Thirty years ago, Steve Bowditch was a professional squash player. These days when you hear that name, you think of Steven Bowditch, a fellow Australian who is a professional golfer—he just won the 2015 Byron Nelson.
But the original Bowditch was a tremendous squash player. He grew up in Darwin, Australia and then pushed off for what he calls his “round-the-world walkabout.” He lived and coached in West Germany, Malaysia, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, etc., and played squash in more than fifty countries. In 1978 he played No.4 on an Australian team that included Geoff Hunt, Cam Nancarrow and Dean Williams. Not bad at all. In 1981 he captained the Australian men’s team at the world amateur championships in Stockholm, where they lost in the finals to Pakistan. At the same event, he won the world individual title, beating New Zealand’s Craig Blackwood 9-3 in the fifth in the final. (The event was open to professionals, for the first time, but had no prize money.) On the international softball tour, he peaked at world No.16 in August 1986.
In the mid-1980s Bowditch joined the stream of players flooding North American to play on the pro hardball tour. (He also won the first U.S. Professional, a 1985 softball event that Frank Stella directed at Park Place.) He reached two North American Open finals, including the 1985 NAO held at Town Hall in New York where he lost to Jahangir Khan; it was the richest squash tournament in history to that point and Bowditch earned $8,300 for his efforts. (That would be $18,500 in 2015, a pretty penny for any finalist.)
Bowditch is also remembered for an epic match in another major, the finals of the 1985 Boston Open. He saved three match points against Ned Edwards before losing 18-17 in the fifth. Photographer Richard Ashley’s images from that match fill a page in the photo insert in my 2003 history of squash book.
Bowditch was a controversial figure on the hardball tour. He twice walked off court during matches after referee calls went against him; he violated the tour’s dress code and eye protection rules.
An Aboriginal Australian and a member of the Arabana people, Steven Mangirri Bowditch has been heavily involved in Aboriginal economic development. He was inducted into the Aboriginal and Islander Hall of Fame. He is also a mystic.
Soon Bowditch will also be an author, as he is working on a memoir of his squash-playing days: “Tips from Squash Legends and Dreamtime Sky Hero.” He has released one chapter, a recounting of his travels with Jonah Barrington. It is a fascinating story of exhibitions with Barrington in Malaysia and Hong Kong and training with him in England and West Germany.
And at times it is insightful: “The looping topspin arcs of their furry [tennis] balls reminiscent of the rise and fall of the sun, while our spongy black rubber squash ball comparable to a total eclipse.”