This is the third in a weekly series of notable championships played on Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C. Pinehurst No. 2 is the site of the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, which will be played in back-to-back weeks in Juneon the same course for the first time.
Johnny Miller wasn’t working the 1994 U.S. Senior Open Championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in the Sandhills region of North Carolina, but if the well-known NBC Sports analyst had been in the booth that Sunday, he might have used his trademark “C” word to describe what was happening to Simon Hobday.
Hobday, then 54, of South Africa, had played three brilliant rounds over the famed Donald Ross layout and was seemingly in control entering the final round. Roughly four hours later, he grasped his throat to signify a “choke” symbol as he walked up the final fairway precariously tied for the lead.
“That wasn’t to relieve any tension, it was the truth,” said Hobday, who somehow managed a one-stroke victory over Graham Marsh, of Australia, despite a 3-over-par 75 in the final round. “I was definitely choking.”
Hobday’s fellow competitor and former club professional, Jim Albus, echoed Hobday’s assessment, saying: “This wasn’t the first time, either. He had done it several times earlier in the round.”
The first sign of trouble for Hobday came several hours earlier as the leaders completed the rain-delayed third round. Hobday stood on the tee of the 175-yard, par-3 17th hole with a three-stroke lead and proceeded to shank his tee shot 80 yards right into the woods, leading to a double-bogey 5. That he managed to birdie the par-4 18th for a 4-under 66 and a two-shot lead through 54 holes proved significant.
Hobday spent the next six hours thinking about that shank, and his lead, before starting the final round with fellow competitors Marsh, who was five shots back, and Albus. The pressure was about to mount, and the chain-smoking Hobday would be going through his cigarettes like Takeru Kobayashi devours hot dogs.
“I was under terrible pressure,” Hobday said later. “My swing deserted me, and the worse I swung, the worse I putted. I must have gone through at least two packs of cigarettes. Once, I know I had two going at the same time.”
For most of the week, Hobday seemed to be in control of his game and emotions.
Heavy rains early in the week had softened course conditions, allowing players to bludgeon the scoreboard with red figures, including Hobday, who had won twice on the European Tour and owned two Senior Tour victories since joining the circuit when he turned 50 in 1990. Hobday posted rounds of 66-67-66 for a 14-under total of 199, the lowest 54-hole total in championship history at that time.
Albus, also 54, nearly matched Hobday the first three rounds with scores of 66-69-66 (201). Marsh, who would win the U.S. Senior Open three years later at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club, was right there after a pair 68s and a third-round 69.
Hobday opened the door by starting the final round with three bogeys. Albus started birdie-bogey-bogey. The margin between the two fluctuated between two and three strokes until Hobday bogeyed No. 15. Two holes later, Hobday recorded another bogey and suddenly he shared the lead with Marsh, a Senior Tour rookie at 50, and a winner of 56 worldwide events, at 10 under par. Marsh had birdied the par-5 16th hole, reaching the green in two with a 4-wood approach and two-putting for his 4.
“When Simon made birdie at 13 from the boondocks, I thought it was over,” said Marsh. “Then things started happening to him … and it was a little bit of a shock to suddenly be there.”
Fortunately, most of the field was struggling with the Pinehurst No. 2 layout on Sunday.
Bob Murphy and Tom Weiskopf, who would win the Senior Open the following year at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., shared the low round of the day with 3-under 67s. Weiskopf finished three strokes behind Hobday in a tie for fourth (277), while Murphy shared seventh at 5-under 279.
When the final trio of Albus, Hobday and Marsh reached the 18th hole, the latter two were deadlocked, with Albus a stroke back. Faced with a 6-iron approach, Hobday played conservatively, hitting to within 40 feet of the flagstick.
“I was just thinking fairway, middle of the green, two putts,” said Hobday, knowing that a par would likely be good enough to force an 18-hole Monday playoff.
Marsh, meanwhile, watched his 5-iron approach roll off the putting surface into a valley to the right of the green. He admittedly chunked his recovery short of the hole by 9 feet. His par putt stopped on the lip.
Hobday rolled his 40-foot par putt to within 2 feet and when Albus failed to convert his birdie putt, the South African didn’t “choke”, tapping in his short par attempt for the victory.
“It was hot in my hands,” Hobday said later.
Hobday fell to his knees and kissed the precious Pinehurst turf.
With Hobday’s win, South Africans had claimed two USGA titles in a one-month span.
In June, Ernie Els had survived a three-hole playoff with Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club to win the first of his two U.S. Open titles.
“Ahead of time, I didn’t think a 75 had a prayer to win,” said Hobday, who posted a 10-under total of 274. “I figured 71 at the worst.”
It might not have been the desired score, but Hobday was relieved it didn’t cost him the title.
With the stress of the championship behind him, Hobday was asked what his plans were for the evening after receiving the Francis Ouimet Trophy.
“I’ll just go with the flow,” he said, “and there’ll be plenty flowing, too. You can bet on it.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.