10 Jan 2022 | Feature stories |
Clayton: The man who never disappointed
by Mike Clayton
This week the Australian PGA begins at Royal Queensland, but it will played with heavy hearts as everyone remembers Bob Shearer, the champion of 1983.
‘Shears’ died suddenly on Sunday, aged only one over the par at Royal Melbourne.
Bob won his PGA around the East Course at Royal Melbourne, but it was a brilliant seven-shot win in the 1974 Chrysler Classic over the Composite Course which marked him as a man who played Royal Melbourne as well as anyone. Royal Melbourne greenkeeper Claude Crockford had the greens so difficult the third-place man, Lee Trevino, famously told the locals they had better get a picture of him going out the gate, “because you won’t ever see me coming back in”.
One of the best three or four players in the world at the time, Trevino was a full nine shots behind the local star despite doing 66 in the third round.
I well remember Bob walking off the 18th green on Saturday with a big lead and his arm around the most astonishing woman I’d ever seen, and thinking he was just about the luckiest man alive – and he was about to make $10,000 on the morrow.
Kathie Shearer has run the press tents at Australian tournaments for decades and is now an almost irreplaceable fixture to the point when in later years Bob became Kathie Shearer’s husband instead of the other way around.
Peter Thomson, barely into his 40s, seemed old and Shearer was the new hometown star from the day he won the 1969 Australian Amateur at Royal Adelaide. Jack Newton was the favourite, but the Melbourne man cleaned him up in the semi-final and beat New Zealander Ross Murray in the final.
He turned pro after the 1970 amateur championship at The Australian and headed to Europe with Newton, Ian Stanley and Stewart Ginn.
This group of incorrigible young and talented Australians were almost too much for the staid world of early 70s British professional golf. Tony Jacklin was himself breathing life into the tour by winning The Open in 1969 and the US Open the following year but, beautiful player though he was, veteran star Neil Coles dressed in grey trousers, white shirt pale blue cashmere sweater and hitting beautiful 250-yard fades down the middle of every fairway was hardly filling the game with excitement.
The Australians dressed in the big collars and wild checked flares of the time, playing eye-catching golf and drinking the clubhouse bar dry most nights, stirred things up in the Old Country. The English didn’t quite know what to make of them all but by 1975 Shearer was second on the Order of Merit behind South African, Dale Hayes. They had awakened the European Tour in their own way and by 1976 Severiano Ballesteros announced himself and so began the enormous growth of the tour, both in Britain and on the continent.
Bob went to America in 1976 and played well for almost a decade. His best season was in 1982 where he beat rising star, Hal Sutton by a shot in Tallahassee and lost the Houston Open in a playoff with Ed Sneed after a miserable closing 75.
It was at the end of the year when he played his most memorable tournament, adding an Australian Open championship to his Australian Amateur.
It came at The Australian, a course he had so little fondness for he told Kathie she could pick him up from the airport on Friday night.
Instead, he was drawn with the great Nicklaus over the opening two days and Bob was “determined not to make a fool of myself in front of him.”
They duelled all the way to the 72nd hole but it was on the 15th hole of the opening round that Bob showed off his remarkable sportsmanship and character.
His long iron tee shot found the right-hand greenside bunker and he flubbed the recovery shot on to the edge of the green before thumping his club into the sand in disgust at his effort.
To his horror the ball then turned and rolled back into the bunker. He immediately called a two-stroke penalty, but Nicklaus insisted the footage be reviewed after the round. The rules officials as well as Nicklaus himself both insisted there had been no breach of the rule and four was the correct score.
Bob would have none of it. “I don’t want to win that way – put down a six,” he instructed the reluctant and protesting Nicklaus.
On Sunday afternoon they were neck-and-neck in the middle of the back nine until our man made a crazy long putt up and over the hump in the middle of the 13th green. Then, after carving a long fairway wood second shot into the jungle right of the 14th fairway, he pitched out and holed from 50 yards for a birdie.
He was doing a Nicklaus to Nicklaus, and it shocked the great man.
Bob came to the 18th four strokes ahead of Nicklaus and Payne Stewart, and with friends imploring him to lay up his long second shot up short of the pond and pitch safely - after Jack had hit one of his patented towering one irons onto the green - he ripped the most perfect three iron into the heart of the green.
“I figured I’d be better hitting my second into the water than dumping my third shot in there – and that was the only way I could lose.”
As he got older, he loved nothing more than playing three or four times a week with his mates at his beloved Southern and whilst he enjoyed a beer, the image of a loud, beer swilling Australian cultivated in early 1970s Britain was far from the man he really was.
He was a quiet, gentle man loved by all of us who were lucky enough to both play with him and know him. They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but Bob Shearer was one hero who never disappointed you and we will all miss him.
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