How Bobby Locke(d) Glendower
Today’s stars can draw inspiration from the spirit of the great golfer to go low
WHEN Bobby Locke arrived at Glendower, which will host this week’s BMW South African Open featuring Rory McIlroy, in the January of 1939 to defend his Transvaal Open title he was just 21 years old yet he had already won two SA Opens, the Irish Open and the New Zealand Open.
In those days, exhibition matches were all the rage and the slim, extraordinarily gifted South African had already toured Britain, Australia and the Land of the Great White Cloud in 1938, beating their best players on a regular basis and setting course records all over the damn place.
The golfing world, bar the United States (although the Americans would quickly change their tune in years to come when Bobby eventually got to the US), was already hailing young Locke as one of the best golfers in the world, one New Zealand commentator describing him as “the very best”.
Now Bobby Locke is today regarded as one of the greatest putters the game has ever seen, but in January 1939 The Star’s golf correspondent, who played a practice round with him, had this to say of the young wizard of the fairways: “What surprised me was the power of his long iron shots. At the second hole at Glendower, 500 yards through a valley, Bobby was pin high (with two great shots) against a strong wind, and he was also able to get on in two with well-controlled iron shots at the 8th (510 yards) and 15th (520 yards).”
Come the tournament itself, with 36 holes on the Saturday and another two rounds on the Sunday (how today’s professionals would complain about so much golf squeezed into two days!), Locke shot 66, 69, 66 and 64 for 265 – to win by 26 strokes with AF Tomsett second on 291 and Sid Brews third on 292.
We again quote from The Star’s golf correspondent at the time, who described how Locke got that blistering final round off to a rollicking start: “At the (par-5) second hole (after his drive) he took his shallow-faced spoon (about a three-wood) and hit the ball high in the air 5ft past the pin to hole his putt for a three at a 500 yards hole.”
In an old clipping from the “Olympian’s Sports Gossip”, the writer penned the following: “I do not think there is any doubt at all about Bobby Locke’s score of 265 in the Transvaal Open being a world’s record for 72 holes over a course of first-class championship length.
“The Golfer’s Handbook gives Percy Alliss’s score of 262 in the Italian Open at San Remo as the world’s best score. But that performance was on an extremely short course, less than 6 000 yards I believe. The standard scratch score at San Remo is 68, whereas at Glendower it is 75, and there you have the difference of seven strokes a round in the two courses.”
Locke’s career had taken off and in 1939 he would head for Britain on a ship (two weeks at sea, no private jets in those days!) to seek more fame and fortune.
And that fame and fortune did come his way, both in America, Britain and all over the world, but not before putting competitive golf on hold during the war years as he served as a pilot in the South African Air Force, getting his wings in 1942 and subsequently completing 1 800 hours in single, twin and four-engined aircraft. How times have changed. Will any of the global superstars of today at Glendower this week shoot as low 265? It’s a tall order, but just maybe the spirit of Bobby Locke will be carrying your bag, urging you on.