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Bobby Locke - Hall of Fame
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Arthur D'Arcy "Bobby" Locke


Old Muffin Face, Old Baggy Pants


Germiston, Transvaal, South Africa, November 20, 1917


Johannesburg, South Africa, March 9, 1987


Four majors (1949, 1950, 1952, 1957 British Opens), 15 PGA Tour wins, 61 European and South African tournament wins.


"If only life was ever so simple for Bobby Locke as it was on the greens: “It just takes practice, old boy,” he once told Time Magazine."

Bobby Locke  - Hall of Fame


Was Bobby Locke the best putter who ever lived? Quite possibly. Those dwindling few who are still around who saw Locke with that devastating flatstick in his magic grip certainly say that he was ...


Bobby Locke was deadly on the greens from anywhere from sixty feet to an inch. The big man waggled his feet into the grass like the bomber pilot he once was might use his rudder pedals, “feeling the speed” of the greens. Every putt –– uphillers, downhillers, sidehillers, big breakers – for Locke, they were all straight ones – in his mind, straight to the target, and peeling off only at the point of release. Then a rattle at the bottom of the cup.


“Second guesses are fatal in putting,” Locke once said. He´s the man who coined the phrase: “Drive for show, putt for dough ... ”, which every public-course hacker has heard, but rarely follows.


Locke called his putter his “rusty old blade” and he used it to knock 'em dead from anywhere – all topspin, with a hooded hook action, and no skidding at all.


“That son of a bitch Locke was able to hole a putt over 60 feet of peanut brittle,” said Lloyd Mangrum, one of Locke´s ‘40s tour rivals.


Locke was the first member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who was not born in either the US or the UK. Locke enjoyed a long competitive career, broken only by his Second World War service in the South African Air Force, and highlighted by two incandescent spells which have scarcely been equalled.


With a swing modelled from Bobby Jones´ picture books and a putting style borrowed from Walter Hagen, Locke won 38 times on his native South African tour before World War II intervened.


But it was post-war, 60 years ago, that Locke returned to golf with an edge and dominated the US Tour with a spell of golf that can only be described as Tiger-esque. In 1947, he entered 13 events on the PGA Tour and won six of them. Jimmy Demaret, who played the full season, won the money title that year, but as Gary Player said, Bobby Locke “beat Hogan, Snead, Demaret like a drum. Like a drum.”


Not surprisingly, there was American resentment to the foreigner Locke´s raid on US prize money. After a row over appearance fees in the States – to which the South African was not “entitled” – Locke retreated from the US in 1949. But what a retreat it was.

For Locke, it just that meant he would dominate Europe. In a span which even the great Nick Faldo could not rival, Bobby Locke won the British Open four times in nine years from 1949-57.


But if Locke´s career was fulfilled with success, his life was not without a lot of sadness.


He never spoke much about the 1,800 hours he spent in WWII flying a B-24 Liberator bomber in the Mediterranean, and if the flak or the memories of the damage that his bombs did to the monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy changed him, Locke didn´t display it openly. Nor did he display his aviator´s medals.


Nowadays, they might call it Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but there is no doubt that Locke came back from the war a changed man. Pre-war, he was tall and rangy, but after 1945 he weighed a jowly 200 pounds plus, and on the course he was absolutely no-nonsense.


His walk was compared to an “archbishop´s butler strolling”, his pace of play almost glacial, his dress impeccable – plus-fours, white buckskin shoes and Hogan cap, and neatly knotted tie; his expression expressionless.


Off the course, Locke was a different beast. He liked to blow off steam, playing his ukulele and knocking back Pabst Blue Ribbons with his few close colleagues, especially Sam Snead.


The 1957 Open triumph at St Andrews was Locke's swan-song. Two years later, his car was hit by a train and Locke was thrown from the back leaving him with injuries that ruined his eyesight and balance and gave him migraines. Back in South Africa, 20 years later, at 61, Locke pulled a shotgun on a labourer in a dispute over money, leading to a three-month suspended prison sentence and putting his glorious name to shame in his home country.


Locke´s fade-out from the world´s eyes was nearly complete. The best putter in the world died of spinal meningitis, almost forgotten, aged 69, in 1987. Thirteen years later, Locke´s broken-hearted widow Mary and his daughter Carolyn would follow him to the grave, drinking poison-laced champagne in a suicide pact.


If only life was ever so simple for Bobby Locke as it was on the greens: “It just takes practice, old boy,” he once told Time Magazine.

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