Arnold Palmer leads tributes to retiring Hopkins

Almost missed among all yesterday’s coverage about The Times‘s website being placed behind a paywall, was the news that one of the title’s digital award-winners, John Hopkins, the newspaper’s golf correspondent, has retired.

Hopkins will continue to write occasional pieces for The Times, while Peter Dixon – who has worked at Wapping for the past quarter century – succeeds “Hoppy” as the paper’s lead writer on the game. Dixon’s first piece as golf correspondent, an interview with Peter Alliss, was published today.

Hopkins’s website golf diary, The Spike Bar, won him the SJA’s award for best regular online column last year, much to his own surprise and delight. “Apparently, an old dog can learn new tricks,” he told his peers at the ceremony at The Brewery.

“Like most journalists who have spent their entire working life producing copy for a newspaper or magazine, I found the concept of writing for our online operation to be unusual. It seemed to me that I was having to do more work for no more money, usually at the end of a long day,” Hopkins wrote for after collecting his prize.

But Hopkins went on to explain how, after 40 years in newspapers, his online writing had given him a vast new audience and became a task to which he looked forward and enjoyed. “I felt a degree of liberation,” he said.

In his final Spike Bar column as golf correspondent last week, Hopkins wrote how, 50 years earlier, he had written to Henry Longhurst, the lagubrious and esteemed golf writer for the Sunday Times, seeking career advice.

Back came Longhurst’s cherished letter: “‘Write!’ he commanded the young man. ‘Write and then write more!'”

In a wide-ranging career that saw Hopkins writing on rugby, as well as golf, plus swimming, tennis, skiing, athletics squash “and probably a half dozen other sports”, he worked at the Sunday Times and The Independent before joining The Times as its golf correspondent, under then sports editor David Chappell.

From the 1969 Open at Lytham St Anne’s, Hopkins has covered 120 major championships, and every Ryder Cup of the past three decades, becoming known and well-liked by many tour professionals – even attending Colin Montgomerie’s wedding.

Arnold Palmer led the tributes to Hopkins’s career: “I’ve enjoyed reading John’s articles for many years and I was always pleased to welcome him to our PGA Tour event at Bay Hill, as well as seeing him at the Open and other championships.

“I know him as an insightful golf writer and a gentleman, one of the many fine British journalists that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing over the years, from my first visit to St Andrews 50 years ago to the present.”

Darren Clarke had another slant on matters: “Hoppy once caddied for me. Thank goodness he had a day job.”

Hopkins says, “Now it’s over. The best job in the world has run its course. At least it has for me…

“I achieved my childhood dream. I followed Henry Longhurst and then Bernard Darwin and I was paid all the while to do it. No one could ask for more. It has been wonderful.”

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