Scott Simpson on AT&T partner Bill Murray doing snow angels in the bunker, why he’s anti-LIV and how Greg Norman became ‘a jerk’

HONOLULU — A year ago, while covering the PGA Tour in Maui, I heard that former U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson not only had moved to Hawaii after his playing days had come to an end, but that he had become the men’s golf coach at University of Hawaii. Who knew!

So, I looked him up and met with the former seven-time PGA Tour winner the following week at the Sony Open for what resulted in an enjoyable two-part Q&A and a standalone story (Part I here; U.S. Open flash back here; partnering with Bill Murray at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am here). A few weeks ago, during my return trip to Oahu to cover the Sony Open, we sat down again for another solid hour and delved deeper into partnering with Bill Murray at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, coaching the modern golfer, why he supports a rollback of the ball and doesn’t like NIL or LIV as well as how Greg Norman turned into a jerk. All that and more. Enjoy.

GWK: How do you feel about the Tour having these Signature Events where there's no cut, limited fields, guaranteed money and points?

1987 U.S. Open
Scott Simpson holds the trophy after winning the 87th US Open on June 21, 1987, on the Lake Course at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. (Photo: David Madison/Getty Images)

SS: A few of them I guess are fine, but it just better not become too many. I always liked the fact that whatever you made on the Tour, you earned. That said, I kind of like the idea now that you can’t earn less than $500,000 (if you have a Tour card). My thought was always I shouldn’t lose money for the week. The idea being if I’m showing up on Monday or Tuesday and I’m signing autographs for the fans, I do a pro-am and entertain the people that are here, and then I go out and miss the cut by one and go home with nothing – I’m not like a socialist, but I never thought that was good. If you make a Major League Baseball team, you may not play at all, but you make a minimum salary. As far as the limited field, even in the old days, they always had Tournament of Champions and some invitationals.

I can’t stand what LIV has done to golf. I don’t know how you fight them. How do you fight someone that can lose $2 billion a year and don’t care? At least if they both had to make money, LIV would be bankrupt, like a USFL or something, because nobody is watching it. Nobody cares.  

GWK: Why does LIV bother you?

1988 U.S. Open
Scott Simpson watches his drive off the 1st see at the Country Club course in Brookline, Massachusetts during the first round of the 1988 U.S. Open. (Photo: Mike Kullen/Associated Press)

SS: Because I love the PGA Tour, and when you make the Tour and you compete out there, you earn what you get. That was always what was so great about it. Tiger wasn’t guaranteed a cent. Neither was Nicklaus. They were the best players in the world. They start the next year, they’re even. Yeah, they make off-course money, sure, but the Tour, you’re not guaranteed anything, you have to earn it. I always thought that was just great.  

The other thing that bothers me is the Tour is what made (the LIV players) famous. The Tour is what made them millionaires. What are you complaining about? If you want to make it a little better, good. But I don’t know what they’re — they’re all mad at the Tour and stuff. Like geez, look what you have, it’s the PGA Tour is where you made it. If you want to go do something else, fine. But thank the Tour. That’s why LIV is paying you money, because you won on the PGA Tour.

GWK: Back to the signature events. How do you feel about the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am becoming a non-cut, limited field event without the celebs?

Comedian Bill Murray clowns with partner Scott Simpson at the 14th hole of Pebble Beach Golf Links during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on February 8, 2003in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Comedian Bill Murray clowns with partner Scott Simpson at the 14th hole of Pebble Beach Golf Links during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on February 8, 2003in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

SS: I’m glad they’re going to get a good field. But as far as changing it, I had so much fun playing with Bill Murray that I didn’t mind six-hour rounds. They could go eight hours as far as I was concerned. Don’t the amateurs only play like two days now?

GWK: Yeah, they’re going to play Thursday and Friday this year. There’s only 80 amateurs.

SS: Really? They’re not going to invite Bill back? Well, Bill always liked the Dunhill Cup I think more. He wishes he could have played in the Crosby. He loved the idea of the Crosby, too, where it was fun and you’d just go out there and have a great time, go to dinner afterwards. He wasn’t a big fan of the corporate side of it anyway. He called it the Crosby for a long time.

GWK: What are some of your fondest memories of playing with Bill Murray as your partner?

4 Jul 1997: Scott Simpson (left) and his caddy Bill Murray smile as they follow his ball during the Motorola Western Open at the Cog Hill Country Club in Lemont, Illinois. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport
4 Jul 1997: Scott Simpson (left) and his caddy Bill Murray smile as they follow his ball during the Motorola Western Open at the Cog Hill Country Club in Lemont, Illinois. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport

SS: We’d always play Wednesday at Cypress (Point). One of my favorite moments is the first year when he dragged a lady out from under the ropes and they’re dancing in the bunker and he lets her go. We were dying laughing, and then Bill falls down and does snow angels in the bunker.

So, we show up the next year, and a PGA Tour official, it was Duke Butler, he comes up to us on the first tee and goes, Scott, Bill, can I talk to you? He says, we’re going to be watching your group. We don’t want anything happening like last year, we don’t want you going under the ropes. Problem is, Bill hits half his shots out in the gallery.

Bill got so pissed because first of all, they did it to us kind of last minute, and he said, You’re going to do that to these pros? You’re going to put that in their mind while they’re trying to play golf? He was more concerned about us. So we get done, and he says to Duke, I want to see you after the round. I think we were playing Poppy Hills. So we meet at Pebble’s 18th and Bill, he’s really clever. He tore this guy apart, telling the guy, Do you even have balls? You’re not even a man, are you? He said, Beman tells you to do something and you just do it.

After a while, it was like, is Duke going to take a swing at him? Duke, to his credit, just said, Bill, I understand, but this is what we were told by Beman. We only watched you for a few holes, doing our duty, and then we didn’t bother you again. Duke was great. Bill was brutal. I wouldn’t have blamed Duke for taking a swing. Man, that was something.

We played with Mark Grace, the baseball player. We’re going to miss the cut so on the 18th hole at Pebble, Mark pitched him a baseball, Bill had a bat, and Bill hits a home run out into the ocean, ran all the way around the bases at the 18th green. I don’t think he slid. But he’s like, “This is my farewell. I will never play here again as long as that little Nazi Deane Beman is running the PGA Tour.” Three months later, Beman announced he’s retiring (in June after 20 years on the job). I called Bill and go, Wow, you’ve really got some friends. He quit. I don’t want to get on your bad side. Geez. So he kept playing. That was good.

GWK: You're in your third season coaching men's golf at Hawaii. What makes you want to still coach at this point in your life?

1991 U.S. Open
Payne Stewart (left) and Scott Simpson at the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minneapolis. (Photo: David Cannon/Allsport)

SS: Because if I didn’t, it would be boring. I’ve got to do something. I guess I’m not one to just sit around home and stuff.

Plus, I really like teaching and helping kids like that. The down side of coaching is that I don’t get to give as many lessons to juniors as I was starting to do. I really loved that. That was really fun. People say, oh, it’s nice you’re giving back. I’m getting a lot out of it. I wanted to see if I liked teaching or not. I mean, how do you know? I found out, man, I really love it, especially with these kids. I give an hour lesson, and my friends say, well, you’ve got to charge. I charge a hundred bucks, and give an hour lesson and most of the time they took an hour and a half, two hours, just having fun, well, let’s go putt. I told my wife, I’d do this for free, and she’d say, no, you’re not. Got to make a little money.

GWK: What sort of impact has NIL had on college golf?

2006 Boeing Championships
Scott Simpson lines up a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2006 Boeing Championships at Sandestin. (Photo: Jason Parkhurst)

SS: Well, we’re a small program, so nothing for us. We’re at a college golf convention, and some of the big schools, I’ve heard about a junior getting offered like $50,000 and a car for golf. I know some of these football players are making millions.  

For golf, that was surprising to me. I think the kid must have turned it down because he went somewhere else. But I don’t like it. I always thought getting a scholarship was a huge deal. Getting my college paid for? That was fantastic. You get four years just to get better and see how you stack up. I’m not a big fan of it, but it’s the way the world is going, I guess. I don’t have to worry much about it. I’m not attracting the top-20 kids in the nation.  

GWK: What impresses you about the top juniors when you see them?

SS: Well, the guys I’m looking for are guys that are maybe not rated or ranked really high. I guess I’m getting players that are ranked like 1,000 in junior golf scoreboards, but they have good solid swings, so my thing is they haven’t quite made it yet, but they could. They have the potential to do it.  I’m looking for really good attitudes, good grades are important to me. That’s become more important to me.

GWK: How would you describe the level of play at the elite college level?

SS: It’s pretty amazing. I think it’s a combination of YouTube – you can watch swings and break it down and teachers put stuff up, and a lot of good teachers. The advantage to that is I think you can work on things and get better. The disadvantage is you have guys that go down the rabbit hole. Next thing they’re trying to get a perfect swing, and it just gets you frustrated, and you get worse and worse. Fine line.  

GWK: Who helped you with your game as a player?

SS: I was self-taught growing up, and then on Tour at a certain point I thought, if I’m going to really be good, I should have a teacher, someone that can watch me and they’ll get to know my game and stuff, and I took some lessons with all the big guys at the time and I didn’t like any of them. I was with (David) Leadbetter for about a year. It started OK.  Really nice guy, but he was real technical and I played terrible. Then I worked with a friend of mine in San Diego Kip Puterbaugh. Kip was great.  

For the golf swing, it’s hard to beat Ben Hogan. I really liked his book. It’s simple fundamentals. Byron Nelson was kind of my hero and Sam Snead.  I don’t think we’ve changed a whole lot since those two. So I’m kind of old school, just simple.

I like studying about the swing, the technical part, but you can’t think about that while you’re playing, so you only want to do it while you practice, so it’s kind of a hard thing to figure out.

GWK: Anyone's game today remind you of yours when you watch them play?

Scott Simpson acknowledges crowd holding putter at the Augusta National Golf Course during the 1992 Masters. Mandatory Credit: Margaret Sellers -The Augusta Chronicle via USA TODAY NETWORK
Scott Simpson acknowledges crowd holding putter at the Augusta National Golf Course during the 1992 Masters. Mandatory Credit: Margaret Sellers -The Augusta Chronicle via USA TODAY NETWORK

SS: Hmm. Well, watching Chris Kirk (win The Sentry) kind of reminded me of me a little bit because I kind of had a pause at the top of the swing and just kept it in play and had a good short game. I was pretty calm most of the time.  Watching him play last week, I was like, that’s kind of the way I play.  

Who else? The game has changed so much. I was talking to (Larry) Mize, what would we do now?  I’m a big fan of the rollback of the ball, just because do we really want 8,000-yard courses? All these courses, they’re longer, and then they have all these long walks between greens and tees and they just take forever.  

We should have more courses like (Waialae). In 1982 the longest guy on Tour hit it 274 average, so it’s 50 yards difference. They talk about, oh, stronger and all this stuff. That’s a bunch of crap. Are there better athletes? Yes. But this is equipment. Because obviously they’ve always had good athletes.  Nicklaus was strong as could be. But you had to learn how to hit it straight because the ball curved more, too, and the harder you hit it, like the real long guys, they would put more spin on it so you had to almost learn how to hit it easier to take spin off of it. But now because of the equipment, you learn how to swing harder. That’s why you see the left foot is jumping out of the way and you’re starting to see more injuries.

GWK: Do you think it's the ball or the driver?

SS: Oh, it’s both. Credit to the engineers. I mean, they come up with some amazing stuff.

I have in my office the wood I won the NCAA with (in 1976) and then the U.S. Open one (1987), and my guys will pick it up and be like my goodness, how do you hit this? Because it looks so small, the little wood head. Now with the big heads and the light shafts and stuff, and getting it dialed in the way they can now with the TrackMan to get the optimal launch and spin rate and that kind of thing, plus the ball doesn’t tend to curve as much, so you can hit it really hard without putting the extra spin on it.

Everything is just designed to go far, and it’s designed to go pretty straight. I mean, you might push and pull them, but it’s harder to do. The equipment allows you to make more aggressive, fast swings. So I think it’s a combination. They say, well, baseball — to me, baseball stadiums should be like almost twice as big now. Bigger, stronger athletes, right?  But they adjust, and they have to use wood bats. I don’t want the baseball stadiums to be bigger. They seem perfect. Those who object to a rollback say, what do you want to go back to gutta percha then? No, a 7,000-yard course seems like it should be a good test. You’d be able to go back to some classic designs, too. Now if you go to St. Andrews, which now plays super short, you walk off the first tee and you walk back to the second tee. It used to be you were right off the green, first green, walk over to the second tee. But now you walk back to almost every tee just to try to get it to 7,200 or 7,300 probably.

What's an example of something that is tough for you to relate to coaching college kids at your age?

SS: I ask guys, do you watch golf? Nobody watches golf. They’re 20, 25 year olds, they don’t watch. They don’t have cable or anything. Everything is on either their phone or the laptop or something. They’ll watch YouTube and they’ll watch highlights and things but they don’t watch the golf tournaments. Like really?  It’s weird.  

I tell them you should watch it. You need to watch what the pros are doing if you want to be one. Go figure out why they’re so good. But yeah, they don’t seem to watch it as much. They’ll read about it or watch highlights. We’ll talk about it. Yeah, it’s different. When all the old folks die off that are used to watching TV, I don’t know. Of course, I used to get magazines and now I just read online all the time. Eamon Lynch cracks me up, especially about (Greg) Norman. He comes up with some funny things.

GWK: What was your relationship like with Greg Norman?

LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman looks on during the first round of the LIV Golf Miami golf tournament at Trump National Doral. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman looks on during the first round of the LIV Golf Miami golf tournament at Trump National Doral. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

SS: I liked him when he first came over from Australia, he was fun and hit it, especially for back then, long and straight. He was a great player. Played with him quite a bit. He was a nice guy and everything. But then the more he got successful and the more money he made, he got more miserable because he has to live up to — I’m so big, and I’m such a businessman. He got miserable on the course. It was just like, why are you out here? He was just grumpy and entitled. Just getting all that money, I think, kind of changed him and stuff.  Everybody liked his wife and then they got divorced. Nick Price named his son after Greg but by the end, yeah, they had no relationship. It was really weird. Norman just became kind of a jerk. Nobody liked him.

GWK: I've enjoyed catching up with you again during the Sony Open, thank you. Living on Oahu isn't a bad place to be coaching men's golf, is it?

SS: I lived here in the ’90s for like four years, but I think it’s been about eight years since we moved back. Right around (age) 60, my wife and I moved over. This summer I was at the U.S. Open in LA, and I went to USC, my alma mater, and they fired the golf coach. I called my wife up, said, Hey, did you see the USC job opened up? I’d probably make six times my salary, have a big budget — maybe I should put my name in? She goes, Well, dogs and I will miss you.

It was just a joke because you couldn’t pay me enough to move back to LA.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek