Tuesday, July 29

Bad Boy Bobby Locke, Part 6: A Prickly Personality

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, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

By John Coyne

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

THE PERSONALITY OF BOBBY LOCKE that got the most attention off the course, and it comes through in his book, On Golf, was his prickliness with the pros and the press. While he was good friends with some, especially Sam Snead and Ed Oliver, he was not a happy tourist.

And he had good reason.

For example, Locke was asked about his winnings by the press and refused to discuss them. The next day the headline in the paper blasted him for refusing to discuss it. In his book, he writes: “The Americans are, of course, intensely interested in dollars; perhaps intensely is not quite a strong enough word.”

He also adds, when summing up his experiences in the U.S.: “There are people who regard me as off-hand, even surly, when I am playing golf. But golf is my business. When I am playing I must concentrate to the utmost.”

He was not, what you might call a generous person in personality or in behavior. In 1947, Time magazine wanted to feature Locke on its cover, but he turned them down because they wouldn’t pay him. Locke would only do interviews he got paid for; he typically charged $100.

I remember another incident when Locke played at Midlothian Country Club in the Victory Open in 1948. He was invited to stay at the home of a member, who happened to be British, and who thought, I guess, that it would be a nice gesture to invite the South African to his home. The man’s name was Bradshaw. Bradshaw’s son, John, then about fourteen, carried the score board for four rounds of the tournament in the Locke twosome. Afterwards, young John wanted an autograph and his father asked his houseguest for one. Locke agreed, and charged Bradshaw Sr. $5.

There might be a reason for that hostile attitude. He might have had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Locke never spoke about the 1,800 hours he spent in World War II flying a B-24 Liberator bomber in the Mediterranean, or if the memories of the damage that his bombs did to the monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy changed him. Nor did he ever display his aviator´s medals. He did come back from Europe a changed man, everyone said. In prewar days, he was tall and rangy; after 1945 he weighed over 200 pounds.

Car Accident and Gun Incident

In 1959 Locke was in a terrible automobile accident. He was traveling with Maurice Bodmer, the home professional at Cape Town’s Clovelly Golf Club, when he stopped at a railway crossing. There were two tracks and after a train passed, he started across and a second train from the opposite direction slammed into the rear of his car, throwing him out the back window. The accident ruined his eyesight and balance and gave him migraines. He never played top-flight tournament golf again.

Twenty years later, at the age of 61, he got into an argument with a laborer in a dispute over money and pulled a shotgun on the man. For that he received a three-month suspended prison sentence. That incident changed South Africa’s opinion of their first great golfer. Now all eyes shifted to Gary Player.

Locke´s fade-out from the public view was nearly complete.

Perhaps South Africa’s greatest golfer, and perhaps the game’s greatest putter, allegedly relying on assistance from benefactors, died of spinal meningitis at age 69 in 1987, totally forgotten by the golfing community. Tragically there was more sorrow for his family. He had married Mary Fenton from Rutland, Vermont, and she and their daughter Caroline, now alone and desperately poor, would follow him to his grave in 2000, drinking poison-laced champagne in a suicide pact.

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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