It's saying a lot, but Bobby Locke, the golfer who died Tuesday in his native South Africa, might have been the strangest character who ever walked golf links.
Cantankerous, irascible, he always looked--and acted--as if he had just finished a dinner of boiled cucumbers and tripe and had a case of terminal heartburn. He never bothered to add the grace note.
He also was the unlikeliest looking specimen you ever saw on one end of a golf stick. He scorned the gaudy slacks and tasseled shoes and alpaca sweaters of the young lions on the tour and played in the same costume as Auld Tom Morris or the Scots who invented the game--shirt, tie and knickers and one-tone cleats.
He had these great mutton jowls and a baleful look. Sam Snead called him "Ol' Droopy Jowls." Jimmy Demaret called him "Muffin Face." Locke called everybody "Dear Boy" and managed to say it in such a way that it made you feel as if you'd come to pick up the wash.
The American pros hated him. Today, with the infusion of television money, there's plenty to go round for foreign players. Last year, total prize money was $25 million. But in 1947, when Bobby Locke hove to, total prize money for the year was only $356,500. Demaret, the leading money winner, earned only $27,936.83.
There are as many ways to play golf as there are players who play it. But Locke's was enough to make you want to cover your eyes. He just walked up there and hit this little smother-hook down the fairway onto the green--then one-putted it. It was sacrilegious. Demaret used to get apoplectic.
But for Bobby Locke, it worked. In a little more than five months after coming to this country, he won eight tournaments. He also won $24,327 in that time and was second on the money list, ahead of Ben Hogan, Snead, Byron Nelson, Lloyd Mangrum and the rest.
He had won 11 tournaments by the middle of the next season, when the American pros got tired of his success and got him barred for some now-forgotten infraction of the appearance rules drummed up on the spot.
You go a long way to understanding Bobby Locke when you know that he got to this country largely through the good offices of Sam Snead, and what Locke did to him when he got here.
In 1946, on his way home from the British Open, Snead went to South Africa for a series of 16 exhibition matches with Locke for $10,000. Locke won 12 of them. And halved two others. Snead won only two. "He even hooks putts!" moaned Snead.
However Locke hit them, though, they went in. Impressed, Sam arranged with his own sponsor to back Locke on the American tour.
We dissolve now to a Greensboro Open in which Snead is locked in a shoot-out with Locke and the late Porky Oliver. Sam drops a shot in a creek on the next-to-last hole of the tournament. Because there is no point of relief behind the creek--the slope won't hold a ball--Snead is allowed to place his ball above the creek.
Sam wins the tournament--or thinks he does. Locke steams up to the rules committee and sputters for 20 minutes until the committee reverses the ruling and takes the championship away from Snead. Locke doesn't win it, though. He just makes sure Sam doesn't.
Bobby Locke was about as sentimental as a salamander. He was a hard man. He had served in the South African air force in World War II, and on his last trips to America, he was coming here on the heels of a nasty shooting scrape, the details of which were purposely kept vague but in which Locke had fired at and killed a man. Exonerated, he refused to discuss the matter.
On a golf course he played the same tight-lipped, ruthless game. He neither asked for nor gave quarter--or strokes, for that matter.
When he first showed up on an American driving range, the pros were derisive. Looking at that little hooky swing, Demaret snickered. "Hey, Sam," he yelled at Snead. "You let that swing beat you 12 times?"
Demaret--and the rest of the U.S. tour--soon found out that they should be less concerned with how he shot than with what he shot.
Arthur D'Arcy Locke won four British Opens. He won eight South African Opens, six in a row. Of the five U.S. Opens he played in, he finished 3rd, 4th, 4th, 3rd and 14th.
Beating Sam Snead in the Transvaal was one thing. Beating him at Greensboro was another. And beating the flower of American--and world--golf with a swing they'll never put on bronze statues and an attitude that would have had to improve to be classed as sour, was an inspiration to every truck driver who tees it up on a rubber mat course with a homemade swing and a set of clubs he bought piecemeal.
Bobby Locke proved that golf is not as tough a game as we make it out to be and set the golf books back a hundred years.