Since joining the UC San Diego golf team as a freshman in 2010-11, now-junior Lewis Simon has been a fixture in the Triton lineup, and over the past two years, has been on the roster in every tournament. Boasting the second-best scoring average on the squad at 75.7, the Torrance native has been a key element in UCSD’s run to a second straight NCAA Regional berth. Veteran Triton coach Mike Wydra appreciates what Simon brings to his squad. “Lewis is not the biggest guy out there, but he’s long off the tee and gets up-and-down as well as anyone on our team,” says Wydra of his 5-foot-8 standout. “He’s been a consistent player since he got here.”
With the Tritons up in DuPont, Wash., for the 2013 NCAA South Central/West Regional, Simon took time to reflect on his team’s progress and talk about different aspects of his sport.
Q—After sitting out the post-season as a freshman in 2011, you’ve been part of two NCAA Regional teams, the second heading up to the state of Washington this week. What’s changed and allowed your team to be more successful?
SIMON—Well, I think that the addition of very strong freshmen these past two years have really helped us get the depth in lineup that is really, truly, scientifically necessary in a strong, successful team.
Q—What will allow the program to take the next step and truly compete at the national level?
SIMON—I think that we have the talent. It’s just a matter of putting all of the pieces together. Our major problem in the past has always been that only a few people play well in each given tournament. If we can figure out a way for all of us to play well this week at Regionals in DuPont, WA, I think making NCAA Championships could really be a possibility.
Q—Obviously, that could happen this season with a top five finish at this week’s Regional but what are your feelings about the future, specifically 2014 when this year’s entire roster returning?
SIMON—Basically, everyone is looking forward to next year. We also have some very talented freshmen and transfer recruits coming in, so our team will only get stronger, while the majority of teams will get weaker due to graduating seniors. We look forward to using this to our advantage next year, but right now we are all focusing on finishing this year strong at Regionals.
Q—What’s the lowest score you’ve ever carded for 18 holes?
SIMON—My lowest score ever was a 66 at Kahuku Golf Course in Hawaii in 2011, but my lowest round in a tournament was a 67 at The Links at Summerly in Lake Elsinore in 2009. It was a while ago, but I just remember feeling really comfortable over the ball. It’s a great feeling when you know that you can hit the ball wherever you want to, and when you know that basically you are going to hit the ball solidly every time. Hopefully I can have a day like that again this week at Regionals.
Q—One hears different theories , but for you, what is the single most important factor when it comes to shooting a great round?
SIMON—Well, for me, I tend to play best when I play smart. By that, I mean just playing conservatively, and not taking any unnecessary risks or trying any dangerous shots. I think that playing smart, hitting fairways and going for the center of the greens is a safe, intelligent way to navigate the golf course successfully.
Q—When you’re standing over a 5-to-10 ft. putt with a lot on the line, what’s going through your mind?
SIMON—On those kinds of putts, I just tell myself to trust the line and the read (which way the putt breaks). If you start second guessing the line and the read, then you can easily miss a putt that you probably should have made.
Q—If you were given the opportunity to play in one of the four majors, how do you think you would fare? Could you make the cut?
SIMON—It would definitely be tough to make the cut in a major, due to the length and difficulty of the course. Renowned PGA tour professionals miss the cut in these events, so it would not be easy by any means. Also, the greens are usually extremely fast and undulating, and the rough can be very tall, so you would need to keep it in the fairway.
The British Open may fit my eye the best due to the fact that the courses they play often have the widest fairways. The wide fairways would give me a little more room for error off of the tee.
Q—On this year’s Triton team, who is the best off the tee? Who has the best iron game? Best putter? Best out of trouble? In a Ryder Cup-like pairing, who would you want as your partner?
SIMON—I think the best off the tee would be Clayton Yamaguchi. He bombs it. Jay Lim has the best iron game. Best putter would either be Jacob Williams or Fredrik Palmer-Picard. They both make lots of important putts every round. Best out of trouble would probably be me, as I’m probably in trouble the most off of the tee and often need to scramble to save par.
Q—What are your three favorite golf courses? What do you consider the three best golf courses in San Diego?
SIMON—My three favorite golf courses that I have played are Ko’olau Golf Club and Oahu Country Club, both in Hawaii and El Caballero Country Club in Los Angeles.
In San Diego, I think the three best courses are The Grand Del Mar, San Diego Country Club, and Del Mar Country Club. They are the nicest and most difficult courses in my opinion.
Q—How did you get started playing golf?
SIMON—When I was little my parents used to take me to Hawaii to visit my grandparents. My grandpa loved playing golf, so one day when I was visiting them, he gave me some of his old clubs and took me to the driving range. I was six years old at the time, and I’ve been playing golf ever since.
Q—Did you play other sports when you were younger? When did you decide golf would be your focus?
SIMON—I played Little League Baseball from about nine to 12 years old. I was a lot better at golf than I was at baseball, so I think that was one of the major factors that made me choose to pursue golf over baseball.
Q—Which part of the game was the toughest for you to master?
SIMON—For me, putting has been the toughest part of the game. While it is virtually impossible to “master” any aspect of the game, putting is the most important part of the game because you hit more shots with the putter than you do with any other individual club during the course of a round. It was very difficult for me to get the confidence that I needed in order to make important putts, especially in tournaments, but now I think I have more confidence in my putting than I have ever had in the past.
Q—With what part of your game has UCSD Coach Mike Wydra been most influential?
SIMON—Coach Wydra has helped me out a lot around the greens with my chipping and putting. He has helped me get into the habit of visualizing where I want to land my chips and on what line I want to start my putts on. This has helped me get up and down more consistently and has made me able to save par from almost anywhere.
Q—Have you ever made a hole-in-one?
SIMON—I’ve made five of them. My most memorable one came in 2007. I was playing in a junior golf tournament at Los Serranos Golf Course in Chino Hills, CA. The hole was a 179-yard downhill par 3. I hit a knockdown 7-iron that landed pin high, took one bounce forward, then spun back into the hole. It was pretty cool.
Q—You’re involved in quite a few campus activities outside of golf. Describe them and talk about your reasons for participating.
SIMON—Well, I currently am on TAC (Triton Athletes’ Council), SFAB (Sports Facilities Advisory Board), and am a student manager at OVT (Ocean View Terrace). These do take up a lot of my time, but I enjoy being involved in all of these different activities because I want to help athletes, I want to help develop improved, modernized sports facilities for students, faculty and community members to utilize, and I enjoy providing quality food for UCSD students, as well as everyone else who comes in to OVT for food.
Q—What are some of your interests outside of golf?
SIMON—I like playing basketball and football, spending time with family, meeting new people, and cooking.
Q—What do you consider the best “golf” movie?
SIMON—The best golf movie that I have seen is “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” starring Shia LeBeouf. It’s based on the true story of a caddy named Francis Ouimet, who won the 1913 U.S. Open playing against many of golf’s all-time greats, such as Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
Q—You’re a cognitive science major with biology minor. What do you hope to do with that in the future?
SIMON—I am hoping to either go into research or med school in the future. I am not sure at the moment which one I am going to actively pursue, so for now I am keeping my options open. I am a student manager at OVT already, so maybe I should go into restaurant management! Like I said, I am keeping my options open and am open to any and all possibilities and opportunities that come my way.
Q—Who is your favorite golfer? Who is your favorite non-golf athlete? Person outside of sports that you admire?
SIMON—I’ve always really liked Tiger Woods. His work ethic and consistency is truly inspirational. My favorite non-golf athlete is either Carl Lewis or Jackie Robinson. One person outside of sports that I admire is Martin Luther King Jr.
Q—Who would fill out your fantasy foursome?SIMON—Tiger Woods, Barack Obama and Arnold Palmer. I think I could beat Barack and probably Arnold since he’s about 90 now. But I don’t know, he was a great golfer and he has a drink named after him so he’s got to be doing something right.
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