By John Coyne
Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
|South African great Bobby Locke|
I explained who I was, and that I was traveling through Africa and Gary Player had given me his phone number. I told him my tale of being an 11-year-old who had seen him win the Chicago Victory Open in ’48 at Midlothian Country Club and that I’d like to meet him now and interview him for a golf magazine.
It took him a few minutes to pull all these references into focus, given the years, and the improbability of the phone call from an American stranger wanting to talk to him about a golf tournament that had taken place over twenty years before in the U.S. At the end, however, he seemed generally enthusiastic about meeting me, and I suggested his country club, given that he would be, I guessed, comfortable in those surroundings, and also I wanted to get an inside look at a South African golf course.
The next morning, I took a couple local buses to his club, arriving early and touring the residential streets of white Joburg.
What struck me immediately, having worked my way down the long west coast of Africa, by plane, train, buses, and hitchhiking, was just how wealthy this world was in the midst of those apartheid years. Wealthy and fortified. Every luxury home, even if not large nor situated on a large lot, was enclosed within a high stone or iron fence, displaying warnings about trespassing and displaying the name of the security firms guarding the property. South Africa in those years was an armed camp.
The club itself was not unlike most private ones in the U.S., with manicured lawns, grass tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a large and gracious club house dominating a slight rise. I wandered gravel paths through gardens of summer flowers with familiarity for such surroundings to find myself, as I expected, at the first tee.
It was a weekday midmorning and I stood in the shade and watched a few members waiting to play. Concentrated, I must say, more on the caddies than the members. The caddies were all African, and all dressed in white coveralls. They were chatty with each other, with the players. Clearly they were all of one world, at least on this golf course.
Then I went into the pro shop and introduced myself to an assistant pro and explained myself, and why I was at the club. I remember being greeted with great friendliness. Bobby Locke was a person of importance, and so was I, if I was there to meet him.
Victory Open Stories
What I had in my possession after all those years away from Midlothian was a handful of stories surrounding the last Chicago Victory Open. I had, I guessed, more fond memories than Locke, who reduced the great event in my life to a single photograph, and one or two lines, in his book, On Golf.
I was the youngest of three brothers who all caddied at Midlothian. I did know, and was friends with, Locke’s caddie in the Victory Open, Kenny Burke. Kenny was just a year or two older than me, and he had picked up Locke’s bag in the parking lot of the club when Locke arrived for a practice round.
The story in the caddie yard was that Locke wanted a little kid looping for him, not one of the men who hung around the caddie shack looking for a loop, or the few professionals who followed the sun, from one tournament to the next back in the days before a touring caddie became a personality and a wealthy man on the Tour. A little kid, it was rumored, wouldn’t cost him a lot of money. Locke won $2,000.00 for that ’48 Victory Open and Kenny Burke earned $75.00.
Locke had rounds of 65-65-70-66 for a total of 266. The 65s were course records, at the time, and the 266 was sixteen shots ahead of former tennis champion turned golf pro Ellsworth Vines’ 282. That score was, and still is, the largest margin of victory ever in any PGA tournament. Locke shares this record with J. Douglas Edgar and his win in the 1919 Canadian Open. The next closest is Tiger Wood’s fifteen-stroke win in the 2000 U.S. Open.
Our home pro, Jimmy Walkup, had 285 and tied for fifth place with touring pros George Fazio, Dick Metz and Jim Ferrier. Jimmy was an alumnus caddy of Glen Garden Country club in Fort Worth, Texas, better known for his fellow caddies, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. The members had known about Jimmy’s background but this was the first opportunity they had to see him compete with the best in the country.
Midlothian was built in 1898 by H.J. Tweedie. It was carved out of farmland and had small, flat, postage stamp size greens. With the exception of No. 11, situated on a slight rise, these were greens one would dominate with a pitch and run approach. What I remember most clearly from following Locke for four rounds was his ability to get it close to the pin, giving himself makeable short putts.
There were no ropes holding the gallery, and the truth was, there was not much of a gallery. Spectators could get close to the players, which I was constantly trying to do, but Locke had two members working as marshals, and they flanked him as he walked down, always, the center of the fairway. Those were wonderful days of watching great golf. No gallery ropes, no cops in uniforms, no cheering, no "IN THE HOLE!" shouted from the stands. In fact, there were no stands.
On the weekend, I’d guess there were less than two thousand spectators following Locke in the final twosome, and most of them were members, and friends of members, and golfers from the Southside of Chicago. In those pre-television days, golf wasn’t a spectator sport.
|John Coyne today.|
Excuses were then forthcoming from the pro, saying that Bobby hadn’t been well; the accident, etc. I nodded, agreeing. I understood. After a good hour or so I thanked everyone for their hospitality and said goodbye.
Bobby Locke never showed up.
John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.