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Finding his way on the links

Tyler Simpson appears headed for the 'big time'

CLACKAMAS - After a mediocre showing as a member of Oregon State University's men's golf team, Clackamas 23-year-old Tyler Simpson has been turning more than a few heads as he pursues his dream of making a living in golf.

Simpson graduated from OSU with a degree in construction engineering management a little over a year ago.

After red-shirting his freshman year, he played golf for the Beavers for the next four years.

'I had very limited success at Oregon State,' Simpson says. 'My best finish was fourth. I was always the fifth or sixth guy on the team. With five guys traveling, I didn't do a lot of traveling.'

For nine months ending the first of June of this year, Simpson was in Scottsdale, Arizona, working in outside services at the Jack Nicklaus-designed courses at the Desert Mountain Resort, and taking lessons from Desert Mountain professional Bryan Hepler.

'My plan coming out of school was to play golf two or three years and see if I can get my game to the point where I can do it for a living,' said Simpson. 'My game has progressed a lot faster than I expected it to….

'My plan now is to stay amateur the rest of the summer, return to Scottsdale in September, and then, in the winter, make a decision whether to turn pro, or stay amateur - and work on my game - awhile longer.'

Simpson has had a whirlwind of success on the amateur circuit since returning to Oregon in early June of this year.

During the month of June, the 2005 Clackamas High grad tied for fourth place at the Royal Oaks Invitational in Vancouver; tied for third place at the Oregon Open played at Bend's Awbrey Glen Golf Club; and finished runner-up at the Oregon Golf Association Amateur Championship, held at Waverley Country Club.

'I'm not surprised with how I've done, but I'm surprised with how fast I've gotten there,' Simpson says.

Simpson says the turnaround in his game began two years ago, when he met and began taking instruction from PGA professional Brian Henninger.

'He said to me, 'If I can't make a tour player out of you, then I can't make a tour player out of anybody,'' Simpson recalls. 'That's when I started to really believe I might be able to make it as a professional. Brian Henninger started making it real for me. He played on the tour and won twice.

'To get hooked up with someone who'd been there and done that, and to have them say that, it did a lot for my confidence.'

In Scottsdale, Simpson met Hepler. He took lessons, and his game improved dramatically.

'[Bryan Hepler] had a very different way of teaching golf,' said Simpson. 'Both in how to swing a golf club, and the mental and physical side of it….

'I've been practicing less than I ever have and getting better than I ever have…. The information he was giving me made it easy.'

Simpson says that where in college he'd practice 5 to 8 hours a day for months at a time, in Scottsdale he practiced maybe 3-1/2 hours a day two or three days a week.'

Simpson says that Hepler has him dressing for success, wearing long pants instead of shorts to competition. He says the Scottsdale pro has him watching his diet and he's helped with mental preparation.

'I've learned how to sit and meditate,' said Simpson. 'It's a very Middle Eastern approach to looking at life and looking at golf….

'The biggest thing is belief - in yourself and in what you're doing. It's how you look at yourself and how you carry yourself. It's building inside yourself how you want others to see you. You look at yourself differently and you carry yourself like a professional.'

Simpson says one of the biggest improvements in his game has come on the green.

'I lot of people strike a putt and wish it was going in,' Simpson said. 'Now when I hit it, my attitude is I know it's going in, whether it goes in or not.

'You send a message to yourself and to the group you're playing with. It doesn't matter whether the putt is three feet, five feet or 20 feet. You say to yourself, 'This putt's going in.''

Simpson has two big tournaments remaining this summer. This week [July 11-16] he's at Tetherow Golf Course in Bend, competing in the Pacific Northwest Amateur.

And later this month he'll travel to Redmond's Juniper Golf Course for a U.S. Amateur qualifier, hopeful of making the U.S. Golf Association Amateur, which is slated for Milwaukee, Wisconsin's Erin Hills Golf Course in late August.

'I was able to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in Southern Hills [Tulsa, Oklahoma] in 2009 and that was a really great experience,' Simpson says. 'To get back there is big on my radar. There's nothing like a U.S.G.A. Amateur - playing on the same course where U.S. Opens and PGA Championships are held.'

Simpson said he appreciated the support of family and friends at the Oregon Amateur.

'My sister [Shelley Simpson] caddied for me all week, and that made a big difference,' Simpson said. 'She was the source for a lot of my comfort out there. She knew when to joke around and when to be serious. We hadn't seen each other for a long time and it gave us some time to talk and catch up….

'Also it was nice having it close to home, at Waverley, because a lot of my friends, my aunt and uncle and my parents came out and supported me.'

Simpson, who placed third at state twice while a student at Clackamas High School, says he played better golf in high school than in college, but now he's playing the best golf of his life - by far.

'Golf is one of those things that if you don't know why you're good, it's not going to last,' Simpson said.

Simpson, who first took up the game of golf at 2 years of age, believes he has found the key to success. But he says that if it doesn't work out, he'll be happy making a living as an engineer.

Brian Henninger says he believes in Simpson and his potential in the sport they both love.

'I spent two strong years working with Tyler when he was in college and watched him progress,' Henninger said during a telephone conversation last weekend. 'I think he's just starting to believe in himself….

'He's amazing. I've never seen anyone with the passion that Tyler has for golf. He's got a massive amount of talent and desire.

'Does Tyler have the ability [to make it as a professional]? Most definitely!

'It wouldn't surprise me if Tyler went right to the top. And I'll be right there watching, and cheering him on.'