Under the category of great putters in golf history, Arthur D’Arcy (Bobby) Locke is certainly at the top of the list – and there are those in a contingent, led by Gary Player, who would argue that the South African was the best of all time. Locke won four Open Championships in a span of eight years and dominated when he did play the PGA TOUR, earning him the distinction as the first great non-British, non-American golfer. He did it, though, by more than just the flat blade.
Locke was described as having a bizarre personality and an unorthodox style. After World War II, he dressed almost exclusively in grey flannel knickers, white buckskin shoes, linen dress shirts with neckties, and white Hogan caps. He played the ukulele and had a reputation for being one of the game’s great partiers. On the golf course, he moved at a maddeningly slow pace. Large gaps would open in front of him, his playing partners would grow red-necked in anger, officials would threaten penalties, but Locke was unyielding. He never lost his temper or expressed annoyance and was described as cool, shrewd and imperturbable. The American pros nicknamed him “Muffin Face” because of his changeless expression.
"No matter how well I might play the long shots, if I couldn't putt, I would never win.''
Visually, Locke’s golf swing was no work of art. He learned by reading Bobby Jones’ instruction books, adapting a wristy inside-out move that consistently produced a hard right-to-left draw. What was so amazing about Locke’s shot pattern was its consistency. He rarely missed a green, and when he did, he had the short game and the disposition to save par. This was an adaptation of Jones’ philosophy that the real secret of success in golf was turning three shots into two.
Using an old rusty-headed putter with a hickory shaft, Locke would even hook his putts. He’d address the ball at the toe and stroke out at it, imparting topspin which resulted in true, end-over-end rotation. He believed in dying the ball in the hole, using the front and the two sides of the cup. “Very early in my career I realized that putting was half the game of golf,” Locke said. “No matter how well I might play the long shots, if I couldn’t putt, I would never win.”
In this country, Locke was nearly unbeatable. In one 32-month span, he played in 59 tournaments, winning 11, finishing second 10 times, third eight times and fourth five times. This led to bad blood among the Americans he was beating, and in 1949, after winning his first Open Championship, Locke remained in Great Britain to play a series of exhibitions and autumn events. This led to the PGA of America barring Locke because he had committed to play in selected tournaments on the United States tour.
Although the ban was lifted, Locke never again felt welcome and played most of his golf in Europe. He won the Open again in 1950, 1952 and in 1957, to break Peter Thomson’s streak of three Open Championships in a row. Two years later, he was involved in a bad roadside accident in South Africa, and it undoubtedly meant he would never be the same golfer again. Bobby Locke died in 1987 at the age of 69 in Johannesburg, South Africa.