The Caddie who won the Masters
Bad Boy Bobby Locke
It was Gary Player who suggested I call Bobby Locke when I was in Johannesburg. It was the winter of 1969. I was traveling through Africa and I found Gary’s name in the phone book and called him without an introduction and asked if I might interview him for an American golf magazine.
Player graciously invited me to his ranch on the outskirts of Joburg for tea on a Sunday afternoon. It was there, sharing with his father and stepmother their normal weekend visit, and sitting on the patio of his lovely home overlooking acres of brilliant, exotic flowers, that I mentioned how as an 11 year old I had followed Bobby Locke for four days when he won the last Chicago Victory National Golf Championship, played at Illinois’s Midlothian Country Club in the summer of 1948.
The Victory Opens began during World War II when the U. S. National Championship was suspended. By 1948, Midlothian was already famous as the site of the 1914 U.S. Open, when Walter Hagen defeated Chick Evans to win the first of his 11 majors.
I told Player that my family’s farm bordered the country club and my five siblings and I had all had jobs there, so I’d become a caddy at an early age. “Bobby would love to hear that story,” Player told me, then added, “He’s not in good health since the accident.” He was referring to the day in 1959 when Locke’s car was hit by a train at a railway crossing. After that, Locke was never able to play topflight competitive golf again. He suffered migraines and eye problems for the rest of his life, dying in 1987 at the age of 69. But first he had a big career, in America as well as Europe and Africa.
Bobby Locke first came to the U.S. in 1947. It happened this way.
After Sam Snead won the 1946 British Open, the first one played since 1939 because of the war, wealthy South African financier Norbert Stephen Erleigh, who had befriended Locke in ’35 when the golfer was a teenage amateur, sponsored a tour for Snead in South Africa. Locke, who had finished second in the Open, would be Snead’s competition, and Erleigh promised Locke that, when the tour was over, he would pay Locke’s way to America.
It was not Bobby Locke’s first invitation to the U.S. In 1936, Walter Hagen and Joe Kirkwood played with Locke during a six-week exhibition in South Africa and when it was over, Hagen, so impressed by the then-19-year-old amateur, asked him to come to the U.S. Locke’s parents, however, said no, and while disappointed, Hagen advised Locke, “Young man, your golf might stay still or you may become a great golfer, but remember that your golfing education will not be complete until you have played golf in America.”
Bobby Locke never forgot and 10 years later he was playing another American in South Africa, Sam Snead. The two dueled in 16 matches throughout the country. Snead won two, they tied two, and Locke won 12. The U.S. golf world couldn’t understand how America’s greatest player was being beaten regularly, and as the sports reporters wrote, “by the man from the jungle.”
Later Snead would say of that South African exhibition, “In some of the matches, my ball was inside his from tee to green on 15 holes, yet Locke would win, one up. He dropped 30 and 40 footers without thinking twice. He made me so nervous that in one match I missed eight putts of less than two feet.”
Locke credits Snead with teaching him a lot during those matches. “I learned to play not for the green but for the pin,” Locke wrote in his memoir, On Golf, published in 1953. “Snead’s long irons during the visit were a joy to watch, but my putting and my short game and my knowledge of local conditions gave me the edge.”
What Locke never mentioned in his book is a story told to me by Dereck Mocke, the club historian at Maccauvlei Golf Club in South Africa. It was a story Dereck heard from his father, who followed the Snead-Locke exhibition matches.
In a bit of golf gamesmanship that foreshadowed his cleverness later in his career, Locke had his caddy switch the wood covers in his bag. In one match, Locke hit his tee shot very close to Sam’s drive. Bobby played first, took his wood and smacked it onto the green. Sam’s caddy glanced into Locke’s bag to see which club had been played, then handed Sam what he thought was the same club Locke hit only to have Snead’s ball come up short. Bobby won the hole, the match, and Snead’s respect. Sam, too, like Hagen, would tell Locke that he was good enough to play in the U.S. and so Bobby was.
Playing at Augusta
With Sam Snead’s encouragement, and seed money from his wealthy South African sponsor, Norbert Stephen Erleigh, that following April, 1947, Arthur D’Arcy ‘Bobby’ Locke arrived in Georgia for the Masters.
In his book, On Golf, Locke would write about Augusta National. “I was quite over-awed by everything at Augusta. The course was a vivid green, the people were gaudily dressed, the atmosphere bristled big-time golf. When the sports writers saw my swing, they wrote it off as ‘the worst swing they had ever seen’. My reply to that stinging criticism was, ‘I can’t help it; that’s the swing I was born with’.”
The truth was that much of what Locke knew about the golf swing, he had learned from Bobby Jones himself. In his book On Golf, Locke writes, “When I was a youngster he was my idol. I read and re-read the book he wrote in 1931 after his grand slam of victories.”
His swing was put together by exaggerating everything which the American pros had come to regard as anathema, according to Charles Price in his classic 1962 book, The World of Golf. “He employed a long, meandering backswing,” writes Price, “at the top of which he collapsed his left side. By the time he had gone into his downswing, the clubhead had described an almost perfect figure-eight. He slapped the ball into a long, sweeping parabola that started out far to the right and then, as though guided by some personal radar, hooked unerringly back to the target. Locke hooked every shot in the bag, including his putts.”
Locke finished 14th in his first Masters. He then went onto win four of the next five tournaments he entered. He stayed only through that summer’s tour. Altogether in 1947, he played in 15 US tour events, winning a total of six, finishing 2nd twice, 3rd once (in the US Open), and top-7 four other times. In total, Locke played full time on the American PGA tour for only 2 ½ years. In 59 events, he won 11 times, finished second 10 times, third 8 times and fourth 5 times (34 out of 59 tournaments in the Top 4).
So much for the wisdom of golf writers.
With the exception of meeting Bobby Jones at Augusta, Locke appears to have been most intrigued and impressed by George S. May at his Tam O’Shanter Club in suburban Chicago. It was also there, according to Locke, that “feeling against me started to grow among the American pros.”
Locke had intended to leave the States for the British Open in ‘47, but May gave him a guarantee of $5,000 and all expenses if he would stay and play in his Tam O’Shanter All-American Tournament.
In that tournament Locke tied his good friend Ed ‘Porky’ Oliver and then won a thirty-six-hole play-off by six shots. First prize was $7,000, at the time the biggest money prize in golf.
Locke played twice more that summer, winning again at the Columbus Open, and finished the season with winnings second to Jimmy Demaret, who had played both the winter and summer tours and earned $200 more than Locke.
Locke recalls in his book how early in the summer he had heard another pro quip in the locker room that, “’Locke’s trouble is that his left hand is weak.’ Locke writes, “I turned and said, ‘Don’t worry about that. I take the cheques with my right hand’.”
And indeed he had taken the cheques all right, to the sum of $27,500.
Locke the Entertainer
Locke was to return to the U.S. in the last week of December, 1947, to start the winter tour in Los Angeles, scheduled in those years for the first week of January. The second tournament was the Crosby Clambake and Locke’s amateur partner was the famous Frank Stranahan. They tied for second, and Locke went on to finish fourth on the professional side. It was here that he met and become friends with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Crosby was a scratch golfer; Hope played to a six-handicap.
On this trip, he also began to draw the attention of the media beyond the sports world and his persona was being defined by the press. The New York Times called him ‘Old Muffin Face.’ Peter Alliss said he “looked 55 since he was 30.” Sam Snead nicknamed him ‘Baggy Pants’ because of what he wore playing golf.
After World War II Locke dressed almost exclusively in grey flannel knickers, white buckskin shoes, linen dress shirts with neckties, and white Hogan caps which he tipped to the gallery after he played a good shot.
Locke’s high fashion for golf was noted early on in his career by Rhodesian pro, Denis Hutchinson, who after being a professional, became known as ‘the voice of South African golf,’ for the South African Broadcasting and the European Tour TV. He recalls being a schoolboy in Rhodesia when he first saw Bobby Locke.
In an article for South Africa Golf Digest, written by, Dan Retief, Hutchinson said. “It was in 1948 when this figure came walking up to the club house. He had dark blue plus-fours on, pale blue stockings his mother always used to knit for him, and a pair of casual golfing shoes, the first pair of casual golf shoes I had ever seen, brown-and-white, no laces, and holding a pair of white golf shoes by the heels. I had never seen a pair of white golf shoes at that stage – and I’ll never forget one shoe had a loose spike and he went ‘click-click-click’ as he walked.”
Locke was also well-known for his deliberateness. His emotionless expression never wavered. He always displayed a calm, steady concentration. Also, he got quickly over any shots that didn’t work: “I just blame the human element and leave it at that, after all, I may hit a few exceptionally good ones later. If you give it a chance, things balance out in the end.”
But what surprised most people was that Locke had another side to his personality.
While he hardly practiced, he loved to party. He always had his ukulele nearby, one that he had purchased in Augusta in 1947. “I’ve never been very good, but after six or seven Pabst Blue Ribbons, I begin to sound reasonable.”
What America also appreciated, Locke discovered, was the ‘value’ that his English accent had in the U.S. “Again and again, at tournaments when I was in the prizes, I was asked to speak, usually by the crowd, just because they wanted to hear my accent.”
Playing in the ‘48 National Capitol Open, in Maryland, he lost the lead to Skip Alexander because, as he writes, “it began to rain. I have never seen rain like it, even in tropical Africa.”
Coming into the presentation at the club, he received a ‘tremendous’ ovation and he noticed a dance band was also in the room. “I edged close to the band leader and asked him if he knew the tune Sioux City Sue. He nodded, so I said to him, ‘When I receive my prize, I plan to say a few words. When I give you the cue, play that tune for me.’
Locke received his prize and sat down, and as he expected, the crowd chanted, “speech, speech.”
Locke got back up and began to talk. He thanked the crowd for being so loyal to stick it out with him in the rain. He told them how much he had enjoyed Sam Snead’s tour in South Africa the previous year. Then he said. “We went to a night club in Durban where they played Sioux City Sue and the crooner substituted the words Sue Sammy Snead. It goes like this.”
He had hardly spoken the cue before the music began and to the astonishment of the crowd and the officials around the presentation table, he started to sing Sue Sammy Snead. The crowd cheered for five minutes and would not let him go.
“Do you know Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone?” Locke asked the band leader. He nodded and Locke sang that too.
The next day the newspapers were full of news about Bobby Locke, the singer, and Bob Hope telephoned and invited him onto his television show, saying, “I hear, Bobby, you’re a great singer.”
Locke had arrived in America, but he still wasn’t home when it came to the PGA Tour.
End of Part Three
Bobby Banned from Playing in the U.S.
In 1949, a year after he won the Chicago Victory Open at Midlothian Country Club by 16 strokes, which remains a PGA record margin of victory, Bobby Locke was banned from playing golf on the American tour. The reason given by the PGA was because he had failed to show up at tournaments and exhibitions without giving any explanations. However, many people thought that he was banned because he was simply winning too many tournaments, making too much money. Claude Harmon, winner of the Masters in ’49, and long time head pro at Winged Foot Country Club, allegedly commented as much, saying, “Locke was simply too good. They had to ban him.”
The ban was lifted in ’50 and the first U.S. tournament he played in was the ’50 All American at Tam O’Shanter. Locke had already won at Tam, in 1947, and George S. May called Locke in London and offered him a guarantee to come back to Chicago for the All American and The World Championship.
Locke writes in his wry, understated, way: “He made me an offer of a guarantee if I would appear in this event. Frankly he did not offer enough, but after some conversation he agreed to my terms and once more I set out for America.”
What pleased Locke even more was winning the ’50 All American tournament in a play-off against Lloyd Mangrum. Again, Locke added expressionlessly, “Lloyd Mangrum and I have little in common.”
However, Lloyd Mangrum, like Bobby Locke, was another WWII veteran. Mangrum was a staff sergeant in the Army. He was wounded twice in the Battle of the Bulge and spent part of his convalescent period at St. Andrews, where he won a GI tournament in 1945. Mangrum was a good looking man, who with a thin mustache and black hair parted in the middle had the looks of a river-boat gambler. He put the rivalry with Bobby another way. “That son of a bitch Locke was able to hole a putt over 60 feet of peanut brittle.”
Writing about Locke’s triumphal return to the U.S. tour, Henry Longhurst quoted Locke’s sly comment in a piece for Golf Mixture, as “I just can’t say how nice it is to be back in the States.”
Indeed it would be hard to top his return, even if there were no ‘welcome home’ signs from the American touring professionals.
Earning His Reputation
From his first days as a professional, Bobby Locke had difficulty with the golfing establishment, on both sides of the ocean. He turned pro in 1938 and immediately ran into trouble with professional golf associations. The South African Transvaal PGA turned him down for membership, saying that he had to be a professional for two years before being eligible. He applied to the British P.G.A. and they turned him down, saying he had to be a professional for five years.
Locke, however, besides winning tournaments in South Africa and Great Britain, and receiving money to play in exhibitions tours in Australia. Also, he took the professional position at the Maccauvlei Golf Club in 1939. (Today, Maccauvlei is the home club of Masters winner, Charl Schwartzel.)
Locke did not last long as the pro at Maccauvlei. He had just won his first South Africa Open, held at Maccauvlei when he got the job and immediately he ran into trouble.
In the history of the club, written by member Dereck Mocke, it appears that Locke was “forced out” of his position.
Mocke writes: “Problems immediately arose with regard to his appointment. On the 24th February 1940, the committee discussed the proposed arrangement that Locke had with African Theatres whereby he was proposing to tour the country giving a series of golfing demonstrations. The Chairman said that he was strongly opposed to such an arrangement being made by Locke during his period of service to the club, unless he did this during his leave periods. The committee further did not like Locke giving non-members lessons whilst playing with him on the course in preference to merely using the practice tee. In order to curb this, the club instituted a green fee of two shillings and six pence per round.
“At a special meeting hastily arranged and held on the 5th May 1940, Bobby Locke was questioned as to the terms of his employment. In his letter of appointment he was told that if he wanted to play in outside competitions he had to ask permission. Locke never applied for leave of absence but merely advised the Secretary when he had to fulfill his obligations. He also intimated that he proposed making a quick trip to America to play the US Open.
“Locke pleaded forgetfulness when questioned. It was said that Locke was using the Club to suit his own convenience and personal interest, and that the Club would not be used as a stepping stone for Locke to travel around the country, playing exhibition matches purely for his own benefit, at the Club’s expense. Locke did not like the arrangement, and after eight months, resigned from the Club by letter to the committee dated 26th July 1940. The rest is history.”
Dereck Mocke joined Maccauvlei Golf Club years later, in 1967, and has been an active member ever since. He has held every office of the club, having been Captain, Chairman and President.
In 1982, the year of his captaincy, Dereck invited Bobby Locke to play with him at Maccauvlei. Locke arrived with his chaperone, Pine Pienaar, a retired Boeing pilot, who transported Locke everywhere he was invited to go. When they were on the 4th hole, Locke knocked his second just on the green. Walking down towards the green with him Dereck remarked that the putt should be in his compass. Next thing he felt was a mighty kick up his “backside”.
“Not knowing what was going on,” Dereck wrote me, “I later asked Pine Pienaar why he kicked me. The only explanation that Pine could give me was that in his days that would have been an easy putt for him, and nowadays he feels frustrated as his putting touch has deserted him. At the prize giving that evening I mentioned the fact that Bobby had only 30 putts in his round, not bad for someone who felt his better days had deserted him.”
Also at that evening’s dinner celebrating Locke’s return to Maccauvlei, Derek Mocke was to present to Bobby a ‘club tie’ but when he went down to the pro shop to get one the pro told him Locke had already “nicked” one out of the shop without paying. (There was already a rumor in Joburg that Locke was a kleptomaniac.)
Back in the ballroom, ‘another’ club tie was presented to the former club pro by Derek Mocke. Derek, having been told by his father that Locke loved playing the ukulele, had gotten an instrument from the local music shop and ‘after a few drinks,’ handed Bobby the ukulele and they were treated to a singing show. It was, Derek writes, “and an evening that I will never ever forget spending a day of golf and song with a South African legend.”
(More to come…..)
With the telephone number Gary Player gave me, I called Bobby Locke the next morning and he answered the phone. I explained who I was, and that I traveling through Africa and Gary Player had given me his phone number.
I told him my tale of being an 11-year-old who had seen him win the Chicago Victory Open in ’48 at Midlothian Country Club and that I’d like to meet him now and interview him for a golf magazine. It took him a few minutes to pull all these references into focus, given the years, and the improbability of the phone call from an American stranger wanting to talk to him about a golf tournament that had taken place over twenty years before in the U.S.
At the end, however, he seemed generally enthusiastic about meeting me, and I suggested his country club, given that he would be, I guessed, comfortable in those surroundings, and also I wanted to get an inside look at a South African golf course.
The next morning, I took a couple local buses to his club, arriving early and touring the residential streets of white Joburg. What struck me immediately, having worked my way down the long west coast of Africa, by plane, train, buses, and hitchhiking, was just how wealthy this world was in the midst of those apartheid years. Wealthy and fortified. Every luxury home, even if not large nor situated on a large lot, was enclosed within a high stone or iron fence, displaying warnings about trespassing and displaying the name of the security firms guarding the property. South Africa in those years was an armed camp.
The club itself was not unlike most private ones in the U.S. with manicured lawns, grass tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a large and gracious club house dominating a slight rise. I wandered gravel paths through gardens of summer flowers with familiarity for such surroundings to find myself, as I expected, at the first tee. It was a weekday midmorning and I stood in the shade and watched a few members waiting to play. Concentrated, I must say, more on the caddies than the members. The caddies were all African, and all dressed in white coveralls. They were chatty with each other, with the players. Clearly they were all of one world, at least on this golf course.
Then I went into the pro shop and introduced myself to an assistant pro and explained myself, and why I was at the club. I remember being greeted with great friendliness. Bobby Locke was a person of importance, and so was I, if I was there to meet him.
What I had in my possession after all those years away from Midlothian was a handful of stories surrounding the last Chicago Victory Open. I had, I guessed, more fond memories than Locke, who reduced the great event in my life to a single photograph, and one or two lines, in his book, On Golf.
I was the youngest of three brothers who all caddied at Midlothian. I did know, and was friends with, Locke’s caddie in the Victory Open, Kenny Burke. Kenny was just a year or two older than me, and he had picked up Locke’s bag in the parking lot of the club when Locke arrived for a practice round.
The story in the caddy yard was that Locke wanted a little kid looping for him, not one of the men who hung around the caddie shack looking for a loop, or the few ‘professionals’ who followed the sun, from one tournament to the next back in the days before a touring caddie became a personality and a wealthy man on the Tour.
A little kid, it was rumored, wouldn’t cost him a lot of money. Locke won $2000.00 for that ’48 Victory Open and Kenny Burke earned $75.00.
Locke had rounds of 65-65-70-66 for a total of 266.The 65s were course records, at the time, and the 266 was sixteen shots ahead of former tennis champion turned golf pro Ellsworth Vines’ 282. That score was, and still is, the largest margin of victory ever in any PGA tournament. Locke shares this record with J. Douglas Edgar and his win in the 1919 Canadian Open. The next closest is Tiger Wood’s fifteen stroke win in the 2000 U.S. Open.
Our home pro, Jimmy Walkup, had 285 and tied for fifth place with touring pros George Fazio, Dick Metz and Jim Ferrier. Jimmy was an alumnus caddy of Glen Garden Country club in Fort Worth, Texas better known for his fellow caddies, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. The members had known about Jimmy’s background but this was the first opportunity they had to see him compete with the best in the country.
Midlothian was built in 1898 by H.J. Tweedie. It was carved out of farmland and had small, flat, postage stamp size greens. With the exception of #11, situated on a slight rise, these were greens one would dominate with a pitch and run approach. What I remember most clearly from following Locke for four rounds was his ability to get it close to the pin, giving himself makeable short putts.
There were no ropes holding the gallery, and the truth was, there was not much of a gallery. Spectators could get close to close to the players, which I was constantly trying to do, but Locke had two members working as marshals, and they flanked him as he walked down, always, the center of the fairway.
These were wonderful days of watching great golf. There were no gallery ropes, no cops in uniforms, no cheering, no loud, ‘IN THE HOLE!’ shouted from the stands. In fact, there were no stands.
On the weekend, I’d guess there were less than two thousand spectators, following Locke in the final twosome, and most of them were members, and friends of members, and golfers from the Southside of Chicago. In these pre-television days, golf wasn’t a spectator sport.
I shared these stories and more about the Victory Open, Chicago, “no, it wasn’t as dangerous as the movies said,” and about Tam O’Shanter, a golf course I knew, as well as stories about the All American Tournament in which I had caddied, with the pro shop crew, and the pro who arrived and became curious at my presence. I was offered a soft drink and a chair and after a half hour, calls were made on my behalf to the front office to see if Bobby Locke was somewhere else in the clubhouse waiting for my arrival.
Excuses were then forthcoming from the pro, saying that Bobby hadn’t been well; the accident, etc. I nodded, agreeing. I understood.
After a good hour or so I thanked everyone for their hospitality and said goodbye.
Bobby Locke never showed up.
Bad Boy Bobby Locke
The personality of Locke that got the most attention off the course, and it comes through in his book, On Golf, was his prickliness with the pros and the press. While he was good friends with some, especially Snead and Oliver, he was not a happy tourist.
And he had good reason. For example, he was asked about his winnings by the press and refused to discuss them. The next day the headline in the paper blasted him for refusing to discuss it. In his book, he writes: “The Americans are, of course, intensely interested in dollars; perhaps intensely is not quite a strong enough word.”
He also adds, when summing up his experiences in the U.S.:
“There are people who regard me as off-hand, even surly, when I am playing golf. But golf is my business. When I am playing I must concentrate to the utmost.”
He was not, what you might call a ‘generous’ person in personality or in behavior. In 1947, Time magazine wanted to feature Locke on its cover, but he turned them down because they wouldn’t pay him. Locke would only do interviews he got paid for; he typically charged $100.
I remember another incident when Locke played at Midlothian Country Club in the Victory Open in 1948, he was invited to stay at the home of a member, who happened to be British, and who thought, I guess, that it would be a nice gesture to invite the South African to his home. The man’s name was Bradshaw.
Bradshaw’s son, John, then about fourteen, carried the score board for four rounds of the tournament in the Locke two-some. Afterwards, young John wanted an autograph and his father asked his houseguest for one. Locke agreed, and charged Bradshaw, Sr. $5.
There might be a reason for that hostile attitude. He might have had PTSD. Locke never spoke about the 1,800 hours he spent in WWII flying a B-24 Liberator bomber in the Mediterranean, or if the memories of the damage that his bombs did to the monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy changed him. Nor did he ever display his aviator´s medals.
He did come back from Europe a changed man, everyone said. In pre-war days, he was tall and rangy; after 1945 he weighed over 200 pounds.
In 1959 Locked was in a terrible automobile accident. He was traveling with Maurice Bodmer, the home professional at Cape Town’s Clovelly Golf Club, when he stopped at a railway crossing. There were two tracks and after a train passed, he started across and a second train from the opposite direction slammed into the rear of his car, throwing him out the back window. The accident ruined his eyesight and balance and gave him migraines. He never played top flight tournament golf again.
Twenty years later, at the age of 61, he got into an argument with a laborer in a dispute over money and pulled a shotgun on the man. For that he received a three-month suspended prison sentence. That incident changed South Africa’s opinion of their first great golfer. Now all eyes shifted to Gary Player.
Locke´s fade-out from the public view was nearly complete. While not impecunious, perhaps South Africa’s greatest golfer, and perhaps the game’s greatest putter, allegedly relying on assistance from benefactors, died of spinal meningitis at age 69 in 1987, totally forgotten by the golfing community. Tragically there was more sorrow for his family. He had married Mary Fenton from Rutland, Vermont, and she and their daughter Caroline, now alone and desperately poor, would follow him to his grave in 2000, drinking poison-laced champagne in a suicide pact.
Golf’s Greatest Putter
When I was interviewing Australian Jim Ferree for my 1990 book Playing with The Pros: Golf Lessons from the Senior Tour we fell into a discussion about Bobby Locke. Ferree knew him well from the ‘40s and I asked Jim about Locke’s ability with a putter. He said that Bobby’s method was based on having to play Bermuda-grass greens, which were used particularly in South Africa and the southern U.S. They were greens that could survive warm summers.
Locke’s style of putting, Ferree explained, was designed to let the ball glide on top of the grass, and not be that much affected by the grain. He said Locke told him he had learned the technique from an Englishman in Egypt when Locke was stationed there during WWII.
Very early in his career, Locke realized that putting was half the game of golf. “No matter how well I might play the long shots, if I couldn’t putt,” he said, “I would never win.”
Geoff Mangum, Owner at Geoff Mangum’s PuttingZone, writes that Locke at the age of nine was given a putter by T.D Lighthouse, who had been watching him practice on the putting green at the Germiston golf club. “And he kept the hickory-shafted steel blade putter from that day, using it to win numerous professional competitions and four British Open championships with it,” writes Mangum. “He called it his ‘pay-off club,’ and the ‘rusty old blade, stayed with him until 1960, when he finally replaced it with a similar putter.”
Locke writes in his 1953 book, On Golf, speaking of people who helped him in his early years, about how he obtained his famous putter. “There are incidentally,” he wrote, “a great many stories about my trusty old putter and how I got it. The true story is quite simple: the club was given to me by my father when I was in my ‘teens.”
His putting style was as unique as was his success on the green. From tee to green Locke was not long, but he kept the ball on the fairway, and he hit everything right-to-left, unlike, say Hogan, who controlled the ball by fading every shot.
On the greens Locke would bring the putter back far to the inside on the backstroke, then, on the forward stroke, keep the clubface hooded and closed to create overspin. Locke believed a player should put spin on a putt similar to full-swing shots and make them “hook” or “slice” into the hole.
In his book On Golf, Locke details how to putt, starting with the correct grip. He used the same grip on his putter that he used in his full swing: an overlapping grip, with the thumbs straight down on the shaft. Putters in Locke’s era were longer, and he set his hands high on the shaft, above his left knee near his thigh.
For Locke, pace was primary, and then the break. He had three putting speeds, depending upon playing conditions: “I work to the rule that if the green appears to be fast, I will aim my putt at an imaginary hole six to twelve inches short of the hole. If the green appears to be slow, and particularly if the last two or three feet to the hole the ground is uphill, I hit it firmly for the back of the hole.” On medium speed greens, he sought to have the ball die just over the lip.
The famous golf writer, Al Barkow, watched Locke at the 1972 British Open size up a 90-footer from the front of a green at Muirfield: “He wiped misty rain from his glasses with a handkerchief as he walked all the way to the cup, kept pressing his feet in a kind of never-leave-the-ground tap dance to get the speed of the green as he peered down looking for grain, finally got to the ball and gave it that same grungy stroke. He rapped the ball to within two inches of the cup.”
Locke would explain his technique this way: “I examine the line of the putt, concentrating particularly on a radius of about three feet around the hole. This is where the ball completes its run, and what happens here is going to make or mar the putt.”
Locke is also famous for declaring: “All putts are straight putts. If the contour of the green creates a right to left breaking putt, you aim at a point where you believe the ball will begin to turn toward the hole and hit the putt straight at that point.”
What I always found most intriguing about Locke’s ‘reading of the greens’ was his positive attitude towards making any putt. He felt that each hole had four ‘doors,’ a front door was the door directly approached by the putt at perfect speed on the perfect path. Locke aimed for the front door and he believed he had three extra chances of sinking the putt, left side, right side, and back door to the hole.
With an attitude like that, how could anyone miss a putt?
Or as Locke famously said, “You drive for show, putt for dough.”