Bobby Locke, arguably the finest putter that the golfing world has ever seen, and certainly the greatest South African to ever play the game, sank a short birdie putt on the seventy-second hole at Cypress Point to edge Gene Sarazen by a single stroke. He finished at 19-under par (71-67-68-63) to win the second stop on the Hagen to Hogan Tour.
It took no less than a nine under-par 63, tieing the course record, for Locke to overtake Sarazen’s own par-shattering 67-66-72 -65. Teeing off in the final twosome, the pair began a captivating duel that didn’t end until the final strokes on the final hole.
Sarazen, who had won the first stop at Pebble Beach, certainly looked like a repeat winner after his two opening rounds. Midway through the third round he had held a lead of five strokes over a formidable trio of Locke, Tommy Armour, and Lloyd Mangrum. But his victory march faltered on the back nine and he finished at even par-72. With Locke scoring 68, and both Mangrum and Armour carding 69’s, the gap had narrowed to but one stroke, and the stage was set for a fourth -round showdown.
As the last group to tee off, the dour South African and the dapper New Yorker, both sporting plus-fours, set a torrid pace and each made the turn at 5-under par 32. Mangrum and Armour were playing par golf, not a winning formula at Cypress Point, when the field’s average score was a 68. The Silver Scot, who had been wounded in France during The Great War, and the decorated hero from the Second War were battling it out for third-place money. They would finish at 15-under par; joint third.
wAfter well-placed drives, both struck their approaches smartly; Locke with a 2-iron, Sarazen with a 3-wood, and each was looking at a 19′- putt for an eagle. A hair’s breadth away, Locke was the first to putt, and the soft touch of the man sometimes called “Old Muffin Face” delicately dropped the ball drop into the cup on its last revolution. As was his wont, Sarazen then putted aggressively, but this time went past the hole by four feet – no eagle. He then missed the return – no birdie, either. Not only was Sarazen’s lead down to a single stroke, but he had shown the slightest crack in his game, in what had become a two-man playoff.
After the 10th hole, the final par-5, which both men birdied, Cypress Point becomes a wee bit less generous, and both golfers had to content themselves with pars for a few holes – until the short par-4 13th when Locke sank a 4-foot birdie putt while Sarazen missed an 8-footer and settled for another par. The pair were now dead even – but not for long.
Locke carded yet another birdie after a lovely six-iron approach had left him not much more than a gimmee. After hooking his tee shot into a small grove of trees, Sarazen had hit a low 2-iron recovery that somehow made it to the green. He two-putted for his par, but he had lost the lead for the first time since early in the second round. But had he also lost the momentum that had begun two weeks ago at Pebble Beach, when he had run away from Bobby Jones in the final round and posted a 5-stroke victory?
At first, the answer was “No”. On the short but tricky par-3 15th, Locke’s 9-iron found the frog hair – and an almost certain par. Sarazen’s 8-iron landed softly, just six feet from the pin, and he made no mistake with this putt. The two were again deadlocked – and they stayed that way until the final hole.
Sarazen had recorded a birdie here to end his second round. Locke had only two pars and a bogey to show for his efforts. Advantage Sarazen; having the honour, he placed his tee shot on the left of this short, dogleg -right hole – he couldn’t have dropped it in a more perfect position. Locke’s drive was also aimed at the same area – but had landed in the light rough, as his typically deeply drawn shot had been hit a touch more than he had wanted.
But the rough at Cypress Point is quite low and very manageable; from a decent lie Locke again struck with his trusty six-iron, the shot soaring over the imposing tree and the small bunker that protect the green on the left, close by the final day’s pin placement. The ball took one bounce and came to rest a mere three feet from the cup, as the large gallery first gasped and then cheered wildly.
With a much cleaner line than his opponent, Sarazen took his 8-iron to negotiate the final 136 yards to the hole, but the slope of the green gave his shot a pronounced backspin. Although the shot landed just short of the hole, it finished 16 feet from the pin. He was left with a makeable putt, and he hit it squarely – but it eased past the hole and stopped two feet past. After his tap-in, Sarazen’s last remaining hope was for a Locke miss and a playoff the following day. But the tournament ended when Locke coolly sank his putt.
While these two were chasing both the course record and each other, Horton Smith, the winner of two of the first three Masters, was playing the round of his life. He had begun the day a full 7 shots off the lead, but then beginning with the 4th hole, he recorded eight consecutive birdies. Such was the accuracy of his iron play that only one of his birdie putts came at a distance of greater than 5 feet. After a par at #12, when an 18-footer failed to drop, Smith birdied both the 13th and 14th holes – but such was the stellar play of Locke and Sarazen that his spree, which ended in a 64, one shot off the course record, and left him tied joint fourth with Sam Snead.
Had Smith not carded a “9” in the second round when he sliced two unplayable balls into a grove of trees on Number , today’s 64 might have had him vying with Locke and Sarazen.
Snead had opened the tournament with an awful 75; bogeying the final three holes with the erratic iron play that had bedeviled him at Pebble Beach. His next rounds of 70 and 68 showed some improvement, although now it was “Slammin’ Sammy’s” putting that had become the problem. But on the last round the Virginian put it all together. He went out in 31, including an eagle on the 5th hole – and continued his superlative play on the back nine. A birdie on fifteen left him 9-under – and with an excellent chance of breaking the course record. But he sliced his ball down the ocean cliffs on #17,recovering smartly for a bogey. And as Locke had done on the finishing hole, Snead notched the birdie which also tied the course record of 63. The average score on this final day was 68.
From the ocean breezes of California, The Tour will now head to the desert sands of Arizona, and conduct its third stop at Scottsdale’s Stadium Course. It should be noted that although Locke was banned from playing on the PGA Tour for a couple of years – a decision that at the time Sarazen had called “a most disgraceful action”, there is no possibility of a recurrence, as the PGA is not involved in this Tour’s administration.
The four-time British Open champion will participate in all the Tour’s events – regardless of how many he might win.