03 May 2023 | Industry news |

Vale Frank Phillips, OAM, all-time great of Australian golf

by Australian Golf Media

Frank Phillips image
A pure ball-striker, Frank Phillips in action in the UK in the 1960s. Photo: Getty

Frank Phillips, OAM, one of Australia’s greatest-ever PGA Professionals, has passed away, aged 90.

He died last night at a nursing home in Bowral where he has spent the past few years, not far from where he was born and raised at Moss Vale in the southern highlands of New South Wales.

He is survived by his three children Melissa, Frank Junior and Rodney, and a loving cluster of grandchildren and great grandchildren. His devoted wife Faye passed away in 1991.

Phillips, a Life Member of the PGA since 2002, was renowned for his devotion to the craft and his drive to succeed.

He won 23 tournaments worldwide including the Australian Open twice (1957 at Kingston Heath and 1961 at Victoria), the NSW Open (5 times), the Singapore Open and the Hong Kong Open.

The great Norman von Nida liked his game so much that he took him away overseas. Much of Phillips’ success was in Asia. "I liked playing in the Far East because I had a wife and three kids, and I could get home relatively quickly. It took a very long time to get home from America. Touring was a challenge, but I always enjoyed it,” he said several years ago.

He played in the Masters twice, in the US Open and at the Open Championship, achieving his best major championship finish, 12th at St Andrews in 1964.

Phillips once said: "I practised extremely hard. I would set myself a task of hitting 500 to 1000 practice balls a day, then play a round of golf in the afternoon. Most of the time I managed to do that. It was the love of the game and wanting to do the best I could.”

Frank Phillips fell in love with golf at the age of eight. He and some friends fashioned three golf holes out of the grassy paddock across the street from the family home in Moss Vale. "One hole at the top of the hill, one down the bottom and one on the side. We played those three holes over and over. It was a bit of a hit and giggle at the time, but I gradually improved," he recalled several years ago.

As an enthusiastic 14-year-old, Phillips joined Moss Vale Golf Club, where he trimmed his original 22 handicap down to two in the space of 12 months. Three years on the Moss Vale PGA Professional Bruce Jackson asked Phillips, then 18, if he wanted to follow him to Concord Golf Club in Sydney and ultimately turn pro.

“My Dad wasn’t too happy about the idea. I used to help run the family’s radio and television business and I played the trumpet in a little band with Dad, who played the drums. We did some gigs around the place.

"But I thought about it and made up my mind. At 19 I went to live with my Aunty in Randwick, and I travelled a long way to Concord Golf Club to start practising at half past six every morning. I did that for four years, completed my PGA Traineeship at the age of 22 and won my first tournament at Bexley Golf Club, a short course that shouldn’t really have suited my game as a long hitter."

Phillips went on to win numerous tournaments, mixing with the likes of Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan. "You watch, you listen and you ask as many questions as you can," he said. "I first met Gary Player in England in 1956 and he had possibly the worst golf swing I’d ever seen. But he worked so hard at the game, kept improving, won a couple of tournaments in England and then ended up winning nine majors, which was absolutely amazing. He was a fierce competitor, which inspired me."

He stopped playing tournament golf in his mid-40s because of back trouble and turned his hand to teaching the game. He took up positions as PGA Professional at Oatlands Golf Club, at Ryde-Parramatta and Mt Broughton.

"I really enjoyed my time as a golf teacher. I just tried to teach the basic principles and not over-complicate things," he said some years ago. "I feel like I have a strong connection to the clubs I worked at.”

PGA of Australia Chair Rodger Davis paid tribute to Phillips.

“Frank is one of our greatest players,” said Davis. “His career and mine only just intersected, but I do remember playing with him early, and I recall that he was known as one of the best ball-strikers out on tour.

“He was not only a fine player but a tremendous servant of the game in this country, and we will all miss him greatly.

“The PGA expresses its deepest sympathies to Frank’s three children – Melissa, Frank Junior and Rodney – and the extended family including grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is a loss that will be keenly felt.” Frank Phillips Career Highlights

Won the 1957 Australian Open at Kingston Heath Golf Club, Melbourne Won the 1961 Australian Open at Victoria Golf Club, Melbourne T2 (alongside Jack Nicklaus) at the 1965 Australian Open behind Gary Player 12th at the 1964 Open Championship 23 Professional wins 17 PGA Tour of Australasia titles Represented Australia with Kel Nagle at the 1958 Canada Cup in Mexico

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