Golfer Jim Simons: Profile of 1970s-80s PGA Tour Winner

golfer Jim Simons pictured on 1982 Donruss trading card
Jim Simons was a PGA Tour player in the 1970s and 1980s who won several tournaments. He is best-remembered for two other things: He nearly won a U.S. Open while still an amateur; and he played a big part in popularizing metal woods when those clubs were still struggling to find a place in golfers' bags.

Full name: James Bradley Simons

Date of birth: May 15, 1950

Place of birth: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Date and place of death: December 8, 2005, in Jacksonville, Florida

Simons' Biggest Wins

As a pro, Jim Simons won three times on the PGA Tour:
  • 1977 New Orleans Open
  • 1978 Memorial Tournament
  • 1982 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am
His biggest amateur wins were a pair of home-state championships:
  • 1969 Pennsylvania Amateur
  • 1970 Pennsylvania Amateur

His U.S. Open Near-Miss and Other Majors

Jim Simons wasn't in the Top 10 on the 1971 U.S. Open leaderboard at the halfway mark. But in the third round, he fired a 65 over the East Course at Merion Golf Club. That score was one off the overall U.S. Open record at the time, and Simons was just the second amateur ever to score 65 in a U.S. Open. (Through 2023, only one more amateur had done it since.)

And that 65 propelled Simons into the 54-hole lead, two strokes ahead of Jack Nicklaus in second, four ahead of Lee Trevino tied for fourth. It was Nicklaus and Trevino who wound up tied after the final round, with Trevino beating Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff for the championship.

But Simons, then 21 years old, acquitted himself well for almost all of a final round in which he was paired with Nicklaus. Simons still led after nine holes. When they reached the 18th hole, Simons was one stroke behind Trevino, who was in the clubhouse with a 280 total.

But on that final hole, needing a birdie to tie, Simons drove into thick round and wound up making a double bogey. He finished with a 76 for the round and fell into a tie for fifth place. That was still the best finish by any amateur since Nicklaus finished fourth in the 1961 U.S. Open. And no amateur has finished better than that in any U.S. Open since.

Simons was low amateur in that 1971 tournament, as he was again in the 1972 U.S. Open when he tied for 15th place. He first played in a major at the 1967 U.S. Open, and last in the 1984 PGA Championship. He had one other Top 10 finish, tying for fifth place in the 1982 PGA Championship. Simons had four other Top 20 finishes in majors, including in The Masters of 1980, 1981 and 1982.

More About Jim Simons

At the 1979 Tournament of Champions, two golfers did something no other golfers had yet done: They played with metal woods in their bags. Those golfers were Ron Streck and Jim Simons. Metal woods were in their infancy and had not yet caught on with the golfing public, either.

Simons first hit a metal wood on the driving range prior to the tournament that week. He immediately gained 15 yards on his drives — important for a tour pro who struggled getting distance. He later said he took a lot of ribbing from fellow pros for how the club looked and sounded, but it worked for him and he stuck with it.

Two years later, Streck, at the 1981 Houston Open, became the first golfer to win a PGA Tour tournament playing with a metal wood. But the Houston Open wasn't televised that year.

The Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was televised in 1982, and Simons used a TaylorMade metal driver. And because he was in contention, that metal driver received a lot of attention during the broadcast.

But Simons wasn't just in contention. As the final round played out, he overtook third-round leader Craig Stadler and won the tournament. He thus became the second PGA Tour golfer to win with a metal wood, but the first to do so in a high-profile, televised tournament.

Simons' victory is credited today with spurring many more golfers, both pro and recreational, to take a look at metal drivers. Over the next decade, many more golfers began replacing their traditional persimmon-headed drivers with the newfangled metal ones. By the 2000s, persimmon woods disappeared almost completely. Simons' victory in the 1982 Pebble Beach Pro-Am (his final win on tour) helped usher in a revolution in golf equipment.

Jim Simons grew up in Pittsburgh. He took up golf at age nine. In 1966, he won the Pennsylvania state high school championship and the West Penn Junior Championship. In 1969, he added the West Penn Amateur, then won the Pennsylvania State Amateur back-to-back in 1969 and 1970. He and his father also teamed to win the 1971 National Father-Son Championship.

Simons was runner-up in the 1970 Canadian Amateur. He played on Team USA in the 1971 Walker Cup, then a week later reached the championship match of the British Amateur before falling to Steve Melnyk. Simons' best finish in a U.S. Amateur — which was stroke play, not match play, in the years Simons played it — was tied third in 1970, five behind his Wake Forest University teammate Lanny Wadkins.

Simons earned All-America honors at Wake Forest in 1971 and 1972, and turned pro after graduating in 1972. His first full season on the PGA Tour was in 1973.

And many had big expectations for Simons' pro career, based on his showings in the 1971 and 1972 U.S. Open. Simons never quite lived up to those expections, in part because of a steady stream of physical ailments.

But he first finished in the Top 50 of the money list in 1975. (He finished in the Top 50 a total of seven times for his career.) And in 1977 Simons earned his first PGA Tour win at the New Orleans Open.

His biggest win (although not nearly as impactful as his 1982 Pebble Beach victory) was in 1978 at Jack Nicklaus' tournament, The Memorial. In the lead after three rounds, Simons had to hold on late with clutch putting. He one-putted five of the last seven greens to save par, including making a 20-foot par-saver on the last hole to win. He finished a career-best 26th on the money list in 1978.

Along the way, Simons had developed a side-career in the world of finance. He had the title of "second vice president and financial consultant" with financial services company Shearson Lehman. After the 1988 PGA Tour season, in which Simons made only two cuts in 16 starts, he left the tour to focus on his other career.

PGA Tour stats show Simons with 420 career starts on the tour and 39 Top 10 finishes. Those include his three victories, plus six runner-up finishes and three third-place finishes.

Among those six second-place finishes were three tournaments in which Simons tied for low score but lost in a sudden-death playoff. He fell to John Fought in a playoff at the 1979 Buick-Goodwrench Open; to Howard Twitty on the sixth extra hole in the 1980 Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open; and to John Mahaffey in the 1984 Bob Hope Desert Classic.

We mentioned earlier that Simons suffered from various physical problems throughout his career. Those included recurring shoulder pains, fibromyalgia and vision problems. He also had personal issues, including, at some point in the 1990s, a collapse of his business career that sent him into debt. Simons began downing more and more prescription pain medications. He began drinking more heavily. Near the end of 2005, at the age of 55, Simons was found dead in the hot tub of his Jacksonville, Fla., home. The medical examiner ruled the death accidental due to "multiple drug toxicity."

Simons is a member of the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame and the Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame.

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