Sunday, 11 November 2012

Simon Hobday

Any sport is blessed when a player of exceptional ability comes along, more so when the player happens to be a colourful character as well.

 Such a player did much to put Rhodesia on the world golf map during the 1970s. The man was Simon Hobday, who became to Rhodesians what Gary Player was to South Africans.

 Born at Mafeking, South Africa, Hobday played golf and rugby for Northern Rhodesia after his family, all of whom were above-average sportsmen, moved there. Hobday's father was a scratch golfer and brothers Humphrey and John were also good at the sport. But it was Simon who really excelled and in 1969, at the age of twenty-eight, he decided to turn professional and took up a post at the Lusaka Golf Club.

 A year later he and his family moved to Rhodesia where he continued playing in relative obscurity until 1971, when he achieved his first major triumph by winning the South African Open. It was a startling victory with Hobday holding off a sizzling seven birdies on-the-trot challenge from Gary Player in the final round.

 It was the year that Hobday came of age, so to speak. On the South African circuit he equalled or broke par in 13 of the 20 rounds he played, and he finished the circuit with an average score of 71,6.

 Better things were to come. In 1972 he finished 13th in the South African Professional Golf Association's order of merit, but slipped to 15th the following year. Hobday was beginning to establish himself, but unhappy with his 1973 performances, he took up a teaching post at Kevin Quinn's driving range at Salisbury where he was also able to put in a great deal of work on his own game. A knee injury kept him from going to Europe in 1974. He had planned to play in the Portuguese, Madrid, Spanish and French Opens.

 In 1975 Hobday continued quietly accumulating winnings on the South African and European circuits, and he also took prize-money in Britain, despite the United Nations sanctions ruling on Rhodesia.

 Hobday was emphatic that he would be known as nothing other than a Rhodesian when he played the overseas circuits, and he stuck to that decision the following year when he played so well that the authorities just had to notice him.

 He started by winning the 1976 German Open, and then he collected about £14 000 in Britain by finishing sixth in the Benson and Hedges International, and by being a member of the World side that finished second in the Double Diamond event, and reached the semifinals of the match play championships. After that, the British PGA were ordered by the Bank of England not to pay Hobday any more four-figure cheques.

 Thereafter Hobday had to rely entirely on his winnings in Europe to survive overseas — all the cheques he picked up in Britain were immediately frozen in his Channel Islands bank account.

 Despite being unable to use a good portion of his winnings, Hobday by then was playing well enough to earn a good living from the European and South African circuits. In 1977 he finished second in the Martini International in Scotland, third in the Madrid Open and sixth in the Kerrygold in Ireland and he had also been offered, and accepted, the post of professional at the new Gary Player-designed Elephant Hills course at Victoria Falls.

 Anecdotes galore surround a player like Hobday. In 1977 he was fined $20 for swearing during the Scandinavian Open but Hobday paid $25 — "It was worth it," he said. His driver had broken while he was hitting a tee shot at an easy par four hole. The shot went out of bounds and Hobday finished the hole in six. "What was I supposed to say?" he asked.

 There was also the time when Hobday stayed up very late during an important tournament and was paired with Gary Player the next morning. "Simon," Player asked, "how could you stay up enjoying yourself like that when you knew you were playing with me?"

 "Gary, I sleep fast," replied Hobday in typical cool fashion.

 In 1978 Hobday picked up prize money of more than $7 000 in Europe with a second in the Portuguese Open, a third in the French Open and a seventh in the Scandinavian Open. He finished third in the SAPGA order of merit.

 But 1979 was to be his greatest year and during it he won Rhodesia's highest sporting honour — the John Hopley Memorial Trophy for the Sportsman of the Year. It was also a unique honour in that when he won it, the title was Zimbabwe Rhodesian Sportsman of the Year.

 The achievements that led to his winning the John Hopley Trophy were impressive. Hobday won the Madrid Open, finished tenth in the Portuguese Open, won the Victoria Falls Classic and won the inaugural Rhodesian Open at Royal Salisbury by a massive seven strokes from nearest rivals John Bland and Dale Hayes. He also won the Springmaster Open and was second in the Victoria Falls pro-am. His Rhodesian Open and Falls Classic wins were in the late part of 1978 but counted towards the 1979 Sportsman of the Year.

 Hobday was lying third in the European order of merit in 1979, but he quit the circuit after the first round of the French Open after a close golfing friend, Salvador Balbuena of Spain, died. He was also depressed by the worsening security situation at home and was worried about his wife, Jean, and their three children. The death of Balbuena had been the last straw. "I just couldn't take it any more." Hobday said when he arrived home.

 But you can't keep a good man down and after a few weeks of rest and relaxation Hobday returned overseas where a second in the English Classic and a fourth place in the Irish Open at Portmarnock boosted his season's winnings to $16 000. He finished 11th in the European order of merit.

 Hobday's ebullient personality made him popular at home and abroad. There was always a large gallery to follow him round in Rhodesia for there was inevitably a lighter side to a serious tournament when Hobday was playing.

 Celebrating into the early hours of the morning after winning the John Hopley Memorial Trophy did not deter Hobday when he teed off at Chapman course at Salisbury for the Zimbabwe Rhodesia Open the following day. In a dramatic finish he shot four birdies in the last five holes for a new course record of 65. It was his third course record in consecutive tournaments. In the Victoria Falls pro-am, he shot a record 66 and followed that with a spectacular 64 at Wingate in the Springmaster.

 His Chapman course record round started with a birdie three at the first hole and Hobday immediately claimed — his late night the evening before was no secret — that he was playing 'by radar'.

 It was this sort of open attitude that earned him much admiration and it probably had a lot to do with his golfing success. Hobday could laugh at himself, even when the going got tough.



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At 20 July 2013 at 09:27 , Blogger said...

What is Simon up to these days is he still playing ?

At 11 November 2013 at 16:24 , Blogger Wolfgang Papsdorf said...

I saw him play when he won the German Open. Saw him play at Sun City and the U.S. PGA Tour. Just had to follow his game because I like those characters, not adapted their own person. Time has made ​​us a bit older I wish him a long and beautiful life evening. Greetings to a great golfer from Germany

At 26 August 2018 at 09:36 , Blogger Unknown said...

i'm Simon's great nephew. His brother Humphrey is my grandfather.


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