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Bob Charles close to final bow

Do New Zealanders realise just what a great golfer Bob Charles has been? Charles will be in the headlines during the next fortnight because the New Zealand Open at the Grange will be his farewell to regular tournament golf.

After that he will restrict himself to the seniors circuit.

The left-hander has chosen the New Zealand Open because it is 50 years since he first won that title. He was just 18, a shy amateur left-hander from Wairarapa, when he tore the field apart at Wellington's Heretaunga course.

Since then, Charles has compiled an incredible record. He has been so good that – and I say this without exaggeration – if we take the best performances of John Lister, Greg Turner, Frank Nobilo, Michael Campbell, Phillip Tataurangi and Grant Waite and add them together, they still do not equal what Charles has done.

New Zealanders will be familiar with his exploits at home. For years Charles, assisted by popular Australians Kel Nagle and Peter Thomson, propped up the New Zealand tour.

Charles won the open four times and various other pro tournaments. As late as 1980 he won the New Zealand PGA title.

He was the lure for superstars such as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus to play exhibition events in New Zealand.

However, what Charles has done overseas during his 43-year pro career is what marks him as special.

He won his first overseas pro tournament in 1962, the Swiss Open. There followed half a dozen more European tournament triumphs. He won the Houston Open in 1963 and won three more times on the United States PGA tour. There were also the 1968 Canadian Open, the 1973 South African Open and the 1969 Piccadilly Matchplay, when he stunned Arnold Palmer and Gene Littler with his long-distance putting.

The top players measure themselves by how they perform in the majors – US Masters, US Open, British Open and US PGA.

Charles remains the only New Zealander to win a major. He won the 1963 British Open, beating American Phil Rodgers by eight strokes in a play-off.

What about his near-misses? He was second in the British Open in 1968 and 1979, fifth in 1962, seventh in 1973 and 10th in 1979.

He was third in the 1968 US Open and seventh in 1970, second in the 1968 US PGA.

He stood out because he was the only world-class left-hander and because he was from New Zealand.

Charles has never been showy but there has always been an aura of class about him.

On the course he was phlegmatic but interesting to chat to. I once asked him how strong the 1963 British Open field was, compared with modern times.

"Yep, it was different back then," he said.

"I figured all I had to do was beat Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Peter Thomson and I'd have a chance." Charles has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the New Zealand Golf Foundation. He was knighted a few years back. He is in every sense of the word a legend. I hope his final tournament with, as he terms it, the "young boys," goes well. He deserves one final flourish.

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