STAND­OUT CHAM­PION

SIR TERRY MCLEAN, OF THE NEW ZEALAND HER­ALD, SUMMED UP A SPE­CIAL DAY ON 8 NOVEM­BER, 1954 BET­TER THAN MOST. “BY A WON­DER­FUL PER­FOR­MANCE, SURELY ONE OF THE MOST STIR­RING AND RE­MARK­ABLE IN THE HIS­TORY OF THE CHAM­PI­ONSHIP, THE 18-YEAR-OLD MAS­TER­TON BANK CLERK

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS PETER THORN­TON Cer­tainly one can­not re­mem­ber ei­ther so par­ti­san or so large a crowd as when Charles, with the al­most un­nat­u­rally calm de­ter­mi­na­tion which is his great­est char­ac­ter­is­tic, holed his fi­nal putt of five feet.

Ahead of the NZ Open we talk to Sir Bob Charles.

His score of 280 for the four rounds not only equalled the cham­pi­onship record set in 1950 by the present British Open cham­pion,

P. W. Thomson, of Mel­bourne, but it had the even more ar­rest­ing ef­fect of caus­ing the de­feat of Thomson, who, with Bobby Locke, of South Africa, ranks for the time be­ing as the fore­most pro­fes­sional golfer res­i­dent out­side the United States.

“Thomson, in fact, could do no bet­ter than third, for he was sup­planted as the lead­ing pro­fes­sional by his fel­low Aus­tralian the 19-year-old Bruce Cramp­ton, of Syd­ney. Cramp­ton had an ag­gre­gate of 282 and Thomp­son of 284.

“Per­haps there has never been a day in cham­pi­onship his­tory quite like this. Cer­tainly one can­not re­mem­ber ei­ther so par­ti­san or so large a crowd as when Charles, with the al­most un­nat­u­rally calm de­ter­mi­na­tion which is his great­est char­ac­ter­is­tic, holed his fi­nal putt of five feet.”

Sixty-four years on, we caught up with the seem­ingly in­de­fati­ga­ble Sir Bob Charles on the win that kick-started his ca­reer. The World Golf Hall of Fame mem­ber went on to be­come New Zealand’s first ma­jor cham­pion and won more than 70 ti­tles all around the world in an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer. We took a walk down mem­ory lane with the 82-year-old to re­flect on the win that started it all. What are some of your stand­out mem­o­ries from your win in the 1954 New Zealand Open? I was 18 years of age and still wet be­hind the ears so to speak. I hadn’t played a lot of com­pet­i­tive golf up un­til that point. I did play in some lo­cal events, I played the NZ Open in 1953 at Bal­mace­wan, but I missed the cut and I didn’t qual­ify for the NZ Am­a­teur. That tour­na­ment was my first in­tro­duc­tion to Peter Thomson who won that event. In the 12 months fol­low­ing 1953, I played in the usual Frey­berg Rose­bowls and a lot of am­a­teur events, no pro­fes­sional events. The tour­na­ment was played at Heretaunga and for the whole week – it was seven or eight days of golf in those days and most days you were play­ing 36 holes – I was able to stay in my own bed in Mas­ter­ton. We trav­elled daily around 1 hour and 30 min­utes from Mas­ter­ton to Heretaunga each way. We got up very early in the morn­ing and were back home in the late evening. All I had was a few hours’ sleep be­tween time on the golf course.

Peter Thomson was there at Heretaunga to de­fend his ti­tle and of course he was un­suc­cess­ful, he fin­ished third. At that time Peter was the reign­ing Open Cham­pion. He won the Open in 1954, 55 and 56, three straight years which was re­mark­able. He had won the New Zealand Open in 1953 but I de­nied him the chance to de­fend his ti­tle in 1954. It was a big con­fi­dence booster for me, as a young 18-yearold from Mas­ter­ton to know that I could beat one of the best play­ers in the world at that time. What did win­ning that tour­na­ment do for your ca­reer on the world stage? It opened a few doors both here in New Zealand and in­ter­na­tion­ally. I was able to get into the Mas­ters in 1958 as a for­mer NZ Open win­ner. It was great to have that NZ Open win on my CV. That vic­tory kick­started my ca­reer in golf.

Through­out my whole ca­reer my short game has been my forte, my strength. In my mind I had a pretty sim­ple shot. It was less than 30 yards. I was just off the green in what I think was semi-rough. I didn’t think it was too dif­fi­cult and I hit it within five feet and made the putt to win by two strokes. I of course didn’t know that at the time be­cause Peter Thomson was play­ing be­hind me, and so was Cramp­ton as well. I put on a score on the board, it was 280, and [Bruce] Cramp­ton was two be­hind and Thomson fin­ished four be­hind. I was pretty proud of that achieve­ment. Yes it was. I ob­vi­ously played well that week. I was never a long hit­ter of the golf ball, but I was fairly ac­cu­rate. Even to this day I tell peo­ple that the key to good golf is fair­ways and greens and that is what I did that week at Heretaunga. I had a rep­u­ta­tion as a good short game player, par­tic­u­larly from 100 yards in. I was pretty deadly with my short irons and the flat stick. Fol­low­ing that win, I waited six years to turn pro­fes­sional. Dur­ing that time I played a lot of golf in­ter­na­tion­ally so I had a win un­der my belt and a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore I turned pro­fes­sional in Oc­to­ber, 1960. We had ex­traor­di­nary crowds re­ally. They were all mainly there to watch Peter Thomson play. I sus­pect it was prob­a­bly the first time that he had played the Welling­ton Golf Club. As the reign­ing Open cham­pion all eyes were on him. Then when all of a sud­den af­ter the first two rounds – in those days we played 36 holes on the fi­nal day – af­ter two rounds I was well up there and I think that brought in a lot of lo­cal in­ter­est. There was a lot of talk about this lo­cal kid do­ing so well. I wouldn’t haz­ard a guess to how many peo­ple were there but I don’t think the crowds who at­tend the golf tour­na­ments in NZ to­day were any bet­ter than what we ex­pe­ri­enced that week, and that was 64 years ago. The crowd was not your usual golf crowd. It was made up of golfers and a lot of non-golfers and the dress for the day was quite dif­fer­ent to what we see to­day. Four mem­bers of the Mas­ter­ton Golf Club were there for the tour­na­ment and af­ter I won they put me on their shoul­ders and car­ry­ing me up the hill from the 18th green to the club­house. Whether I had signed my score­card at that point I don’t know. There are pho­to­graphs of me be­ing car­ried up to the club­house. It was much to my dis­may. I wasn’t used to that sort of ac­co­lade, but I was a rea­son­ably quick learner. I cer­tainly re­spected what they did. In fact I think they were more ex­cited than I was at the time. It was a re­ally spe­cial win. From the four NZ Opens that I won that would be my ca­reer best. The first is al­ways gen­er­ally the best and in those cir­cum­stances. I rate it very highly. Win­ning the Open Cham­pi­onship nine years later was the pin­na­cle of my ca­reer. I won the Cana­dian Open, South African Open, Swiss Open and Scan­di­na­vian Open, a few Opens around the world, but to win your own na­tional open is even more spe­cial. Any na­tional open is the pin­na­cle of one’s achieve­ment and to win the na­tional open at such a young age will al­ways be a spe­cial mem­ory.

Sir Bob Charles of tees off on day three of the New Zealand PGA Pro-Am at The Hills Golf Club on March 31, 2012 in Queen­stown, New Zealand.

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