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Contrary to general opinion in America, the sun does sometimes shine in Britain, and it shone unceasingly down on the shirtsleeved faithful who followed the British Open championship for three days in ever-increasing numbers, rendering the historic Old Course at St. Andrews faster and faster as time went by.
Bobby Locke's winning total of 279 equals the championship record he set up at Troon in 1950 and beats by two shots the previous best at St. Andrews, and by six shots the 285 with which Bobby Jones won there in 1927. The South African's victory, and especially the manner of it, make this the supreme achievement of a career which already included three British Opens.
It has taken Locke 21 years to master the Old Course. On his first visit, as a boy of 18, he had been beaten in the first round of the Amateur Championship by Morty Dykes, who played in the Walker Cup match at Pine Valley that year and is a selector of the team which I look forward to accompanying to the Minikahda Club, Minneapolis next month. For the Open of 1939 he was beaten at the post by a 7 at the long 14th, and in 1946 by an 8 at the same hole.
At the 14th the drive has to carry between the out-of-bounds walk on the right and the dreaded deep bunkers, called the "beardies" on the left, into a plateau which for 200 years has been known—and not for nothing—as the "Elysian Fields." In the first round last week 96 players amassed between them two 4s, 25 6s, innumerable 7s, an 8, a 9 and a 10 at this hole.
The first round saw 67s by the British professionals Eric Brown, who beat Lloyd Mangrum in the 1953 Ryder Cup match, and Laurie Ayton, a massive 240-pounder from St. Andrews, who had done the same score in the first round there two years previously. The Open was held again here so soon because petrol rationing during the Suez affair forced the committee to change it to a place accessible by train, which the original venue, Muirfield, is not.
Next, with 68, came the young Australian player Bruce Crampton, who, judging by his printed comments on clubhouses, courses and crowds, seems to have an outsize chip on both shoulders. Always in with a chance, he was destined to blunder his way out of the picture, poor fellow, halfway through the final round. Locke was in with 69, Middlecoff was 72, Thomson 73 and Stranahan, always a greater danger here than he is in the States, 74. On the second day it was Brown 139, Van Donck of Belgium 140, Locke and Crampton 141, others 142, Middlecoff 143 and Stranahan 145. Middlecoff was undoubtedly on the way up. After first qualifying only with difficulty, by now he had played four rounds, each of which was lower than the one before. Stooping over his putter with bowed head, like a human question mark, he seemed at last to be finding his touch on the greens.
COURSE OF CONFUSION
He proved, let it be said, a most popular visitor to St. Andrews, a golf course which is liable both to confuse-and infuriate till you have had time to appreciate its unique qualities. Unlike any other course in the world, it has no fairways in the accepted sense but only a strip of golfing ground which people on the way out share with those on the way in. On all but four holes they share the huge double greens, each with two flags on them 30 or 40 yards apart.
In the first round, Middlecoff, after galloping around in three hours and 25 minutes, which is about an hour less than he habitually takes at home, had contrived to lose no fewer than 50 minutes on the couple in front and was the subject of protest from those behind. In reply he was quoted as declaring, "Surely there is plenty of time. After all, it is light till 11." The committee intimated that it would be appreciated if he could keep his place, and this he afterwards managed to do. No hard feelings on either side.
A third-round 68 by Locke almost spread-eagled the field, and 209 left him three shots ahead of Peter Thomson and Brown, with the rest, including Middlecoff and Stranahan, virtually nowhere. Brown opened the final round with a birdie 3, but then chalked up a 6 and never got back in the hunt. For the first time in Open championship history, the field was sent out in reverse order, with the leaders starting last, and this was to prove the ultimate test of Locke's golfing nerve. Often within handshaking distance of his Australian runner-up, Locke had to endure the uneasy sensation of hearing mighty cheers as Thomson registered five successive 3s.