AUSTRALIAN golf lost one of its favourite sons when Bob Shearer died suddenly after a heart attack at his Melbourne home early this year. His wife, Kathie, said her husband “was what he needed to be”. “He was golf. It was his life and his love. He still played three or four times a week and it was everything to him.”
One of the first Australian trailblazers in international professional golf, Shearer won tournaments all over the world. But he always regarded his win in the 1982 Australian Open as the pinnacle of his career. In his last interview about that famous victory he told MICHAEL DAVIS why.

Bob Shearer shows off the Stonehaven Cup he won in 1982. Photo courtesy Golf Australia.

ALWAYS self-effacing, Bob Shearer reckons he “got lucky” all those years ago when he lifted the Australian Open trophy at The Australian Golf Club.

“I think Greg Norman pulled out with a virus,” Shearer grins, when asked to reminisce how he went head-to-head with the legendary Jack Nicklaus in 1982 before keeping at bay, the Golden Bear and the late Payne Stewart on the final day.

Shearer is sitting in the magnificent clubhouse at Southern Golf Club in Melbourne, where it all began under the watchful eye of resident professional, Harold Knights, more than 50 years ago.

No prizes for guessing Shearer is the club’s favourite son. A pictorial diary chronicles his illustrious career on one side of the foyer and the clubs he used to lift the Stonehaven Cup in 1982 are in a glass cabinet on the other.

His wife, Kathie, the gregarious media manager at the Australian Open for more than 30 years, insists Bob was chaired from the original old clubhouse by members after their wedding reception at Southern while she balefully trailed them. 

Shearer still laughs about it and says, somewhat sheepishly, that it is true.

By this time the talented Shearer had established himself as one of the most gifted young golfers in Australia. He had set out on the European Tour in the early 1970s where he and fellow Australians Jack Newton, Stewart Ginn and Ian Stanley travelled together and “caused havoc” in Europe –both on and off the golf course. “A lot of the time it was get through the round as quickly as possible and get to the bar.  We didn’t even know where the practice fairway was. But we all woke up to ourselves pretty quickly that we weren’t going to get anywhere if we kept going down that path,” Shearer said. 

He and Newton also met their long time partners Kathie and Jackie (Newton) who were working for the sponsor of one of the tournaments in the UK.

While Shearer enjoyed early  tournament success overseas, it was not until a decade later that he achieved a boyhood ambition to lift the Stonehaven Cup as winner of the Australian Open Championship.

 “The weather was really good, not too windy like it can get at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney, perfect weather really. The golf course was perfect and I played with Nicklaus the first two rounds, which was fantastic.”

Nicklaus knew the Australian course very well. He had re-designed the layout six years earlier for Kerry Packer.  “Playing with Nicklaus certainly kept you on your mettle. You didn’t want to make a fool of yourself. I played with him in the last round, too,” Shearer said.

“In 1969, when I won the Australian amateur, I had a week where I hardly hit a bad shot. And I had that same sort of week at The Australian in 1982.

“For some reason I found the groove with the irons.  I hit good iron shots all week. And that’s essential if you are playing The Australian, to be able to get on the greens in regulation.

“The whole game was pretty good that week and I was playing with Nicklaus three days which made me concentrate.  And at the same time he relaxes you. He was, and still is, that type of fella.”

He had first played alongside the Golden Bear in the 1969 Australian Open, also at The Australian, when Shearer was the reigning Australian Amateur champion.

“He spotted that I was nervous, which I was. He just put his arm around me and said, ‘Son, we both go to the same bathroom. Let’s have a little bit of fun out here’.”  

Thirteen years on from that soothing pep talk from the Golden Bear, Shearer was a seasoned international player but still drew confidence from playing so well alongside Nicklaus on the first two days.

“I had been trying to win the Open for 10 years and The Australian wasn’t a golf course I had done very well on. So it was a godsend to be drawn with him. You saw how it could be done and sometimes you could do it yourself. I completely enjoyed it.”

Mind you, as well as he played in the first round, Shearer called a two-shot penalty on himself at the 15th when he hit a poor bunker shot and then hit the sand in disgust. “I thought the ball was out of the bunker but it had rolled back into the bunker when I hit the sand. I thought it had hit the grassy face (of the bunker) and stopped there. Jack (Nicklaus) was marking my card and stood up for me, saying it was not a penalty, but it was and I had to take it,” Shearer says. He signed for a three over 75.

However, golf karma was to play its part in his eventual triumph.

Bob Shearer in full-flight.

Shearer was holding a commanding lead playing the 14th on the final day, when a fan fell out of a tree when Shearer was at the top of his swing on his three-wood second. “The branch broke and I pushed it into the trees on the right.”

He hit a great shot out over a long bunker to 50 metres from the green and pitched it in for a birdie. “Nicklaus walked past, belted me on the back and said, ‘Give a bloke a break!’

Shearer reckons you know it’s your turn when “little things like that happen.”

The day before, on the third hole, the golf gods had smiled on him again. The hole had the water on the right of the green and a deep pot bunker at the back. The pin was only 10 or 12 feet from the back of the green. “I tried to hit an eight-iron in the centre of the green, get a bounce and end up somewhere near the flag. But I nailed it and I was screaming ‘get down, get down’ because I knew it was going to land at the back and jump in the back bunker. It went straight in the hole on the full and stayed in. I turned a five or six into a two.”

Shearer says the victory meant everything to him because he joined a select handful of golfers to have won the Australian Amateur and Open titles.

“That was the pinnacle for me,” he said. “I have not had a bigger win. Every golfer that plays the game wants to win his national open. 

“I think I had tried too hard to get it but for some reason that was not on my mind that week. I remember coming up the last hole, the clubhouse had been burnt down that year, and there was just a sea of people, not for me but to watch Nicklaus.

“Jack Nicklaus had drawn them through the door and I just happened to be playing with him.”

Forever the humble champion.

Rest in peace, Bob.

Footnote: I first met  Bob Shearer in 1978 when I was a young sports journalist.  We had a great working relationship from that day. I interviewed Bob for this piece on the eve of the 2017 Championship at The Australian. It ran in the tournament program published by Australia Golf Digest.  

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