Golf can get to us all

Amateurs and professionals are united in the fact that we both find golf an exasperating game. When things start to go wrong and our scores begin to fall badly below our expectations, then it is a hell of a job for us to hold ourselves together.

Bobby Locke was the benchmark. The rest of us are not fit to tie his shoelaces by comparison.

He is the only player I could watch from a distance or on TV and have absolutely no idea whether he was heading for a 68 or 78. His expression never changed; he went through the same routine before each shot and would take exactly the same amount of time.

Pros in the millennium have the added disadvantage that the galleries are larger and there are TV cameras everywhere, so they are more constrained than we were. But I can still tell whether one of the leading pros is doing well or badly by his facial expression and general demeanour on TV.

What used to get to me was having to hit the ball out of a fairway bunker, because it would mean a shot gone for sure. It did not bother me so much hitting into the trees because I could usually find some way out. But if I was not playing that well to start with and then hit my drive into a bunker, I would begin to steam.

I think I can safely say I never lost my temper on these occasions, but I would vent my anger by playing the shot quickly. I would walk into the bunker and bang the ball out without even addressing it.

I hope my fellow pros will forgive me listing a few of the more colourful incidents I have witnessed in my tournament career. The game gets to us all at times and so we can identify with these players.

Bunker re-design

I have already written about my friend Norman Von Nida, the Australian pro. In the late 1940s we were playing a tournament at the Mere Golf Club in Cheshire, where George Duncan used to be pro. At the 18th, Norman drove his ball into a shallow bunker, which had an overhanging lip with tufty grass on it.

Norman made good contact with the ball but it just caught the lip and dropped back. He got out with his second but obviously something snapped because he walked round to the front of the bunker and, with a full swing, began to chop chunks off this lip with his niblick. Naturally he was reported for his behaviour, because he left the bunker full of divots.

The following morning the caddies cut out a turf about one foot square and fixed it to a board which they leaned up against the wall of the pro’s shop in the courtyard of the clubhouse. It had a sign above saying ‘Von Nida’s divot.’ The committee members at the club did not share the caddie’s sense of humour and soon got rid of the board.

In the Italian Open in the early 1950s, one of the players in my group had lost a ball on one hole and we had to let through the match behind. Aldo Casera, a leading Italian pro who was reputed to have broken 50 putters, was in this match.

I watched him miss a short putt on the green, pick his ball out and walk to the side of the green where he threw it in the air and took a full swing at it with his putter. He hit a beautiful shot, right down the mountainside among some houses. I doubt whether he could have got it much further with his driver.

Aldo was the nicest bloke you could ever hope to meet and was very apologetic about his behaviour afterwards.

I have seen the game get to my friend Eric Brown, who in the annals of golf should go down as one of the best Matchplay golfers the world has ever seen. He played in four Ryder Cups in the 1950s, a decade of US supremacy, and never lost a singles match, in each case beating one of the top US players. He was reputed to “eat Americans for breakfast.”

At the 7th shorthole at Estoril, playing in the Portuguese Open, Eric put his tee shot in the bunker and played a poor recovery shot on to the the green.

He was so upset that when he walked on to the green he slammed the head of his putter down into the grass and then let it go, leaving the putter standing upright in the ground. There were not many people about and we were able to do some hasty repairs to avoid Eric getting into any trouble.

Even the great Henry Cotton was not immune. When I was 18 years old and Henry had won his first Open, we were playing at Birkdale when the clubhouse was situated on a bank behind what is now the 4th green but was then the 18th.

Henry was 40 yards short of this green and fluffed his chip, leaving it short. He then chipped to within 4 feet of the hole but missed the putt.

You often see players today bringing the shaft up and tapping themselves on the forehead with the shaft. But when Henry did this with his aluminium putter, he dropped his hands and hit himself with the head of the putter.

He nearly knocked himself out. I watched him stagger about and only just stay upright. It was thirty seconds or more before he was able to hole out.

‘Thunder’ Bolt

Bobby Locke told me about a round he once played with the 1958 US Open winner Tommy Bolt, who had a notoriously short fuse which earned him the nicname “Thunder Bolt.”

On this occasion Bolt was not playing well and after missing a short putt he turned to Bobby and said: “If there were not so many people about, I’d break this putter.”

Bobby, tongue in cheek, pointed to some trees. “Why not go behind there and break it?” he said with a straight face.

Bolt considered this. “Yeah, that’s a good idea,” he said, and to Bobby’s amazement did exactly that, having to play out the round using a 2 iron on the greens.

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