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History of The Open

The 1950s


When international stars took ownership of the Claret Jug

Bobby Locke reads a putt at The Open in 1971

Two of golf’s all-time greats – Bobby Locke and Peter Thomson – dominated The Open in the 1950s.

With seven victories between them, the pair accumulated an Aladdin’s Cave of Claret Jugs during a decade in which the coveted trophy spent more time away from the British Isles than ever before.

Max Faulkner (1951) was the only home winner among a myriad of overseas success, which included titles for Ben Hogan and Gary Player, two of only five golfers to have achieved the fabled career Grand Slam.

Sign up for free to The One Club to relive the best bits from a memorable decade courtesy of our exclusive archive footage, as we celebrate The Open's main protagonists from the 1950s:

Bobby Locke (Champion Golfer - 1949, 1950, 1952, 1957)

South African superstar Locke (above) won the first Open of the 1950s in record-breaking fashion, with his 279 the lowest total since the Championship was extended to 72 holes, in 1892.

He was also the first golfer to successfully retain the Claret Jug since Walter Hagen in 1929.

Born Arthur D’Arcy Locke, when he began to show a talent for golf at a young age he was given the nickname ‘Bobby’ because of his admiration for golf icon, and three-time Champion Golfer, Bobby Jones.

Locke was renowned for his ability on the greens, with Player – who also came to the fore in the 50s – saying of his compatriot: “One six-foot putt for my life? I'll take Bobby Locke. I've seen them all, and there was never a putter like him.”

But during his 1950 triumph at Royal Troon, Locke was just as clinical off the tee, missing just two fairways over the four rounds.

When he claimed victory again in 1952 he became just the third player to win The Open three times in four years, after the legendary figures of Harry Vardon and James Braid.

And it was after this win that Locke said of the Claret Jug: “This is the most coveted title in golf.”

A fourth and final success arrived at St Andrews in 1957, when he defeated his great rival Thomson by three strokes. This was the first Open in which the leaders were paired to go out last on the final day because the BBC were televising the final stages live for the first time.

Peter Thomson during The Open in 1965

Peter Thomson (Champion Golfer - 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1965)

From one Open legend to another.

While Locke could certainly make a strong case for ownership, with four wins in five years it’s fair to say the 1950s belonged to Thomson (above).

The great Australian finished either first or second in seven successive Opens between 1952 and 1958, and he became the first golfer to win three successive titles since The Open was extended to 72 holes.

His first victory came at Royal Birkdale in 1954 when he edged out Dai Rees, Syd Scott and Locke by a single stroke, helped in no small part by a magnificent final-round escape from a bunker at the 16th.

Thomson retained the Claret Jug at St Andrews 12 months later, setting a new low score (281) at the home of golf in the process. 

He sealed his hat-trick at Royal Liverpool in 1956. In keeping with the rest the decade, there was a truly international leaderboard with Thomson being followed home by Belgium’s Flory van Donck and Argentina’s Roberto de Vicenzo, with Player finishing fourth on his Open debut.

Thomson rounded off an incredible sequence with a fourth and final victory of the decade at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1958, beating Welshman Dave Thomas in a play-off.

Max Faulkner

Max Faulkner (Champion Golfer - 1951)

Faulkner helped usher in a new era for golf with his flamboyant attire, paving the way for the likes of Lee Trevino and Doug Sanders, the trendsetters of the 1970s.

His snazzy dress sense did not distract from the job at hand, however, and Faulkner has the distinction of being the first player to win The Open outside of England or Scotland with his 1951 success coming at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.

He finished two strokes clear of Argentine Antonio Cerda and would be the last British winner of The Open for 18 years.

A plaque dedicated to Ben Hogan's Open win in 1953

Ben Hogan (Champion Golfer - 1953)

Hogan was quite simply the greatest golfer on the planet in 1953.

He won The Open, the Masters and the US Open during a monumental 12 months, and he remains the only player to have won these three titles in the same calendar year.

Just as remarkable is the fact Hogan’s capture of the Claret Jug came in his one and only appearance at The Open – at Carnoustie – when he pulled four shots clear of Thomson, Rees, Cerda and amateur Frank Stranahan.

Carnoustie’s 6th hole was officially renamed ‘Hogan’s Alley’ in 2003 to commemorate both the American’s victory and his fearless approach off the 6th tee; in all four rounds in 1953 Hogan took the perilous, but direct route between out of bounds and the bunkers.

Gary Player

Gary Player (Champion Golfer - 1959, 1968, 1974)

Player won the first of his three Opens – each achieved in a different decade – at Muirfield in 1959.

He was eight strokes behind at halfway, but eventually ate into Fred Bullock’s sizeable lead courtesy of an impressive 36 holes on the final day, despite a double-bogey 6 at the last.

Player went on to enjoy one of the most successful careers in golf, with Jack Nicklaus (18), Tiger Woods (15) and Hagen (11) the only men to win have won more majors than the South African’s tally of nine.