Thirteen is an unlucky number for some but not for Wolves footballing legend Kenny Hibbitt as he finally tasted victory in the Footballers’ Golf Classic at Spain’s prestigious La Manga Club at the 13th time of asking.
Kenny Hibbitt, 64, had never finished higher than sixth in his previous appearances in the popular annual event, sponsored by Stace, but he put years of disappointment behind him to romp to success on the sun-drenched fairways of the world-renowned resort in Murcia, south-east Spain.
The two-handicapper, who made 544 appearances for Wolves between 1968-84 and also played for Coventry City and Bristol Rovers, lay joint-third alongside ex-Wigan and Ipswich boss Paul Jewell after the first round of the 54-hole competition at La Manga Club with 32 Stableford points before making his decisive move on the second day.
Hibbitt’s second-round tally of 39 points gave him a two-point lead over Jewell going into the last 18 holes, and he closed out victory in impressive style by top-scoring for the second day running with 35 points to finish with a total of 106 points and lift the trophy amid emotional scenes.
Hibbitt’s final score was six points clear of former Reading, West Ham and Southampton coach Wally Downes, who surged through the field in the last round to take the runners-up spot, with ex-Aston Villa and England midfielder Lee Hendrie one point further back in third.
But Jewell had a final day to forget and could only manage 28 points on La Manga Club’s North Course to finish in sixth place, one point behind first-round leader Steve Lovell and Andy Morrison.
“I’ve been trying to win this title for 13 years but have never come close,” reflected an emotional Hibbitt, who won two League Cups with Wolves in 1974 and 1980.
“I never thought it would be possible to win off such a low handicap and to take the title with 106 points ranks alongside anything I achieved in football. As I get older, this means more than you can ever imagine.”
This year’s Footballers’ Golf Classic, the 19th time it has been staged, featured a galaxy of stars from the footballing world including former England internationals Terry Butcher, Darius Vassell and Graham Roberts and ex-Southampton duo Jason Dodd and Francis Benali, who were all making their debuts.
And joining them on La Manga Club’s famous fairways were the likes of former Liverpool, Tottenham and England striker Paul Walsh, past winners Pat Jennings and Russell Osman, ex-Chelsea and Scotland striker David Speedie and other former England internationals including Mark Wright, Luther Blissett, Ray Clemence and another Wolves’ legend, Steve Bull.
The golf classic featured four days of competitive golf: the one-day Alan Ball Trophy and the three-day main event, which was sponsored for the first time this year by construction and property consultants Stace, with competitors playing alongside a different footballer each day.
Ex-Millwall and Wales striker Steve Lovell missed out on his quest for a third title in five years but still had cause to celebrate as his sons Jon and Mark joined up with friend Lee Browning to claim victory in the overall team competition victory, with their side ‘The Lovell-Lees’ lifting the title with 242 points after a dramatic play-off with ‘The 3 Irons’.