So long Hobbers, and thanks for all the fun
A legend has left us. The first time I ever saw Simon Hobday play he was hitting an iron off the tee at a downhill par three at the Wanderers. It is, of course, not unusual for golfers to talk to a ball in flight, but I was somewhat taken aback when Hobbers yelled, "Hook, bitch!" It didn't and he failed to get up and down for par.
Hobday was 49 at the time and looking a little worn down by his legendary lifestyle. But within 12 months of that day at the Wanderers his life was utterly transformed.
Upon turning 50 he joined the Seniors Tour (now the Champions Tour) in the US and between 1993 and 1995 he won five times. Having lived from hand to mouth for most of his professional life, he earned more in those five wins than in the previous quarter of a century.
The biggest prize was the $145 000 he got for winning the 1994 Senior Open at Pinehurst. He beat Jim Albus and Graham Marsh by a shot, but Hobbers being Hobbers, it was a fraught final few holes. He once told me, "The leaderboard was going up and down like a yoyo, and as I was walking to my drive on the 15th I saw Jim across the water on another hole.
He looked at me as if to say, 'how you feeling?', and I put my hands around my neck and showed him how badly I was choking!"
But he held on and years later he bought himself a house in Midrand and called it "Pinehurst". When I met him there in 2009 he was 68 and retired from tournament golf, but he still played with his mates and regularly beat his age on the course. A few months before he succumbed to cancer he shot a 65, 11 better than his 76 years.
Nick Price was once asked who was the best iron player he ever saw. He said, "There are two, actually. Simon Hobday is one of them, definitely. The other is Lee Trevino. You can always tell a pure ball-striker by the sound the ball makes coming off the club. It's a dull thud, a very solid sound. I always listen to that with good ball-strikers."
And here's Nick telling a typical Hobbers tale: "Simon and Dale Hayes challenged Mark McNulty and me in one of these exhibitions back in the early '80s. McNulty putted phenomenally well, and Mark had used the same putter, a BullsEye with a blue grip, for years. They'd stopped making that model in the late '70s, and there was an old one in the pro shop. So Simon bought it and replaced the putter in McNulty's bag while he wasn't looking.
"There are like 2 000 people around the first tee. Dale was the emcee, and as he introduced McNulty he said, "Now most of you know Mark for his incredible putting prowess ... " and with this, Hobday said, "Where is that bloody putter?" He walked over to McNulty's bag, whipped the putter out and broke it right over his knee.
"Well, McNulty's eyes almost fell out of his head, and he looked in stunned silence at what Hobday had done to his favourite putter. He was about to start going after Simon. There was a good 30-second period where he was in shock, until Simon produced Mark's putter from behind his back."
And even though Hobbers was sick with cancer, we are all in shock now that he is no more. But as Dale wrote, most movingly, "Enjoy your golf in Heaven, Simon. Arnie's got a tee off time booked for you."