A true character bids adieu

It’s been my rare and distinct pleasure in my life to have met some truly unique characters, through my love and involvement in golf; many of whom I’ve written about here in Fairways past.

I just discovered in the morning post (such a lovely phrase, that… but of course, I really mean “in my Inbox”) that Simon Hobday passed away recently.  If you’re a golfer of a certain age, you may know the name.  If you’re a golfer from South Africa, or you ever followed the European or Senior PGA Tour, you’d certainly know who I mean.

For the record… Simon was born in South Africa in 1940, and grew up in neighbouring Rhodesia and Zambia.  According to Wikipedia: “Hobday turned professional in 1969. He spent his regular career mainly on the Southern Africa Tour, where he won six times and the European Tour, where he won the 1976 German Open and the 1979 Madrid Open. As a senior, he played mainly in the United States on the Senior PGA Tour (now Champions Tour), where he claimed five titles between 1993 and 1995 including one senior major, the 1994 U.S. Senior Open.”

But beyond the stats, Hobday was one of those utterly charming, disarming, and lovable rascals that stick in your memory after only five minutes of acquaintance.  I enjoyed the pleasure of an evening with Simon and a few others just a few weeks after his Senior Open victory.  We were in someone’s house in Winston-Salem, and by the bloodshot eyes, I would’ve guessed that “Scruffy” (as he was happily named by his peers) was already two sheets to the wind by the time my gang and I arrived for a dinner party, around 6:00pm.   I can’t remember if he was drinking wine or beer, but it might have been both, at the same time.  However, he was more than coherent – a talent many experienced heavy drinkers share.

We sat together at dinner, and when he wasn’t regaling the table with hilarious stories (all of which have recessed to the nether regions of this thing I used to call a brain), he told me a bit about himself.  He told me he currently lived in a small town outside of Johannesburg called Halfway House, and he said he loved it because, of the roughly 500 people who lived there, no one had a clue who he was.   Otherwise, he was a bit of legend in RSA, although mostly in bars.

I think he also referred to a few previous wives, but two decades later, that may just be an assumption based on the character I absorbed.

(By coincidence, two years later, I was offered a job by a golf management company based in the UK, somewhat similar to IMG.  Simon Hobday would’ve been one of my clients.  I had somewhat mixed feelings about this… I figured he would’ve been a fantastic guy to work with, but that my liver would never have been able to withstand the challenge.  As it happened, I didn’t take that job, and I’ve regretted it ever since, but my liver has been eternally grateful.)

Anyway, there are two points to this column.

One is that Simon Hobday probably never got the recognition he deserved for his ability to strike a golf ball and win tournaments, because his reputation off the course as a party animal always preceded him and his golf bag.  Yes, it may have been “easier” to win tournaments a generation ago, but that still doesn’t diminish the fact that he won 17 times, including a major against some of the greatest players of all time.

And the second point is, it’s sad that golf has been losing so many great characters… or rather, it’s sad that golf doesn’t seem to produce many great characters any more.  Where are the Hobdays, Trevinos, Tommy Bolts, Doug Sanders, Al Besselinks?  (Okay, I suppose we do have Miguel Angel Jimenez who’s a beaut.)   It just seems the game has become so rich, so competitive, so focused on training and relentless dedication to fitness and precision, that the players of the last 30 years just don’t have time or interest in following the sun, smelling the roses, enjoying a fine ale, and going to bed after midnight.

There’s a story in Golf World that bears repeating:

“In his maiden pro victory at the 1971 South African Open, he beat Gary Player by a stroke. Before the final round, Player, already aware of Hobday’s good-time reputation, offered, “Simon, you really should take this game more seriously. You have a lot of talent, and if you put in the effort and went to bed nice and early, you could go far.” To which Hobday instantly replied, “Gary, you’re right. My father always told me that if I’m not in bed by 9, I should go home.””

So long, Simon.

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