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‘Veldt belter’ Bobby Locke: 100 years on (and did he ever play at Randpark?)

by | Nov 15, 2017

THIS month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bobby Locke, who came into this world on November 17, 1917 and would go on to win four British Opens as well as a bunch of tournaments in South Africa, the United States and all around the world.

And when Locke’s wife and daughter tragically took their own lives in the 1990s, they left me in their will, newspaper press cuttings about this great South African golfer right from his days as a child until his death in 1987. There is a wealth of information in the big pile of these cuttings which I have in my study and here is a snippet, from one Ned Cronin, Sports Editor of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Like many American golf writers at the time, Cronin was both intrigued and impressed by what Locke – they called him the ‘Veldt Belter’ from darkest Africa – achieved during his first campaign in America in 1947. He won seven tournaments in 13 starts – astonishing golf – and, at the end of that year, was considered by many, including the eminent English golf writer Henry Longhurst, to be the world’s No 1 golfer.  And very definitely the best putter in the game.

Exactly 70 years ago Cronin wrote a 1947 column about the quirky golfer who throughout his career wore plus-fours, silk shirts and a necktie en route to 80 worldwide victories, and would entertain the people after a win by singing a ditty or two while playing his ukulele and enjoying a pint or three.

Now Locke in his own book of the early 1950s had a section on instruction, and in it he mentioned how he used the orthodox overlapping grip “that is employed by practically all the leading golfers of the present day”. But, in fact, in 1947 in America and in the years before that Locke used the so-called baseball grip, as old black and white photographs clearly indicate.

Cronin was fascinated by this, as he observed in his witty column (written before an exhibition match at Inglewood Country Club): “For years, the overlapping grip has been accepted, following trials, tribulations and a good many salty tears, as the best way to grasp a club while in the throes of pulverising a golf ball. A few unreconstructed individualists employ the interlocking grip, but for every one of those you will find a couple of hundred overlappers. And as you progress up in class, the disparity is even greater among the top-flight golfers.

“So along comes brother Locke – the guy who can make a golf ball act like a gopher running for a hole – and what does he use? The old baseball grip. No overlapping, interlocking or any such finger fandangoes for him. When he latches onto a club he holds it like a ball player does a bat when he has a three-base hit in mind.

“On top of that, Locke has a loop in his swing as though he were throwing a lariat, and if you think all this isn’t going to do something to the thousands of impressionable onlookers at Inglewood Country Club, then you don’t know the good old American sports fan. We’ll all have baseball grips and figure-eight swings for months to come, along with a continuous festering puzzle over why the ball doesn’t behave the same way it did when Locke hit it.

“And hit it he can. Not since Sam Snead forced a pair of shoes on his feet and came out of the hills of West Virginia to blaze a path across the country’s golf courses has one man so completely dominated the professional ranks. Where he excels is on the green. The thought never occurs to him that on some occasions, some golfers use up to three putts. With Locke it is purely a case of mind over matter, or Moon over Miami or whatever you choose to call it when one is able to eliminate any anxiety that might be felt over an impending putt. If Locke doesn’t sink it the first crack, he’s close enough to tap it on the second putt. There is something that if Locke could bottle up and sell he would be a millionaire overnight. Or have you ever seen the day when you would just as soon face a firing squad as a six-foot putt.”

Nice words, don’t you think? Locke was indeed a wonderful golfer who took the worldwide game by storm. I don’t know if he ever played at Randpark. I’ve asked a few of the older members if they remember him making a bunch of birdies here, but as of now no-one has been able to enlighten me. If you do have some information please email me at 

By Grant Winter (Randpark member)

7 Comments

  1. Euan McLean

    I recall meeting Bobby Locke at Randpark back in the 70s. My father, Ron McLean, a Randpark member then, played in a social group which included Bobby Locke and they would play different courses on a regular basis. The group had a very strange name which I know longer remember. Alas my father is no longer with us however I am sure that there are other “old-timers” who may recall the name.
    I remember Bobby Locke driving on the 1st Tee at Randpark and curving the ball with his amazing right to left draw.

    Regards – Euan McLean ex-member 1970 to 1980

    Reply
  2. Alfred Pratt

    Thank you for using my best-ever golf action photograph of Bobby Locke in action at St. Andrews (British Open) 1955. My name is Alfred Pratt & I took that picture at St. Andrews in 1955, which you exhibit. Thank you for the choice in my favour.

    I imagine that he did not play at your course as it seems to me that it was still farmland-veldt with few houses here & there & no golf course. I could be wrong but he played mainly at the old, well established courses like Royal Johannesburg, Vereeniging Country Club, a great lot at Ohenimuri where he had an intimate girl friend, Germiston, & Park View plus others. Otherwise, he was more than welcome anywhere he would wish to turn up for a game.

    Reply
    • Tracy Korsen

      Still trying to locate Mr Alfred Pratt – I believe is in his 80’s and living in the UK.

      Reply
      • Kathryn Fortescue

        I am Alfred’s daughter. What is your query? I can pass a message on to him.

        Reply
        • Tracy Korsen

          Please contact me re Alfred Pratt –

          Reply
  3. Steven Venter

    My mother won a nearest-the-pin on the pulpit hole at Irene with Bobby Locke in the field. She usually played in a mini skirt in those days and Mr. Locke made a point of personally congratulating her. I was probably about 5 years old at the time but I remember him clearly.

    Reply
  4. Rob

    In 1982 at Potchefstroom I had the great privilege of sharing a few beers with Bobby and listening. He spoke well of Henry Cotton, Gary Player, Cary Middlecoff and others. Except when I asked him about Ben Hogan, Bobby quickly said we would ” not foul such a delightful evening by talking about the horses arse, Hogan”.
    Special evening I will cherish forever.
    Rob Schoeman Potch member since 1963

    Reply

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