Legendary giant of a colourful era
Legendary giant of a colourful era dies at 76.
Simon Hobday, who has died aged 76, will be remembered as one of the most colourful figures in the modern game. He played in the formative years of the European Tour, through the 1970s and 1980s, an era when larger-than-life characters were two-a-penny in professional golf. But none came close to emulating Hobday. Stories abound of his legendary exploits.
What made Hobday more special than the rest was his tremendous sense of humour and spontaneous nature. He delighted fellow pros and galleries with his crazy antics. His life was full of laughter and priceless moments. Those who witnessed it will never forget his walk through the 18th-hole water hazard at Kensington in the 1985 Tournament of Champions. Needing a five to win on this the 72nd hole, he thinned his approach shot with a 4-iron, and the ball skimmed off the water and on to the green, leaving him three putts for the victory. Luck, so fickle as far as he was concerned, had been on his side for once.
As Hobday recalled in his My Shot feature in Golf Digest (November 2006), “By the time we got to the green the crowd had formed a circle, so I thought what the hell let’s have some fun. I took my shoes off to wade through the pond and nearly made a horse’s ass of myself. The TV footage showed me nearly falling over, as it was a hell of a lot deeper than I thought. I had to get out sideways.”
Playing against Mark McNulty, they arrived on the first tee, with Hobday declaring to all around him that McNulty was bound to outputt him that day. What to do about it? Hobday pulled McNulty’s beloved Golden Goose putter out of his bag, and snapped the shaft over his knee. An ashen-faced McNulty was dumbstruck, and was still shaking when Hobday produced his real putter, the one he had broken being a substitute.
Hobday was convinced that fate was continually against him on the golf course, or a higher power was behind his putts lipping out so frequently, and was always bemoaning his luck. Perhaps he had due cause. At Swaziland in 1987 he shot a 61, and still lost the tournament to McNulty, who was 29-under for 72 holes.
In a 1983 Sun City tournament where a young David Frost was holing everything on his way to a maiden victory as a pro, Hobday went out for the third round with a sun hat hiding his face, and David Frost written in big letters on the top of it. “Bugger me, but it worked,” recalledbirdie putts Hobday.on each“I sankof the long first three holes, and then I three-whacked. I took the hat off, looked up, and said, ‘I had you fooled there for a while!’ ” (Many of the Hobday stories, and others involving Denis Hutchinson and Dale Hayes, were published last year in The Hole Truth and Other Mostly True Stories, by Brendan Barratt.) Behind the showman-
ship, and the pranks, though, was a seriously good golfer, a man regarded as a special ball-striker. Few golfers of that era could pure an iron shot like Hobday. His older brother Jon (who remained an amateur with younger brother Humphrey) recalls a story he was told by Simon of a British Open where he was hitting balls on the range. “Simon says he looked up at one stage, and there watching him were three former Open champions – Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tom Weiskopf. Having heard of his reputation, they had walked over to watch him.”
He was a strong believer in club throwing to ease frustrations on the course. “Bottling my emotions on the course was no good for me,” he said. “I could never get to my ball, whistle, and go, oh golly gee. I let it out straightaway. One time I was fined by the tour for throwing a club, I paid double, so that they owed me a throw!”
Hobday was a farmer in Zambia before turning pro at the age of 28, and soon afterwards was deported to Rhodesia because he had played golf in South Africa. The embattled Rhodesians embraced him as one of their sporting heroes. On his way to winning the 1978 Rhodesian Open at Royal Salisbury, some fighter jets, returning from a border sortie, flew low over the course as a tribute in the final round. He won the Victoria Falls Classic the following week, and then the first-ever Zimbabwe Open at Chapman in 1979.
His first success as a pro came in the controversial 1971 SA Open at Mowbray, a tournament which Gary Player maintained afterwards he winning.assessedin the had final beena two-shotHobdayround cheated despitewas penaltyout not of believingball had struck himself him that whilehis golfescaping a bunker on the 14th. However, the SAGU’s John de Kock, an observer at the green, maintained that the ball had not touched Hobday, and he thus won by a shot from Player.
There were other titles on the European and Sunshine Tours, but Hobday found true international fame for the first time in the 1990s when he qualified for the Senior Tour in America, and won the 1994 US Senior Open at Pinehurst No 2, a course after which he named his Midrand home. It was one of five victories between 1993 and 1995.
He played the Champions Tour until 2002, and loved the pampered life of a tour pro in America. “Poles apart from my early days in Europe, where you had to carry your own clubs, travel by train or taxi, and scrounge places to stay. When I think back, it was a horror story, but then again you had so many mates to hang around with.”
Hobday spent the last couple of years of his life in Ballito on the KZN North Coast, staying in the Umhlali golf estate. Although first diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago, he continued to play three or four times a week, using a golf cart. He remained passionate about playing, and was both brilliant and competitive to the end. In June last year, just before his 76th birthday, he went round Zimbali in a remarkable 65 strokes. His last game of golf, on December 24, 2016, was a 70 at Umhlali. He took ill that night, and never played again. – Stuart McLean
Simon Hobday with the SA Open trophy at Mowbray in 1971.
Two photos taken at Hobday’s Midrand home in 2006 for the My Shot article in Golf Digest. Golf and fishing were his passions.