Leg­endary gi­ant of a colour­ful era

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - SI­MON HOB­DAY 1940-2017

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.

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