Surgery gives Simpson back his game


Champions TourPARKER, Colo. – Tim Simpson loves golf so much he was willing to risk his life to keep playing.

Contending with a neurological condition that caused his left hand to shake so badly he struggled to play, Simpson elected five years ago to undergo a radical and risky surgery called deep brain stimulation.

Now, the tremors are more controlled and his game is again in a good place.

Simpson is 2 over after two rounds of the Senior PGA Championship, trailing leader Fred Couples by nine strokes heading into the weekend.

“I played fantastic both days,” Simpson said between chip shots on the practice range Friday after his round. “I played brilliantly tee to green, just haven’t made the putts I’m capable of making.”

There was a time when playing the game was a chore, the tremors in his left hand just too bothersome. He said his disorder mimics the mannerisms of Parkinson’s disease.

Tim Simpson swings golf club
Simpson underwent deep brain stimulation in 2005. (Getty Images)
So, doctors implanted a device through a hole in the right side of his brain and then lodged a transmitter under his left clavicle. The two were connected with a wire that ran underneath the skin around the top of his head and down along the back of his neck near the ear. It acts as a “super pacemaker,” sending electrical pulses to areas in the brain that control movement.

Before the 9-hour operation, Simpson was warned that his body could very well reject it, that he could suffer an aneurism and maybe even die.

But there was a very real possibility it could help, and that’s what he clung to.

“If they missed it by one millimeter, the surgery would be a failure,” said Simpson, who has noticeable bumps where both devices are implanted.

The operation was successful and he said the tremors are virtually nonexistent, except when he turns the unit off. “It gave me my golf and career back,” Simpson said.

Simpson was in the prime of his career on the PGA Tour – a four-time winner, among the top-10 money leaders – when his left hand began shaking one day. It may have been the result of a genetic condition, or perhaps it had something to do with the Lyme disease he contracted shortly after playing in the 1991 Masters.

Simpson was staying at a friend’s rustic cabin during a hunting trip when he woke up covered in deer ticks.

“In 36 hours, I had all the symptoms (of Lyme disease),” said Simpson, who lost 85 percent of his big-muscle strength.

Soon after, the shaking began. For years he tried to deal with it, compensating as best he could, but nothing really seemed to work. Then came the procedure and the chance to play the game he loved, the way he loved to play it.

So, he took a chance.

“I’m grateful I get a chance to play,” Simpson said.
For nearly eight years, Lu Chien-soon went to work as a manager of a golf course in Taiwan, unable to pick up a club, give a lesson or play a round.

He was sidelined by an aching lower back that couldn’t be cured.

Finally, through the layoff, physical therapy and some Chinese herbal medicine, his back is feeling better.

Lu returned to competition last season and is steadily rounding into the form that helped him win 32 times on the Asian and Taiwan Tours. He’s 4 under heading into the weekend.

“I’m getting better and better,” Lu said through a translator.
In the middle of breaking down his round, Tom Lehman suddenly veered off course.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., resident wanted to talk hoops.

More specifically, the awkward layup Ron Artest made at the buzzer that allowed the Los Angeles Lakers to sneak out a 103-101 win over the Phoenix Suns and take a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference finals.

“I can’t believe it,” Lehman said. “I’m still angry.”

His play in the first two rounds didn’t evoke nearly the same angst. He finished with a two-day total of 5 under to remain near the top of the leaderboard.

Not bad on a balky right knee.

“It’s fine,” Lehman said. “By the end of the day typically it’s somewhat swollen and somewhat sore.”
To concentrate on golf, Jay Don Blake has given up his hobbies.

That means no fishing, boating or drag racing.

The devotion is paying off this week. Blake has turned in two solid rounds to sit at 4 under for the tournament. Even more, his creaky back isn’t giving him fits.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t function, couldn’t play and my game really slowly went downhill,” Blake said.

And now?

“It hasn’t really bothered me,” he said. “I keep from getting it to where it locks up and where I can’t play at all.”
Fuzzy Zoeller withdrew from the tournament Friday after nine holes with a swollen finger. … Rod Spittle of Columbus, Ohio, withdrew Thursday night because his father died. … Tom Watson is 5 over after two rounds. “Course got me today,” Watson said after shooting 4 over on Friday. “I didn’t hit my irons very well today and didn’t putt worth a darn.” … Defending champ Michael Allen sits at 1 under heading into the weekend. “I’m in position, I’m playing well, so hopefully I can shoot a good score,” Allen said.