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
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.