Dan Retief
Golf Hall of Fame Induction

Simon Hobday was one of a kind

Posted in Dan on Golf, Home by Dan Retief on 3 Mar 2017
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He was a real character… how often was that phrase used to describe Simon Hobday, who died on Wednesday (1 March 2017) aged 76.

There was, and only ever will be, one “Hobbers.” Stories about him, his naughtiness, his charm, his wit, his nerviness, his candour and his devil-may-care attitude will abound for many years.

Simon was authentic. His was not an act; what you saw was him, Simon Hobday, and he did not care less whether you approved or not.

And when the Big “C” came knocking he fought the illness with the same cavalier bravery that had been his life’s rule – cancer might have taken him but it did not beat him.

His good mates Dale Hayes and Denis Hutchinson have preserved many a Hobbers tale in their book “The Hole Truth” so his legend will be preserved.

I did this interview with him for SA Golf Digest in May 2014. It was part of an idea that came from the magazine’s American principal; a series with luminaries of the golf world entitled “My Shot…”

The concept was to put leading questions to your subject and let the answers provide the narrative… without the questions being shown.

Editor Stuart McLean commissioned me “to do Hobbers.” We met under the big avocado tree at his home in Midrand (he subsequently moved to KwaZulu Natal) and after initial hesitancy Simon got into the swing of things. Each time I prompted Simon, as was his wont, hit another gem of a shot.

As the interview is by now quite dated I have included some of my prompts and share it as a small tribute to a man who set an example about how to love life and who I was privileged to have known as a friend. Given the space constraints of magazine this is a much fuller version.

One thing I do know… if there is a God and he does play golf on heavenly fairways he is about to be chirped on the first tee! RIP Hobbers.

ON HOW GE GOT INTO GOLF:

The old man and the old lady, both of them were dead keen on golf. So we started playing before we went to school at Bishops. So of course we took our tools down there, but they didn’t exactly smile on golf because it was an individual sport and they only wanted team sport, but we used to hit balls on the rugby field there on Sunday and many times we’d walk across the common to play at Rondebosch; they let us play on Sundays.

Mazaibuka may be a mubi little place with sand greens but is amazing how many good players come from funny little towns. The Pappas brothers came out of Palaborwa and the Goose (Retief Goosen) from Pietersburg… from that kind of environment where there’s no restriction on kids playing.

I was a Zambian but the great flood of Zimbo golfers came from a combination of a fellow called Cohen, who owned a furniture business, the bloke from the junior golf foundation, (I forget his name) and the clubs. Zim is a little place and in the school holidays these guys used to play for TV sets and sofas and shit like that…they were competitive little bastards. They had like a junior tour and the combination of those three and the weather of course resulted in the like of Price, McNulty, Watson and Johnstone who learnt early how to close a deal.

I played rugby for the Bishops first team and also for Northern Rhodesia in ’63 and ’64. My club position was flyhalf but I played centre for Northern Rhodesia. The oke that killed my career in rugby was a fellow called Ian Bond. I had to mark him and I couldn’t catch him. He just ran bloody circles around me. He should definitely have been a Bok, Ian Bond. He was brilliant. Hobday’s luck you know. I get to mark that oke and look like a right prick!

As a Zambian I was only a golf pro for a year before they deported me. My grounding as a pro was in Zimbabwe; so the springboard was definitely Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia.

ON ALLEGEDLY HAVING BEEN EXPELLED FROM BISHOPS, ONLY TO HAVE HIS NAME APPEAR ON THE SCHOOL’S HONOURS BOARD AFTER HE WON THE SA OPEN:

When I got to standard 9 I was obviously not going anywhere – it wasn’t Bishops’ fault – I was just being idle or I wasn’t an academic and the old lady obviously thought, ‘maybe I’m wasting my money here,’ so they came to me and said what do you want to do? So I decided let’s get outta here. It was a mutual thing I think, I was pleased to go and they were pleased to see me go because I wasn’t doing any good there. That was halfway through standard 9.

At the start it was my elder brother Jonathan and I, and later Humphrey as well, on the train from Mazabuka in Zambia. It was four bloody days on the train. I didn’t think Bishops would ever put my on an honours board, but I believe they have. I’m quite chuffed about that.

ON TURNING PROFESSIONAL

I was a farmer before I turned pro. Cattle, maize and cotton. I was 28. I’d won the Zambian amateur five years in a row and a couple of guys came to me and said ‘listen don’t you think you should turn pro, we’ll sponsor you’ – Tony Rice being one, fellow called Billy Jones and a guy who had the BMW agency up there, Bob Palmery. So I said okay fine I’ll give it a go, but 18 months later I was shut down when the buggers kicked me out.

The difference between the early days in Europe and the Senior Tour in America is incredible, poles apart. Carrying your own tools, going on the tube, having to get a cab, scrounging for a place to stay, carrying your own katunda (clothing) all over the place…in America you arrive at the airport there’s someone to meet you with a new Cadillac, they pick up your gear for you and drop you off at this mansion. Totally different. Now that I think about it (the early days in Europe) it was a horror story and we were playing for bugger all anyway.

ON THE GOOD (AND BAD) TIMES

They were good times though. There was a whole tribe of us, mates we went over with. Pete Matkovich and Muss Gammon, Tienie Britz, Tershie Boy (Tertius Claassens). Then of course we made mates with the Aussies and it only took a couple of years and you had thousands of bloody mates.

Was I as bad as people said? Well that’s the legend, but hell we would give it a go. When you’d played rugby for 10 years that’s what you did. When you finished playing you had a go. And we did.

In Zambia they had a moratorium on sport where you weren’t allowed to play against teams from South Africa, but in the meantime I was playing on my own down there. You may recall that in Mufalera they locked up all the British people and their wives for playing golf in South Africa, well Jesus they got me and (Len) Castignani off the course and stuck us inside for a few hours. And that was the story.

That was a bad spell. I went to British High Commissioner in Lusaka to say what the hell goes on now? And he said you can either live on the dole in England or you can cross the border to Rhodesia. Well I didn’t want to go and live in England, it’s too bloody cold, so I went to Rhodesia. Then the next thing they froze my bucks; you know that bloody David Owen (former British foreign secretary) attached the bloody lot because I was feeding a Rhodesian family, or whatever. (This was during the time of British sanctions against Rhodesia). So it meant the Pommie bastards wouldn’t let me cash my cheques, and then the next thing, I had already arrived in Portugal, my missus phoned me to say they’d frozen my bucks and that we couldn’t collect any at all. So I rushed off to the PGA and they explained that they had to put my money in a bank somewhere, ‘but we’re not allowed to pay you.’ So I had to play like hell in Europe to get enough money to pay my expenses for when I played in England. In Ireland funnily enough they always paid me, probably because they knew I’d spend it on that diff oil of theirs! (Guinness). It turned out okay though because the fact that I couldn’t touch my bucks was like a forced savings.

I can remember once chasing that bloke Kenny Brown playing at Birkdale. We were parked on our bag at the 15th. I’m standing on the fairway. Kenny Brown’s on the green. There’s two okes on the tee and the next oke in front of Kenny Brown was actually going onto the 17th green, so he was a par-five and a par-four behind. But I was doing well but with all the mucking about my mind wandered and I got to thinking that if I win this tournament I can’t pay my caddie. If I won 2000 pounds, whatever it was in those days, I wouldn’t have enough money to pay him his percentage because of course my cash would have been stuck straight in the bank. Of course it blew my bloody brain and I cocked it up from then on in.

Swaziland was one of the best stops on the tour; it was the fun tournament of the year. Many’s the time I’d get on a roll in the casino and go straight from the tables to the first tee. Old Charles Fiddian-Green, with his posh whatto old boy accent, he really loved the bad guys, the Bakers, the Claassens, me, the more trouble you caused the better he liked you. In those days you were strong you know. It was more like a hangover than anything else, because you’d stopped drinking long ago. I never played drunk. I could play with a hangover but I could never play drunk.

ON THE FAMOUS WATER WALK AT KENSINGTON

Walking though the water at Kensington? That was one of my lucky breaks. I needed to make 5 to win on the last hole. I’d hit it on the fairway and was playing with Warren Humphreys and A.N. Other, I can’t remember him. But A.N. Other had driven it under the TV tower on the right-hand side and it was his shot. But they were buggering around making the ruling there, the two of them were arguing about it. So eventually I said no bugger it, I’m going to fire it up (to the green). I remember I had 4-iron in, to a sucker pin behind the water on the right. I definitely wasn’t going there but it was a horrible bloody shot, squirted out right and then skimmed off the water and onto the green, leaving me three putts from quite close to win. By the time we got up to the green the crowd had formed a circle around the green so I thought, what the hell, let’s have some fun. So I took my shoes off to wade through the pond and nearly made a horse’s ass of myself; if you’ve seen the footage I nearly fell over and it was a hell of a lot deeper than I thought and I had to get out sideways! It was a spur of the moment thing.

ON HIS PUTTING BLINDSPOT

You can’t win tournaments without putting well, but consistent good wasn’t my game. I was leading a tournament at Wentworth and jeez I putted terrible. At the 12th hole I gave my putter the yellow card and then at 18 I gave it the red card. I gave it one of those (indicating breaking the shaft over his knee) and then tied it to the back of the car and dragged it down the road at a million miles an hour with sparks flying all over the place!

The golf god up there? That bastard! He and I are not square. If I got holes-in-one for the next 10 holes I played we still wouldn’t be square.

In one of the first tournaments at Sun City, the Gordon’s Gin Classic I think it was, I played with Frosty (David Frost) for rounds one and two. You know Frosty, smart bugger, could putt like hell. I was going for the sucker pins and messing up and he was just hitting it 20 foot left, 20 foot right and then holing the putt, and of course I couldn’t hole anything. So I thought better get a hat so that bastard upstairs can’t recognise me. But what I did is I wrote “David Frost” on the top and bugger me on the first hole I hole it from 30 foot, and the second hole from 30 foot and the third from 30 foot and then eventually I three-whacked, so I took the hat off and called to the sky “had you fooled there for a while!” Frosty went on to win that one, his first victory.

Bobby Locke was the best putter by far. I’ve seen a lot of helluva good putters, like Gary for example. Gary from eight feet was bloody deadly. That’s why he was the best up-and-downer the game has seen and the best out of bunkers. Tony Johnstone might have hit it closer (out of bunkers) but up-and-down? Not even close to Player. But Locke was the best putter because it didn’t matter what the green was like he would just pour them in from everywhere. Funny thing is you couldn’t copy his method at all. It was unique. God knows how many putts he would have holed on the greens we play on now.

ON BEING THE UNLUCKIEST GOLFER EVER

Dale Hayes makes jokes about my complaining about my luck, but he’s seen it for himself. I remember once at Palaborwa, the 16th hole, the par five with water in front. I couldn’t go as I’d hit a bad drive so I laid up, 90 yards from the pin. Anyway we get there, down the hill like that, and my ball’s not to be seen. We almost declared it lost but I found a divot and there it’s lying in this bloody donga in amongst all the loose grass dropped in by the player who made it. Now the ball is up against the front and there’s no way I can move it. So I have a go at it and put in the water. Now I’ve got to drop one, but I’m hopeless from 40 paces so I go back and get a drop in roughly the same place. Two yards away. But underdeath the fairway is a bloody rock and my ball goes right on it and straight back in the divot! Which is now unplayable because I’ve had a go it. There I was looking to make four and now I’m dropping unplayable for five and I’m running up an eight! Now that had nothing to do with me. Whose fault was that?

ON OCCASIONALLY LETTING ONE GO

Bruno Henning once gave me a free throw at Randpark, because it was the same bloody thing. My drive finished in a little ditch on the fairway to drain some storm water and he comes and says ‘no, you can’t drop.’ So I said well then I’m going to throw, and he said ‘you can throw, it’s on the house.’ So I lobbed it (the club) over the water and did not have to pay. Another time he fined me for club throwing so I paid double and said you owe me a throw!

Oh no I threw clubs. I used to lose it. But I got it straight back. If I tried bottling it was no good for me. Some okes can hold it in, you know the Furyks or the Goosens, I don’t know what they do afterwards, maybe they go and smash the television set, but I could never do that – get to my ball, whistle and go oh golly gee. I let it out straightaway and by the time I got to the next shot I could play again.

OF THIS AND THAT

At one stage we were trying to set up a match, the Hobdays against the Hennings, but it’s probably just as well it never happened because we couldn’t have beaten those okes.

The Bakers, the Matkos, the Claassenses. That’s where all the trouble starts. You can’t hang around those okes and stay out of trouble because that’s where it happens. Matkovich was a great bloody instigator. He had a lot of bad ideas.

The best round I ever played was at Swaziland. I made 61. I was so angry I didn’t make 59 but I got a Hobday job at the 14th. I was 10 under par after 12, without an eagle, but at 14, the three par, I hit it two feet behind the hole and there was a spike mark, a big bastard, right on my line and it knocked the ball away. Then I missed another little one on 17. That could have been 59. I was playing with Hutchy funnily enough. Also the first three rounds at Pinehurst. You know when you’ve really got the thing on song. When the club goes to the back there and you just know you can do anything with the ball.

There’s only one way to buy a golf club; you have to find the right shaft. These days they have computers that can help you but nothing beats hitting different clubs until something clicks. Even if you spend bloody hours there find the right shaft. The machine will never be as good as your own feel.

ON HIS FINEST HOUR

Pinehurst was just unbelieveable. (The 1994 U.S. Senior Open). When I went into that tournament I wasn’t playing that good, but you know this bloody game you’re only one shot away from turning it around. All of a sudden I found something on the tee which was phenomenal; I just hit everything flush out of the middle of the club. I putted great too; I was 14 under par after three rounds which on that golf course is unreal, especially as the weather hadn’t been that great. It had rained like hell so it was kind of stop-start. Then of course I also set a world record for the highest last round to win (a 75). But it was phenomenal; I putted like hell, I drove the ball great, it was fantastic. (he said of his best victory and the one that caused him to name his estate in Midrand, halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria, “Pinehurst.”)

ON GOLF COURSES AND THE GAME

Pinehurst is as good a golf course as you will find anywhere. In England my favourite is Wentworth. You’ve got to play that course after it’s been raining for three weeks and now the sun comes out and you’re playing the next day; that’s very special. It’s my favourite track in Britain. The American courses were way, way in front of the European courses that I played but you can’t actually say which is the best one because there are just so many good ones.

I’ve never been to Augusta. Never got an invite and I really only wanted to go as a player.

The first time I ever played St Andrews I nearly got myself run out of town. The reporters asked me afterwards, well, ‘what did you think of the Old Lady?’ and I told them to dig the bloody thing up! There’s thousands of bloody starving people in this world why don’t you plant cabbages, maybe build a runway for aeroplanes! But after playing it about 30 times you suddenly realise what’s potting. That’s a great old track and of course the 17th hole is the toughest bloody par four in the world as far as I am concerned.

No-one’s really ever approached me to put my name on a course, but of course I’d love to. I’ve got all the pictures in my head. We play golf courses now where you ask why on earth have they done that, when they could have done this?

Modern golf courses are fantastic because not only are they manicured to perfection but they look fantastic. They call on you to play a different brand of golf because we all hit the ball so bloody far these days; with water in front of the greens, bunkers and big undulations. I would say you should be able to run onto the green, but if Ernie Els wants to come and play on my track he’d have to go over water to sucker pins and if he misses find trouble. Too many courses now bunkers are obsolete for the good player; they only catch the poor old bugger who comes along for a bit of fun.

They’ve got to slow the ball down. They need to look at the speed it leaves the club and make it non-negotiable. Let’s stop the thing. We haven’t got enough room left in this world to be building courses with 600 yard par fours.

ON HIS FELLOWS

Bobby Locke was No1 for me. When I was a “laaitie” he was my hero, and then Gary (Player) of course and Harold (Henning). They set me on the road to becoming a pro. Talent-wise we just had so many really good players. People forget how good Haysie (Dale Hayes) and Coley (Bobby Cole) were. You don’t win the European order of merit when you’re 18 years old as Hayes did and be a palooka.

Ernie (Els) is actually better than he’s produced. He’s not like Gary who was an over-achiever. Let’s face it Player’s only four foot one, couldn’t see over a molehill, but he beat everybody. Ernie, even with what he’s done, four majors, if he’d had Player’s competitiveness he would be unbeatable. He’s definitely got the talent to beat Tiger, but I don’t know whether he’s got the mind to do it.

Tiger? That oke defies words, but you know somewhere along the line another oke’s going to come along. In our days it was Nicklaus and in South Africa it was Gary; everybody tried so hard they killed themselves. He was a two-shot penalty, Player, in South Africa. And Nicklaus was a two-shot penalty in America. And now it’s Tiger who’s got them all by the shorts.

18 majors? I think it is a bigger record than people realise because Nicklaus only had 10 guys who could give him a hard time in majors. He had to beat Casper, or Trevino, or Player or Watson but after that there were not too many who had it in them to win majors. But Tiger’s got to contend with 150 blokes who can win. So the opposition’s a helluva lot stronger so if Tiger makes the 18 that would just be unbelievable because of how strong the opposition is.

ON TILTING AT THE MAJORS

There was a British Open at Birkdale (1983) that I thought I was going to win. It’s a terrible story this. I’m off at about 11 in the morning. Watson (Tom) was going to go off at about 1.30, perhaps later. I don’t know how many birdies I’d made but I was like six under for my round so I was six under for the tournament and they, the leaders, were at 9 or 10. I’d just made 2 at 7 and was waiting for my mate to putt out when the fellow on the scoreboard – in those days they used to have the numbers on little square boards that they used to hook up on the scoreboard – dropped his numbers with a huge clatter. So I look up there and they’ve got Tom Watson 10 under par, Harold Henning, funnily enough, 9 under par and I’m six or seven under. Walking to the next tee I thought, hang on, they’re off in two, three hours time; you know what can happen to the weather here. If can get round to the 15th or so and the wind can blow me home, because I’m hot as hell, I can pick up another few birdies or so on the par fives I can go to 10 and if the wind gets up they (Watson and Henning) could be blown to bits, I could win this bloody tournament. Weelll! I tell you what! it was like throwing a bucket of ice. I choked like you cannot believe. You know when you dive into an ice-cold pool? That’s how I went. Anyway I cocked up and finished 19th. That was the only sniff I had at a major.

ON RAISING THE RIGHT ELBOW

I never went on the tee drunk in my life, no never. I might have been late in the pub and people might have seen me having a go and think I’d been there all bloody night, but it wasn’t like the legend, you know the stories got bigger and bigger that I was snot-flying all the time, that’s not true.

People forget who the story was about and the next thing it’s me! I mean there was the one that I pissed on my ball and then asked for relief from casual water! but I can tell you dinkum that that was somebody else.

ON GOING FISHING

When I was on the farm in Mazibuka it was right on the Mkushi river and I used to fish every Sunday, catching barbel and bream, whatever. Once you get into fishing it’s there for life. In America I loved it because you know all the water there is full of bass and carp and during practice rounds so I’d take a cart and my rod and fish as I went.

My biggest I’ve caught was a 416 pound bluefin tuna or tunny as they call it here. That bastard took me 2 hours 51 minutes to get in and I can tell you what I was buggered. That was at Cape Hatteras off the coast of North Carolina.

ON HIS CONTROVERSIAL SA OPEN VICTORY

Mowbray in 1971 was traumatic and in a way it still is because to this day I feel as though the ball bloody hit me. Let me explain what was happening. I was leading by four with nine holes to play and Player was in the process of birdying 10, he was playing two lots in front of me with Bobby Cole. He (Player) birdied 9,10,11, 12, 13, 14 and 15, he went beserk, the noise was absolutely incredible. So we get to the stage that with him on 15 and me on 14 we would have been all square, tied up. I killed my drive down 14, absolutely murdered it; it was playing downwind and I hit it over the bloody trees on the corner. I had an 8-iron in. Nowadays that bunker on the right is flat but in those days it had quite a bank, and I bloody thinned my shot into the face, buried about two inches below the lip. It was nearly unplayable but I could have moved it; if I could have moved it a foot I could have got it just over the top and it would have actually rolled down quite close to the pin which was on the right-hand side. So anyway I had a go and of course, because of the way I was perched on the bank, I fell on my ass. When I stood up the ball was now lying a couple of feet away from me, still in the bunker, but I felt that because of the way it had been imbedded it could not have moved that far, but something had hit me on the foot. So now I think the ball had hit me. In fact in my brain I’m sure the ball had hit me. Jesus, now I’m sweating, thinking it’s a two-shot penalty. But sitting on his shooting stick at the back of the bunker is a fellow called De Kock (John de Kock former president of the SAGU who was officiating) and I said to him is that a one-shot or two-shot penalty? He said ‘what for?’ And I said because the ball hit me! He said ‘no, it didn’t hit you.’ But how did it get over there? I asked. He was adamant that the ball had not hit me, but I declared a two-shot penalty. Anyway I up-and-downed it, thank God, don’t know how the state I was in, and on the 15th tee he (De Kock) came to me and said ‘listen don’t sign your card, we’ll sort it out afterwards.’ Gary of course birdied 15 to go one ahead but then he dropped 16 and didn’t birdie 18, he said he’d hit over the back on purpose thinking he needed 5 to win. I was a wreck but somehow I got in there, either a winner or a loser. Either there’s a penalty or there isn’t.

Afterwards John de Kock came to me and took the card and now it gets traumatic because it didn’t take five minutes, it takes about 25 minutes, as they discuss it. Next they come out, I didn’t go in (to the meeting) at all, and pull in Gerald Micklem, secretary of the Royal & Ancient who was there, and he’s there for 20 minutes. And I’m on the Amstel much better because I know there can’t be a play-off. Eventually another 20 minutes goes by because they couldn’t make up their minds about what’s potting so they called Brian Henning (then commissioner of the Sunshine Tour) and also Claassens (Tertius) who was marking my card. Then five minutes later they called me in and said ‘you made 5, you won the tournament, check the card, put a 5 at 14 and sign it.’ And that’s what happened.

I was convinced the ball hit me but you know being in that position, falling back into the bunker, it could have been the club hitting me. I didn’t see the ball but it could have got out and with a bit of spin run along the lip of the bunker and back in. I tell you what, if it was a one-shot penalty I would have said let’s got out and sort it out tomorrow morning. But John de Kock was so convinced that the ball had not hit me that he took the card and went and sorted it out.

My relationship with Gary is all right now but after that it wasn’t because he was pissed off and you can understand that, because at the time he’d won something like nine tournaments in a row and I think the record for SA Opens was up for the taking as well. He thought he’d been cheated out of the tournament and had the red-ass. About a month after that someone brought me a magazine, and jeez it made me cross. Someone had interviewed Gary in America and he said ‘I was cheated out of the SA Open’ and I didn’t like that. That didn’t go down well with me. We didn’t get along well for a long time after that but now it’s 100 percent. In fact one of the horses I’ve got here he gave me.

ON BEING SARTORIALLY CHALLENGED

I’m not colour blind. In the old days you had to do your own washing, never mind ironing, so you pulled stuff out of the suitcase. The cleanest stuff in the bag, that’s what you wore. Never mind colour co-ordination. They called me “Scruffy” when I was over there. Bruno Henning named me that way back on the South African tour because one day I borrowed a pair of shoes from Britzy (Tienie Britz) because one of mine broke, but one shoe was smaller than the other so after nine holes I kept one of his and put on my other one. I think one was black and one was black and white but at least they were bloody comfortable!

THE LAST WORD

If I have a regret it’s that I didn’t have a bit of GP’s dedication when I first turned pro. I regret not going to the USA sooner but I was scared, I thought they were better than me. Perhaps a bit more restraint when it came to the boozing and smoking but, hey, then I wouldn’t be Simon Hobday!

Golf Hall of Fame Induction

Three musketeers of golf. Course designer Peter Matkovich and "Mr Golf" Dale Hayes with Simon Hobday when he was inducted into the SA Golf Hall of Fame.


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