day,” Simpson said. “My father taught my brother Dave and me a lot about golf and encouraged usd. But being able to win at home was also a big thrill for me. It came when I was older, and my kids were able to watch the tournament and enjoy it. A lot of guys have grown up playing golf at Torrey Pines, and it made me one of the guys who have been able to win at home as a pro.”
Simpson’s win was part of a stretch that saw three native San Diegans win the Buick Invitational in six years. In addition to Simpson, Phil Mickelson won in 1993, 2000 and 2001 and Craig Stalder in 1994. They are among five San Diegans to win the PGA at Torrey Pines, joining Gene Littler (1954) and Billy Casper (1966).
Simpson was known throughout his days on the PGA Tour as one of the game’s most accurate drivers. It served him well when he won the U.S. Open at the famed Olympic Club in San Francisco. It’s a short course with narrow fairways. Simpson entered the final round trailing Tom Watson by one stroke, but his round of 68, with three birdies on the back nine, gave him a one-shot victory over one of golf’s all-time greats.
Simpson made a run at a second U.S. Open title in 1991 at Hazeltine National, but he lost in an 18-hole playoff to the late Payne Stewart. The 1991 U.S. Open came during one of Simpson’s best stretches of play on the tour.
“It’s funny how many people think I won two U.S. Opens,” Simpson said. “I hear that a lot from people. I don’t know why; maybe it’s because I had a great stretch then with a lot of good finishes.”
Although the 1998 Buick Invitational is Simpson’s last PGA title, he may soon be back in the winner’s circle as a member of the Champions Tour. He turns 50 on Sept. 17.
“I’ve been talking to some of the guys that are already out their like Craig Stadler,” Simpson said. “I think it will be a lot of fun for me. It’s competitive, but it’s not life and death. It’s a little different atmosphere.”
It’s a world where the Breitbard Hall-of-Fame inductee is known as a major champion.