JOHANNESBURG – This weekend, we remember Bobby Locke who came into this world on November 17, 1917 so yesterday marked 100 years since his birth.
It was this South African golfer who started a dynasty that continued with Gary Player, and progressed into the modern era in the form of Major champions Els, Goosen, Price, Immelman, Oosthuizen and Schwartzel all coming from this part of the world.
Eccentric to the tee, for much of Locke’s career he dressed almost exclusively in plus fours, white buckskin shoes and linen dress shirts with neckties.
He won over 80 tournaments around the world, was regarded by many as the greatest putter the game has seen, and for the majority of those victories used the same old hickory-shafted, rusty-bladed putter.
He won four Open Championships between 1949 and 1957 but the third of these, at Royal Lytham in 1952, nearly didn’t happen and here’s why (just one snippet of information from a remarkable career):
He was staying that week in a hotel in England’s popular seaside resort of Blackpool 10km away from the course.
In the pub in the evenings, he would entertain the Brits and his fellow golfers by playing his ukulele and encouraging them to sing along with him and drink a pint or three (Bobby loved his beer!).
The Open finished on Saturdays in those days when the competitors were required to play two rounds, and Locke – who was four behind leader Fred Daly of Northern Ireland after 36 holes – had a 8.50am tee-time for the third round.
At 7.45am, he walked the hundred yards from his hotel to the garage where his car was parked, with his clubs secure in the boot, only to find the garage locked.
“I looked around, everything was closed,” he wrote in his book ‘My Golfing Life’.
“I found a milk delivery man, inquired where the garage owner was, and was told he would be arriving about nine o’clock, and that he lived 15 minutes way.”
Now this was panic time, and all Locke could do was jump up on the cart – give the milkman 10 shillings – and implore him to head for the garage owner’s house as quickly as possible.
“I scrambled in amongst the milk bottles and after a bumpy ride we got to the house. He was still in bed. I dragged him out and we arrived at the garage at 8.20. I got my car, raced to the course and arrived at 8.40, with no time even for a few loosening swings.”
Locke admitted to being “really strung up” at that point, because he liked to take things slowly.
But, being the great putter he was, he holed a 30-footer across the green for a birdie two at the opening par-3 hole.
And, in a near-gale that day and watched by a massive gallery of 10 000, Locke went on to win, finishing a stroke ahead of Australia’s Peter Thomson and two clear of a faltering Daly.
Locke was a life-long member of Parkview GC in Johannesburg, and today, a splendid statue of him stands outside the clubhouse.