Bobby Locke is widely recognized
as the greatest magician with a putting wand ever to play the game of golf.
READING THE PUTT: SPEED THEN LINE
Bobby Locke had wonderful depth perception, touch, and visualization skills. He was
known to visualize many of the subtle details of contour break and surface condition
in his mental memory of the putt path. "He could vividly retain
all the breaks and rolls twixt ball and cup in his mind's eye, even at long
For Bobby Locke, pace was primary, and then break. He had three putting speeds depending upon playing conditions: "I work to the rule that if the green appears to be fast, I will aim my putt at an imaginary hole six to twelve inches short of the hole. If the green appears to be slow, and particularly if the last two or three feet to the hole the ground is uphill, I hit it firmly for the back of the hole." On medium speed greens, he died the ball over the lip.
Later, he wrote: "I have a basic rule of thumb for greens of differing pace. On a fast green I aim to hit the ball six inches short of the actual hole; on medium-paced greens I putt to drop the ball just over the front lip of the hole; on slow greens I putt firmly for the back of the cup."
He used his feet to feel the speed of the green. The Sport columnist Al Barkow watched Locke at the 1972 British Open size up a 90-footer from the front of a green at Muirfield: "He wiped misty rain from his glasses with a handkerchief as he walked all the way to the cup, kept pressing his feet in a kind of never-leave-the-ground tap dance to get the speed of the green as he peered down looking for grain, finally got to the ball and gave it that same grungy stroke. He rapped the ball to within two inches of the cup. Beautiful!"
Bobby Locke considered a consistent "topspin" roll as the key to distance control. He said: "My first objective in putting has always been to impart topspin to the ball. By that I mean causing the ball to roll immediately as truly end-over-end as possible -- without any skidding, sidespinning, or hopping."
Click on the link below to see how modern putters work. The ball is first pushed and then starts to roll. Bobby Locke's putts started to roll imediately and hugged the grass. I believe that this was his real secret.
Click this for Modern Putting Video. (Youtube).
Bobby Locke felt this sort of roll gave him two advantages: distance control, and
a better chance of the ball dropping into the cup on trajectories off the centerline.
For distance, he said: "The player who consistently can produce such a roll
usually develops the best sense of distance; the regularity of the ball's movement
enables him to gauge the speed of his putts very precisely, day in and day out."
As an example of Bobby Locke's distance control, consider this anecdote: Once Locke missed an ordinary three-foot putt, the only putt anyone recalled him missing, but on the very next hole he promptly sank a 50-footer with seeming abandon. A spectator asked him how he could so casually sink such a long putt right on top of the short miss. Locke replied: "Oh, the second putt wasn't any tougher; it was just longer, don't you see?" He once played 300 holes of Championship Golf without three-putting.
For speed control and putt path, Bobby Locke took exceptional care to examine the final three or four feet of the putt. He considered this area, where the ball would be slowing and responding to subtleties in the green, the section of the putt that would determine success or failure.
As he peered into the hole, some less kind individuals would suggest that he was looking for balls left there by a previous match.
He wrote: "I examine the line of the putt, concentrating particularly on a radius of about three feet around the hole. This is where the ball completes its run, and what happens here is going to make or mar the putt."
In this area, Bobby Locke looked for clues to his best speed. "I give very special attention to the type and length of grass and to the contours in the immediate vicinity of the hole, gradually pulling together in my mind a clear picture of overall pace."
BobbyLocke also planned his line in reference to the break point, or furthest lateral extension of the putt's true curve. He said: "All putts are straight putts. If the contour of the green creates a right to left breaking putt, you aim at a point where you believe the ball will begin to turn toward the hole and hit the putt straight at that point."
Bobby Locke described his mental game once he had returned to the ball to make his putt: "Having carefully assessed these [hills and hollows along the path], I marry the picture I get of ground contour to the picture I already have of the speed of the putt, until I form a clear mind's-eye view of the ball running across the green and into the hole."
He steadfastly refused to be hurried, and would not putt until his mental picture of the putt's pace and path were crystal clear to him. His constant mantras: "One shot at a time." and "Second guesses in putting are fatal."
Bobby Locke's grip was the same he used in the full swing, an overlapping grip, with his thumbs straight down on the shaft. He had a light grip pressure for better feel in his hands and fingers.
Bobby Locke also concentrated on feeling the putterhead, and for this he never varied his hand position on the grip or his stance, regardless of the length of the putt. His putter was longer than most in his day, and he positioned his hands high on the grip, above his left knee near his thigh.
Bobby Locke used excellent head position, well bent over the ball. It appears his plane of vision was very close to that of the vertical plane of the putt, with eyes and gaze directly above the ball and the back of his head flat.
In the stroke itself, Bobby Locke believed in eliminating sidespin, because he felt sidespin made the ball spin out of the hole when it approached the cup off the centerline. He wanted to keep this approach available in his putting, to increase his chances of getting a sink.
BobbyLocke felt each hole has four "doors," a front, left side, right side, and back door. The front door was the door directly approached by the putt at perfect speed on the perfect path. Locke felt that if he aimed for the front door he had three chances of sinking the putt, but if the ball went to either side door with sidespin, it stood a strong chance of spinning out.
To eliminate sidespin, Bobby Locke used "topspin." To get "topspin," Bobby Locke stroked the ball with the putterface slightly on the rise just after the bottom of the stroke arc. He also "hooded" the putterface during the stroke to ensure a square putterface aimed on the line at impact and after.-+
To further ensure against sidespin, BobbyLocke sought to guard against a "cut stroke" with the stroke path moving from out to in across the ball."Never cut a putt."
He did this by addressing the ball with the toe of his putterface placed directly behind the ball, but then in the stroke he impacted the ball with the central sweetspot.
Part of the anti-cutstroke setup, Bobby Locke addressed the ball with a narrow stance (feet about 4 inches apart) and with his feet (and hips) closed to the putt path. That is, his back foot was pulled back from a line across both toes parallel to the putt path, about three inches. This closed stance assured a backstroke path to the inside of the putt line, and hence a delivery on the throughstroke also from the inside -- practically eliminating the out-to-in cut stroke path by design.
While it is doubtful that any putt has much sidespin after it gets rolling, Bobby Locke's technique did have the effect of giving his putts a very reliable transfer of energy. His distance control was superb, and much of this can be attributed to his avoiding energy loss through cutstrokes, sidespin at the start, or inconsistent impact. Topspin can be understood as a reliably consistent manner of striking the ball that imparts no sidespin and avoids energy loss from wobbling, bouncing or hopping, or prolonged skidding.
It appears that both feet pointed more or less perpendicularly or square to the start line of the putt, rather than having his front foot flared open. This way, he could tell when his torso in the throughstroke had returned to square, because then his hips would return to square. So long as his toes and knees pointed square, his hips would "lock" back to square right at contact. This probably helped him sense his stroke for better control and timing.
Bobby Locke was not a long hitter unless he wanted to be and then he was very long. He was a big unit standing over 6' 1". Some members at some Australian golf clubs still marvel at him reaching some par 5's in 2. He used woods with small heads to cut down on wind resistance. A fact seemingly overlooked by some modern golf club designers. (Big Bertha). He usually launched his soaring draws with a 9 degree lofted Two Wood or Brassie.
Bobby Locke's Tools of Trade. (Slazenger). Why no Headcovers?
Bobby and Caddy in 1951).
Playing against the long hitting Amateur Frank Stranahan in the Open, Locke did not even look at his playing partner's drives but launched his draws to the fairway oblivious of Stranahan's booming drives which regularly outdrove him by anything up to 50 yards. Frank Stranahan turned to Locke and said "You are too short off the tee". This when Locke was 5 strokes ahead of him!
The farther you hit the more likely you are of getting into trouble. Think about it!
When paired with Locke in the Open Stranahan was faced with a slick downhill Putt. Looking to Locke for advice, Bobby murmured "Lift the Putter a little and hit it with the shadow".
Frank Stranahan. Muscleman and heir to the Champion Spark Plug Empire. (Above & Below) Later turned Pro with 7 PGA Tour victories.
In an exhibition against Norman von Nida, Norman hit a 300 yard drive and turned to Bobby and said "beat that one". Bobby changed clubs and then outdrove the nuggetty von and said sure can Cap!.
Locke, Thomson, Pickworth and von Nida in Australia in 1958. Peter Thomson and Bobby Locke virtually owned the Open in the fifties.
Of Norman von Nida Bobby Locke was willing to match any two others with the von as his partner but had no takers.
The "hooding" and "topspin" Bobby Locke learned from Walter Hagen during his 1937 tour of South Africa.
Bobby Locke considered "The Haig" in his heyday as the world's greatest putter. "Hooding" is described as keeping the putter face square to the puttline during the stroke. As the stroke path naturally arcs back around, hooding usually requires some "closing" of the putterface to compensate for the arc's opening of the blade as the arc "gates" back. This is accomplished with a slight "breaking" or folding under of the left wrist going back. The "hooding" left wrist folding increases with longer putt strokes.
Click on Image above to view Walter hagen's putting stroke filmed in a match against Percy Alliss.( Peter's father). (British Pathe).
Keeping the putter low to the ground was another Locke trait. He did this to
avoid any possible chopping action, that would impart backspin or sidespin.
Keeping the putterhead on this hooded backstroke's straight and low trajectory requires allowing the left wrist to fold under a bit. It's perhaps not so much a conscience folding of the wrist as it is keeping the putterhead low to the ground and moving on this straight line with relaxed grip and wrists; the folding of the wrist occurs naturally.
Other than the slight wrist action in hooding, Bobby Locke was not a wrist putter. In fact, he was not an arm putter either. He putted with his complete upper torso as a unit. He wrote:
"I have always thought of the ideal putter swing as matching that of a clock's pendulum, slow and very smooth, with the clubhead going through the same distance it goes back. Thus, in returning the putter to the ball, I try to swing it very smoothly at the same pace I swung it back. Again, there is no wrist action. The putter is swung by my hands, wrists and arms as a unit; my left wrist at impact has exactly the same relationship to my left arm that it had at address. This ensures that the putterblade remains square to my target through impact and well into the follow-through."
Even though Bobby Locke described his stroke as above, there seems to be a bit more to note. Peter Alliss said he observed Locke's shoulders moved "a little from right to left as he came into the ball. The stroke itself was rather a jabbing one, with little or no follow-through."
Sam Snead had seen a similar move in 1946: "What discouraged me was the way "Old Droopy Jowls" held his putter at the very tip and with his left hand far over the shaft, which was the same grip he used on all shots. ... He had a closed stance and hooked his putts. His grip was so light I thought he'd drop the stick. And when he putted, instead of keeping still, he swayed like a Bloomer girl!"
John Jacobs compared Bobby Locke's full-swing and putting strokes this way: "His downswing was outside his backswing, but still inside the target line. It was a pulling action from an exaggerated hook setup. ... His putting was very similar. He did not hook his putts by rolling the clubface through the ball with his hands and wrists. Again, he aimed [his ankle-line] right, the club very much inside on the backswing, but then he turned through, putting en masse with the body, with no independent hand/wrist action. That was why his stroke was so dependable and why he was so good a putter. Also, coming from the inside, then turning through gives you the feel of the distance of a putt with the body. I would never try to teach it, but you can learn that the way to putt is to hit from the inside and then straight through, which gives you the same action and the same feel for distance."
Bobby Locke himself said he always kept his head still until after impact. "A vitally important point, especially on the through-swing, is keeping your head down and still. Look at the ball's original position until the ball itself vanishes from sight. If your head moves, everything is for naught. My head eventually turns to let me watch what is happening to the ball, but it swivels and never sways forward."
This seemingly contradicts the "sway" move others describe. From photos, it appears Locke's head in fact stayed stationary throughout the stroke, but his shoulderframe rocked back around and then through as he pivoted his fixed torso with his hips, beneath a still head bent down to watch the ball's location.
Seen from behind, one can see Bobby Locke's right shoulder moving back around towards his rear on the backstroke slightly, and then pivoting outward toward the putt line as he makes his throughstroke.
At this point in the stoke, he probably added a bit of targetward lateral move by pushing his right shoulder through on the putt line as he delivered the putterhead through impact.
Even with this shoulder move, however, he kept his head still until after the ball was gone, and then allowed his face to swivel targetward for a look.
If Bobby Locke's arms had been hanging beneath his shoulder sockets, like modern Tour putters, his shoulder move would be oriented in a vertical plane and would closely resemble Loren Roberts and similar golfers -- rock the left shoulder down and right shoulder up on the backstroke, then reverse for the throughstroke. As it was, Locke simply stood taller, but he still "rocked" his shoulders in plane.
A final aspect Bobby Locke incorporated to avoid sidespin was keeping the putter low to the ground, brushing the tops of the grass blades.
Bobby Locke also used to concentrate on making a particular sound that indicated solid contact. It was a slight pinging or clicking noise. When contact was not solid, the sound was absent and there was more of a thud sound, with the ball lacking full energy. Peter Alliss described this: "Locke would sometimes give a demonstration of precise striking and its results. The perfectly-struck putt produced a light ringing sound from his steel blade. Others made a more muffled sound and the ball finished short of the hole."
The image one gets of Bobby Locke's stroke is that he rotated his "unit" back with his torso carried around on gracefully pivoting hips, incorporating a slight left-wrist folding to "hood" the face on a straight path back inside along his toe line, followed by a carefully controlled return of the putterface with his upper torso unwinding back into the ball as if only his right shoulder is coming forward and all other parts are held fixed, the putterhead kept low, his eyes seeing the putterhead square through impact on a slight uprising trajectory solidly through the ball, with everything focused on impact, rather than on the total "pattern" of the stroke or a symmetric follow-through. Hence, the "jabbing" look of his stroke. He "topped" his putts. When I watched him in his prime I could stand with my back to the green and knew when he putted because his putts sounded different. He topped them!
The ritual was always the same. The technique was always the same. Excellent sense of distance, clear vision of the putt's path into the hole, and a consistent and reliable technique for hitting the line and distance -- what a wonderful combination!
Bobby Locke played with a wristy inside to out swing producing a consistent draw (some said hook) that repeated unerringly. He was a deliberate golfer and his slow play irked numerous opponents. Norman von Nida of Australia lodged an official complaint against Locke for slow play in the 1950 Open championship. Locke's defense was that he had a very big gallery (10,000) and even had to help Marshalls control it. The gallery had no consideration for his Amateur playing partner sometimes even not giving him sufficient room to swing.
Holes would open up in front of his group but, Locke was never penalised and he developed a reputation for being unshakeable on the course. He said that he walked slow but played fast. The Americans gave him the unkind nickname “Muffin Face” for his unchanging expression.
It was on the greens the South African truly excelled. He used an old rusty putter with a hickory shaft and employed an unorthodox technique, echoing his wider approach to life. He was an extrovert who sported baggy plus fours with shirt and tie on course. He liked singing music-hall numbers and played the Ukulele.
He seldom practised. His golf and his bombing!
Checking hole for balls left behind by previous match. (Actually examining how the hole had been cut)