Golf champion Simon Hobday, the brother of Cayman HospiceCare’s medical director Dr. Virginia Hobday, passed away at the age of 76 after a battle against cancer on March 2.
The senior major champion and two-time European Tour winner, who launched his professional golfing career in 1969 on the Sunshine Golfing Tour in South Africa, won a total of 17 professional titles. They include the 1971 South African Open Championship, the 1976 German Open and the 1979 Madrid Open.
Between 1993 and 1995, he added five trophies on the Champions Tour, culminating in his victory at the 1994 U.S. Senior Open at Pinehurst.
Mr. Hobday was known as much for his outstanding ball striking as his fun-loving, easygoing attitude that made him stand out from the crowd of golf professionals.
“His passing is a massive loss to the game of golf in general, and in South Africa in particular,” Sunshine Tour Executive Director Selwyn Nathan said. “He was a wonderful player and a larger-than-life character who gave everyone who played with him or watched him play a great deal of pleasure.”
Former golf professional and friend Dale Hayes described him “the greatest character ever to play golf.”
Dr. Hobday, who was named a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2015 for her service to hospice care in Cayman, said her brother was a very well loved man. “Because of his humor and quick wit people warmed to him and were drawn to him.”
Born in South Africa, Mr. Hobday grew up in Zambia and also lived in Zimbabwe. A talented rugby player, boxer and cricketer, he came to professional golf very late, at the age of 29, after he ran the family’s cattle ranch for 10 years.
“He was really quite an eccentric character. He had been a farmer in Zambia, so he had a life before he came to golf. Living in the bush, he was different to a lot of professional golfers,” his sister said.
Dr. Hobday said although her brother was a top amateur, he did not really have dreams of becoming a professional golfer. He started playing golf professionally only when he lost the farm due to appropriation.
On the course, he was famous for his casual observance of the usually strict golfing attire and a distinct lack of color coordination and dress sense.
Those who played with him remember “Hobbers” by his endless stories, jokes and good-humored pranks. Many of them were shared on Twitter, where Masters winner Nick Faldo said, “Will his stories live on or what! Washing his clothes in bath tub using his putter to stir them! ‘First out wins!’”
Unhappy with a ruling, Mr. Hobday once famously asked an official who refused to give him a free drop out of a damaged area if he could get fined for thinking something rude. After the referee confirmed that he could not get fined for his thoughts, Mr. Hobday proceeded to tell him exactly what he was “thinking.”
Another time, following a streak of three-putting at least once in every round, he wore a sombrero on the course. He explained to his fellow golfers that God was targeting him and he did not want to be seen this time. When he could not avoid yet another three-putt on the last hole of the round, he threw the hat on the ground, looked up and yelled: “You found me.”
In a 2008 interview with Golf Digest, PGA Champion Nick Price described Mr. Hobday as the best ball striker he ever played with. “Simon would have been a great, great player had his nerves been better. People say he drank a lot. He didn’t drink that much. He had trouble sleeping. I know; I roomed with him for a year in Europe. He wasn’t the carouser and the party animal that people thought.”
Mr. Price was also involved in a Hobday prank in an exhibition match at Springs Country Club in the early 1980s, when Mr. Price and Mark McNulty faced Mr. Hobday and Dale Hayes in a team event. When the announcer presented Mr. McNulty to the applause of the spectators as “the finest putter in the world today,” Mr. Hobday went to Mr. McNulty’s golf bag, took out the putter and snapped it in half over his knee.
The crowd was stunned. Mr. McNulty stared in disbelief as his favorite putter was destroyed – he had used it for years. The shock lasted about half a minute, until Mr. Hobday produced the real putter, which he had swapped for the same model minutes earlier.
“At home he was very much a family man,” Dr. Hobday said. “He was still very, very funny but I would not say he was a big party animal. I think that was a legend that grew up around him. Having said that, I think in his young days he was quite wild.”
Despite their age difference, the siblings were close, she added. “My sister Fiona, who also lives in the Cayman Islands, lived in the States when he was on the senior tour. She was with him when he won the U.S. Open. Of course there were big distances, but whenever we saw each other we always had a wonderful time.”
In 1999, Mr. Hobday visited his sister in the Cayman Islands. “He did do a lot of fishing because that was his huge passion in life. For him, he loved golf but it was work. He fished all over the world and when he came to Cayman, he had five days of very good deep sea fishing.”
A funny episode befitting the great raconteur delayed his arrival in Cayman. In a mix-up, the South African travel agent had put him on a flight to Georgetown – in the Bahamas, she recalled. “We had a laugh about that.”
Many anecdotes are featured in “The Hole Truth and other mostly true stories,” a book with contributions from Mr. Hobday, Dale Hayes and Denis Hutchinson.
“Not only was he a great golfer, but he was also a fantastic person,” Mr. Hayes told golf journalist Michael Vlismas. “He treated everybody the same – whether they were wealthy or poor, titled or a lowly worker. He loved to argue but hated to fight.”
“He was a terrific friend to a lot of us. He was ready to go, though,” Mr. Hayes added. “He had made peace with it. He really was a special man.”
Fellow South African golfers gave their tributes via Twitter. Former Masters winner Trevor Immelman said, “Very sad news on the passing of Simon Hobday. One of the best ball strikers and funniest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
Compatriot and 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen said: “RIP Simon Hobday, a great character and legend of the game. Stories that will live forever.”
After his retirement in 2002, Mr. Hobday made a final appearance in 2012. He paired for a fifth-place finish with fellow South African Gary Player in the 70 and older division at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.
Mr. Player also sent a message on Twitter, saying, “My condolences to the charismatic and sweet swinging Simon Hobday. He was so good for golf. RIP amigo.”
Mr. Hobday never stopped being an excellent golfer. He shot a 65 on his 76th birthday just last summer.