I’ve been fortunate to interview many players over the years, but none has given me as much pleasure as the chat I had with Max Faulkner in the early 1990s.
Faulkner was golf’s original Dapper Dan 50 years before Ian Poulter made a name for himself by wearing outlandish, colourful clothes. Poulter's previous penchant for pink is nothing. That was just one colour in Max’s wardrobe, along with canary yellow, powder blue and every other colour in the rainbow. This in an age when black and grey were de rigueur.
Faulkner, who died aged 88 on this day 16 years ago, won the Open in 1951 at Royal Portrush (pictured), the first year it was held off mainland Britain.
I’d heard all the stories about colourful Max, but I never thought he would live up to expectations – they generally never do. He more than lived up to his billing when I sat down with him at at West Chiltington Golf Club in Sussex, England, which he owned with son-in-law, the late Brian Barnes.
Max claimed his motivation for winning the Open was buying a new car before he travelled to Northern Ireland.
“I paid £1,000 for a car just before that Open and I told my wife ‘If I don’t win the Open, I’ll have to sell this damn car.’ Well I wasn’t going to let that happen, was I?”
Max won that Open by hitting one of the most courageous shots ever seen. His tee shot at the 16th ended up close to a barbed wire fence. Instead of taking the safe route and hitting a wedge back to the fairway, Max found a way to get a 4-wood on the ball without ripping his hands on the barbed wire fence.
Playing partner Frank Stranahan was so impressed when the ball ended up on the green he called it “the greatest shot I’ve ever seen.”
Stranahan’s pronouncement was unusual because he had taken a vow of silence before the final round. Faulkner had asked the talkative amateur the night before if he would mind not chatting during the final round. The ploy worked. When Faulkner walked on to the first tee and said good morning, Stranahan did not even answer.
Trick shots were Max’s specialty. He used to play them in tournaments! He’d tell the fans what shot he was going to play and then hit it for them.
“Hitting golf shots is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. That’s why I used to do trick shots, because I got so bored.”
His antics often defied belief. He once lost a match to Dai Rees at Carnoustie because he decided it would be a good idea to walk to the 10th tee on his hands. Max, who served as a PE instructor during the war, was 4-up at the time and told Rees he was going to make his own way to the 10th. He then walked to the tee on his hands.
It was with typical candour that Faulkner related the story.
“What a fool. I hadn’t done it for years, since the war. My arms and shoulders ached. I couldn’t hit the ball after that. I sliced the next shot. I’d torn all my muscles.”
The gallery had a good laugh, Henry Cotton among them, but it cost Faulkner the match.
“Stupid sod I was. Bloody stupid thing to do when playing golf.”
“Bloody” was the most used word in Max’s vocabulary. When I transcribed the tape after our interview, I counted over 200 uses of the word in an hour-long conversation.
One of his many responsibilities at West Chiltington was official mole catcher. Faulkner would traipse out onto the course looking like an old tramp carrying a shovel with his mole traps slung over his shoulder.
Once he met someone playing the course who recognised him and thought Faulkner had fallen on hard times. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a £5 note and told him to buy himself a drink. Max responded in his usual forthright way.
“You silly sod. I own this bloody course!”
Besides the 1951 Open, Faulkner won the Spanish Open Championship in 1952, 1953 and 1957. He won the 1953 British Professional Match Play Championship, the 1968 Portuguese Open and played in five Great Britain & Ireland Ryder Cup teams, including the victorious 1957 team that won at Lindrick Golf Club.
It took a long time – too long – before Max’s contribution to golf was recognised by British society. He was awarded an OBE in 2003.
In my opinion it should have been a knighthood, because we will never see the like of him again.
#JustSaying: "At times, just to make the game more difficult I often said, he would use a four-knuckle grip. He was a natural player and yet said the easy way couldn't be right, because it was too easy." Sir Henry Cotton on Max Faulkner