By Larry Canning
I WAS sitting behind the Pro-Shop counter, pretending to know what I’m doing in my role as Australia’s oldest Assistant Professional at Mount Broughton Golf Club the other day when in walked former Australian Open Champion Frank Phillips.
It wasn’t as if this is this is an unusual occurrence, Frank lives in the nearby town of Moss Vale and along with another former Aussie legend Billy Dunk, co-designed the Mount Broughton course and is now the proud Patron of the club.
What’s also not uncommon is for Frank or “Choppers” as he was affectionately known, to offer up an opinion on… pretty well anything, really. Well, except for anything to do with his own career, where you have to tie him to a chair and torture him with food to reveal anything, (He didn’t get the name “Choppers” for flying helicopters!).
Another Frank (Williams), the president of the club, was talking to Choppers about the New Zealander, Danny Lee who had just captured his first US PGA title at the Greenbrier Classic and asked if Frank had ever played the course and in fact did he play much in the States at all?
As I was busy trying to work out the code for a Natural Muesli Baked Yoghurt & Apricot bar, so my customer could eventually get out of the shop and join his mates waiting on the first tee, the two Franks’ walked upstairs to the clubhouse with Choppers already telling our “Pres” what he thought of the Greenbrier course he had played back in the sixties.
Suddenly I had one of those weird events, called a déjà vu. Having a déjà vu is strange enough but actually writing it on your computer screen and watching those wonderful little symbols appear on top is quite captivating. (I think I might have just exposed my middle aged boring life and the need to cut back on social intercourse and replace it with the real stuff!)
Ok! …. I’ll get to the point now.
I recalled an extraordinary conversation I once had with Frank Phillips about 25 years ago. It came completely out of the blue, while I was warming up for a Pro-Am at the old Ashlar Golf Club in Sydney’s west. A couple of days earlier, I’d been watching TV when on came a special about the history of the famous Victoria Golf Club and some of the club’s highlights. It was mostly centred around life member, Peter Thompson, but in between his achievements, up bobbed an exhibition match played between Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Bruce Crampton and Frank Phillips. At the time, it struck me just how good a player Frank Phillips must have been and who he must have competed against.
After my third warm up wedge which skidded through the end of the short range and banged into someone’s paling fence, causing a dog to start barking out something in dog language along the lines of “do that again and Ill bite your knee cap off!”, I heard someone behind me drop their bag of golf balls and begin to practice swing. I turned to say hello and saw it was none other than Frank Phillips. He looked up and smiled and said g’day.
I started telling him about the TV special I’d seen, then later asked him if he had played much in America.
This is roughly how the conversation went –
I quizzed him about that match at Victoria and the result and he said that Crampton and he had won and picked up a pretty big cheque at the time.
“Did Player and Nicklaus come out for just that event?
Frank – “No it was a week or so before the Australian Open, so they were both in Australia”
LC – “Oh, who won the Open that year?”
Frank – “aaa, Me”
LC … (now a little excited)- “Did you play much in America, Frank?”
Frank – “I played a bit in the States but the courses weren’t all that good back then … except for the majors … they were always beautiful … Augusta was great”
LC … (Now extremely excited) – “So you played the Masters!”… “What were some of the holes like? What about the famous 12th?”
Frank – “One of the hardest holes to pick the right club on I’ve ever played. The wind would swirl through the pines. Once in a practice round, I hit a perfect 7 iron which caught a gust and finished in the water short, I then hit an 8 iron clean over the back!”
LC – “How did you play the par 5, 13th?”
Frank – “I worked on this top spinning 3 wood shot which would hook around the dogleg and run for miles. I hit a 5 iron for my second in there one time”
LC – “A 5 IRON! What did the blokes you were playing with hit?”
Frank – “Well, Hogan hit a 2 iron”
LC – “As in BEN HOGAN?”
Frank – “Yeah”
Unfortunately I don’t have enough room on this page to tell you about the rest of the conversation and how I all but missed my tee time at Ashlar that day, but let me tell you, the next time you’re standing at the bar discussing some of this country’s greatest ever players, do not leave out the name of Frank “Choppers” Phillips.
YouTube Video and Caption: Frank Phillips swinging on the paractice fairway at the Victorian Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia. This was the 1964 Wills Australian Masters. Great footage and a great Australian legend of the game. Winner two Australian Opens, 1957 Kingston Heath Golf Club and 1961 at the Victorian Golf Club where he defeated Gary Player on both occassions. As Frank said he stopped Gary from winning nine Australian Opens.
Frank Phillips Golf Swing Video