Bobby Locke won the South African Open for the first of nine times in 1935, at the Parkview Golf Club in Johannesburg, with a score of 296, playing as an amateur. He played in his first Open Championship in 1936, when he was eighteen, and finished as low amateur.
He turned professional in March 1938 at the age of 20 and won the New Zealand Open later that year.
1938 New Zealand Open: Played at the Otago Golf Club’s Balmacewen course S.S.S.73, on November 10, 11 and 12, and featured an excellent field including many young amateurs and the visiting professional A.D. Locke from South Africa.
Locke’s appearance no doubt added to the interest created by the championship which drew large galleries. On the final day the greens were heavy following overnight rain, but a northerly wind in the afternoon assisted to provide improving conditions.
Invercargill professional B.J. Smith Jr. led the field with 143, one stroke ahead of Locke, Shaw, Murray and the amateurs P.G.F. Smith and W.B. Reilly. A ball out of bounds at “The Glen” in the final round unsettled the leader who had matched Locke with 72 in the morning. Shaw lost his opportunity in scoring 77 in his third round, recovered with an excellent 70, but too late to prevent the popular visitor winning by three strokes.
Locke’s golf career was interrupted by service in the South African Air Force during World War II.
Following the end of World War II, Locke successfully resumed his career in South Africa in 1946. He hosted Sam Snead, one of the top American golfers of the day, for a series of exhibition matches in South Africa in January/February 1947, winning 12 out of the 16 matches, two were halved and Snead won two. So impressed was Snead that he suggested that Locke come to the United States and give the PGA Tour a try, advice that Locke quickly followed.
Locke arrived in the U.S. for the first time in April 1947, well after the American Tour season had begun. In two-and-a-half years on the PGA Tour, Locke played in 59 events; he won 11, and finished in the top three in 30, just over half. In 1947, despite a late start, Locke dominated the American tour, winning six tournaments (including four in a five-week period), and finishing second to Jimmy Demaret on the money list.
After leaving the PGA Tour, Locke continued his career in Europe and Africa, where he felt more comfortable. He won 23 times in Europe, most notably a quartet of successes in The Open Championship, which came in 1949, 1950, 1952 and 1957. He was the first of many South Africans who subsequently won major championships, including Gary Player, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
His win in the 1957 Open Championship was with some controversy. Locke had failed to properly replace his ball after marking on the 72nd green and proceeded to putt out. This had been confirmed through newsreel footage provided to the R&A after the trophy presentation. The rules at the time made no provision for a two-shot penalty, thus Locke’s win could have been overturned through disqualification. However, the Championship committee did not enforce the disqualification rule, citing “equity and spirit of the game” as overriding factors in sustaining the posted result.
During this time Locke also played many other parts of the world. In 1955 he won the Australian Open held at Gailes Golf Club in Queensland; he later rated this as one of the best courses he had ever played. In 1959, Locke was involved in a serious car accident, and subsequently, he suffered from migraines and eye problems that put an end to his competitive career, although he continued competing occasionally after that, without much success.
Locke was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977. He was only the second member (after Gary Player) who did not come from either the United States or the United Kingdom. He died in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1987.