South Africa's Ernie Els holds aloft the Claret Jug after winning the The Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes. Picture: Reuters
South Africa's Ernie Els holds aloft the Claret Jug after winning the The Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes. Picture: Reuters

Locke, Player, Els and Oosthuizen: The SA golfers who have won the Open

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen Time of article published Jul 17, 2020

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The 149th Open would have been held this week at Royal St George’s in the town of Sandwich in Kent, England. However, due to the coronavirus the world’s oldest Major has been cancelled and will now be played at the same venue next year.

Jacques van der Westhuyzen looks back at the times when Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen triumphed to become the champion golfer of the year and the winner of the gold medal.

1949 at Royal St George’s

Bobby Locke won the first of his four Open titles following a 36-hole playoff, 12 strokes ahead of runner-up, Harry Bradshaw of Ireland. Locke, who shot rounds of 69, 76, 68 and 70, finished joint first after regulation play on a score of five-under-par. In the playoff, he registered scores of 67 and 68 for a total of nine-under-par, while Bradshaw posted scores of 74 and 73 to be three-over-par.

Interestingly, the tournament started on the Wednesday with the first round, the second round was on Thursday, while the third and fourth rounds were both held on the Friday. The 36-hole playoff was on the Saturday. Locke banked £300 for the win.

1950 at Troon

Locke won his second Open title after finishing with a score of 279, one-under-par, and two strokes better than runner-up, Roberto de Vincenzo of Argentina. Locke opened with a 69 to be tied second after the first round and followed up with a 72 before carding a third round 70 to go into the final round in a tie for first, with De Vincenzo and Dai Rees of Wales.

In the final round Locke carded a 68, De Vincenzo a 70 and Rees a 71. Another South African, Eric Moore, finished in a tie for fifth. Locke again banked £300 for his win.

1952 at Royal Lytham and St Annes

Locke (287 and one-under-par) made it three wins in four years at the Open when he edged Australia’s Peter Thomson by a stroke (288 and even). This was the first of seven consecutive Opens in which Thomson, 22, finished as champion or runner-up. 

Northern Ireland’s Fred Daly, the 1947 champion, led after each of the first three rounds and looked poised to win the Claret Jug for the second time, but a final round 76 saw him slip to third, two strokes back of Locke, who registered scores of 69, 71, 74 and 73 to win by one. Interestingly, only five Americans were in the field of 96 players.

1957 at St Andrews

There was a five-year gap between Locke winning his third and fourth (and last) Open Championship title, doing it at the age of 39 and, again, by pipping Peter Thomson to the victory. He finished three strokes ahead of the Australian, who’d bagged the previous three Opens in 1954, 1955 and 1956.

Locked recorded rounds of 69, 72, 68 and 70 to be nine-under-par at the end. This was an Open full of incidents and firsts, including the fact that Locke was almost disqualified on the 72nd hole. Lying two, the South African was 1.2m from the cup when he moved his ball marker one putter-head length to avoid the line of his fellow competitor’s putt. But when it was Locke’s turn to putt, he forgot to replace his ball in its original position and sank the putt. Only later were officials made aware of Locke’s mistake.

The Championship committee though decided that no advantage had been gained and that the result stood. Also, this was the first Open that the leaders after 36 holes went off last for the final 36 holes. Previously a random draw had been used. Interestingly, during Wednesday’s first round, the group playing behind American Cary Middlecoff laid an official complaint with the R&A about his slow play. The R&A though sides with Middlecoff and his playing partner, Antonio Cerda, who completed their 18 holes in three hours, 18 minutes, hardly slow in today’s terms.

1959 at Muirfield

After Locke’s wonderful run at the Open came to an end, South Africans didn’t have to wait long for a new hero to emerge, this time Gary Player, who won the first of his three tiles on a score of 284, even-par. This was Player’s first of nine Major titles. He shot a final round three-under-par 68 to win by two strokes, but it could have been a scintillating 66. Player, just 23, drove the ball into the bunker at the last and three-putted for a six, but it was fortunately enough to see him triumph by two from Fred Bullock and Flory van Donck, who shot final round scores of 74 and 73 respectively. Player banked £1000 for his victory.

1968 at Carnoustie

Player had to wait another nine years to win the Open for a second time, finishing two strokes ahead of runners-up Jack Nicklaus and Bob Charles. It was the fifth of Players’nine Majors. In an Open where birdies were hard to come by, Player recorded scores of 74, 71, 71 and 73 to finish one-over-par 289, two ahead of the runners-up.

Interestingly, there was a second cut in place at this Open, after 54 holes, and it stayed that way until 1985, while this was the first Open that all past champions were exempt from qualifying. It is also worth noting that in the same week that the Open was staged, the inaugural Greater Milwaukee Open was held in the USA, with a first prize of $40 000, over five times the winner’s share of the Open Championship, which was £3000.

Also, interestingly, the PGA Championship (one of the four Majors) was staged the next week in San Antonio, Texas, the fifth and final time in the 1960s that these two Majors were played in consecutive weeks in July.

This was Player’s third and final Open win and his eighth Major overall. He finished on a score of 282, two-under-par, four strokes ahead of runner-up, Peter Oosterhuis. It was something of a golden year for the South African; he also won the Masters earlier in the year and finished in the top 10 in the two other Majors, the US Open and the PGA Championship.

Player led, or was tied for the lead, after each round after carding scores of 69, 68, 75 and 70. He banked £5 500 for the win. Another South African, Bobby Cole, also enjoyed a good Open. He was tied for second at the halfway point, but a third round 76 and final round 75 saw him finish in a tie for seventh at nine-over-par.

2002 at Muirfield

It would be 28 years before South Africa delivered another Open champion. Ernie Els won the first of his two Claret Jugs following a four-man playoff against Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington. All four men finished with a score of 278, six-under-par.

After an opening 70, Els shot up the leaderboard with a second round 66 to be tied with four others for the lead. A third round 72 saw him open up a two-shot lead ahead of the final round, where he carded a 70. After Appleby and Elkington were eliminated in the playoff, Els beat Levet in sudden-death.

Interestingly, Tiger Woods’ bid for the Grand Slam (after earlier winning the Masters and US Open) came to a sudden halt in the third round when he recorded the worst round of his career up to that point, an 81 (+10) in cold, gusty rain. He rebounded in the fourth round with a 65 and finished at even-par, six strokes back.

2010 at St Andrews

Louis Oosthuizen’s only Major triumph came after a sizzling four days which saw him finish at an almost incredible 272, 16-under-par. He finished seven strokes clear of runner-up, Lee Westwood, with Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey a further stroke back.

Oosthuizen and McIlroy were in sizzling form on day one, recording scores of 65 (seven-under-par) and 63 (nine-under-par) respectively, but the South African took charge in the second round with a score of 67 to be 12-under-par at the halfway mark, five clear of his nearest rival. McIlroy’s second round 81 ultimately cost him the tournament.

Oosthuizen’s third round 69 ensured he took a four-stroke lead into the Sunday where he registered a final round 71 to win by seven. The smooth-swinging South African banked £850 000 for the victory.

2012 at Royal Lytham and St Annes

Els bagged his second Open title and fourth Major trophy after finishing  one stroke ahead of runner-up, Adam Scott from Australia. In a hugely exciting final round, Els came from six strokes back to pip his fellow competitors.

Scott, who’d led or been tied for the lead after each of the first three rounds, led after 54 holes at 11-under-par and after a birdie at the 14th was four strokes ahead with four to play. Els, who was two groups ahead of Scott, birdied the 18th for a score of 68 and the clubhouse lead at 273 (seven-under-par).

Scott then bogeyed each of the last four holes to record a final round score of 75, handing Els the victory. South Africa’s Thomas Aiken finished  in a tie for seventh, at one-under-par.


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