Bobby Locke in his heyday. Photo: File

JOHANNESBURG - Los Angeles Daily News sports editor Ned Cronin, like many American golf writers at the time, was both intrigued and impressed by what South Africa’s eccentric Bobby Locke - they called him the "Veldt Belter" - achieved during his first campaign in the US in 1947.

He won seven tournaments in 13 starts and at the end of that year was considered by many to be the world’s No 1 golfer. And very definitely the best putter in the game.

This year is special as far as Locke is concerned as he was born 100 years ago. And 70 years ago almost to the day, Cronin wrote a column about the quirky golfer who throughout his career wore plus-fours, silk shirts and neckties en route to 80 worldwide victories.

Locke, in his own book of the 1950s, had a section on instruction and he said how he used the orthodox overlapping grip “employed by practically all the leading golfers of the present day”. But in fact, in 1947 in America and in the years before that, Locke used the so-called baseball grip, as old black and white photos show.

Cronin was fascinated, as he observed in his witty August 1947 column (written before an exhibition match at Inglewood Country Club): “For years, the overlapping grip has been accepted, following trials, tribulations and a good many salty tears, as the best way to grasp a club while in the throes of pulverising a golf ball.

"A few unreconstructed individualists employ the interlocking grip, but for every one of those you will find a couple of hundred overlappers. And as you progress up in class, the disparity is even greater among the top-flight golfers.

“So along comes brother Locke - the guy who can make a golf ball act like a gopher running for a hole - and what does he use? The old baseball grip. No overlapping, interlocking or any such finger fandangoes for him. When he latches onto a club he holds it like a ball player does a bat when he has a three-base hit in mind.

“On top of that, Locke has a loop in his swing as though he were throwing a lariat, and if you think all this isn’t going to do something to the thousands of impressionable onlookers at Inglewood Country Club, then you don’t know the good old American sports fan.

"We’ll all have baseball grips and figure-eight swings for months to come, along with a continuous festering puzzle over why the ball doesn’t behave the same way it did when Locke hit it.

“And hit it he can. Not since Sam Snead forced a pair of shoes on his feet and came out of the hills of West Virginia to blaze a path across the country’s golf courses has one man so completely dominated.

"Where he excels is on the green. The thought never occurs to him that on some occasions, some golfers use up to three putts. With Locke it is purely a case of mind over matter, or Moon over Miami or whatever you choose to call it when one is able to eliminate any anxiety that might be felt over an impending putt. 

"If Locke doesn’t sink it the first crack, he’s close enough to tap it on the second putt. There is something that if Locke could bottle up and sell he would be a millionaire overnight. Or have you ever seen the day when you would just as soon face a firing squad as a six-foot putt.”

The Star

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