ABU DHABI: Simon Payne is one of the great "characters" of the UAE golf scene. The amiable Aussie is never short of a wisecrack or two, great company on the golf course - and also afterwards at the "19th hole".
But the big-hitting head professional at Tower Links Golf Club has a golf game to match his extrovert personality. He has just wrapped up the UAE PGA Order of Merit title for an incredible third time in the past four years.
But someone who seems to master so naturally the game that most of us struggle with, it comes as a surprise to find out that Payne only took up the sport relatively late in life.
"I never even picked up a golf club until I was 16," he revealed at Saadiyat Beach Golf Course. "I used to swim a lot, but I was getting sick of it - ‘blacklining' it all day. A mate was playing golf and winning prizes and it was as simple as that. I thought ‘stuff this training every morning'.
"I'd never picked up a club before. I read Jack Nicklaus's book My Way. And when I had a go I hit it all right, mate."
It was even later when 38-year-old Payne decided to turn pro and do his PGA training. "I must have been about 25 or 26.
"I did that at Gold Coast Country Club, an hour south of Brisbane. Once I did that I just went out and played.
"There's a big pro-am circuit in Australia." But trying to earn enough money on the circuit was tough. "Mate, you scratch out an existence. That's all."
But by 2005 he had made enough, and felt his game was good enough, to fund a crack at the Asian Tour School in Malaysia. It turned out to be a shattering experience.
"I'd been working at a driving range for eight months. Putting in the hours. I went six months straight without a day off." But Payne was cut after the first two rounds. "You've got to have your game on that week, every round. If you're not on, you've had it."
But Payne dusted himself down and was encouraged by a golf pro friend who had been working in Kuwait to try the Middle East. Payne eventually pitched up at the Dubai Country Club at the end of 2005. When it was closed to make way for Meydan he moved to Al Ain and the Palm Sports Resort and then on to Tower Links in Ras Al Khaimah as head pro.
It's a job and a laid-back rural emirate he loves. "I'm a country boy from Queensland. I love it up there. What do I need a shopping mall for?" he laughs.