Tuesday, June 17

Bad Boy Bobby Locke, Part 2: 'The Worst Swing They Had Ever Seen'

I asked John Coyne why he called Bobby Locke a "bad boy." Coyne said, "Locke wasn't liked on the PGA Tour. They blackballed him. Also, he was fired from his first pro job in Johannesburg." In this series, read how the South African golf legend made enemies by beating America's best. Read Part 1.

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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, 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 2½ 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.

TO BE CONTINUED.

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

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