Max Faulkner, Quirky 1951 Open Champ Who Brought Color to Golf

Max Faulkner won a British Open title and more than a dozen top tournaments in the pre-European Tour era of British and Continental golf. He also earned a reputation as an eccentric with antics such as walking on his hands during a tournament.

Full name: Herbert Gustavus Max Faulkner

Nickname: Clown Prince of Golf

Date and place of birth: July 29, 1916, in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, England

Date and place of death: February 26, 2005 (aged 88) in Chichester, West Sussex, England

Significant Pro Wins by Max Faulkner

Faulkner is credited with 14 victories on the the loosely organized professional circuit in European golf that pre-dated the formation of today's European Tour. Those tournament wins:
  • 1946 Dunlop-Southport Tournament
  • 1949 Dunlop Tournament
  • 1949 Penfold Tournament (team event, partnered by John Burton)
  • 1949 Lotus Tournament
  • 1951 British Open
  • 1951 Dunlop Masters
  • 1952 Dunlop Tournament
  • 1952 Spanish Open
  • 1953 News of the World Match Play
  • 1953 Spanish Open
  • 1957 Spanish Open
  • 1959 Irish Hospitals Tournament
  • 1962 Woodlawn Tournament
  • 1968 Portuguese Open
Faulkner also twice won the PGA Seniors Championship, a 50-and-over tournament, in 1968 and 1970. That event was the first significant tournament for "seniors" in European golf when it was founded in 1957. Today it is part of the European Senior Tour, which was founded in 1992.

Open Championship Win and Performance in Majors

The pinnacle of Faulkner's career was his victory in the 1951 Open Championship, the first one played outside of Great Britain (it took place at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland).

Faulkner was tied for fifth following the first round and had a two-stroke lead after the second. On the 36-hole final day (Rounds 3 and 4 always took place on the third day at that time), Faulkner stretched his lead to six following the morning 18.

During his lunch break, he began signing autographs as "Max Faulkner, Open Champion, 1951." Then he went out and did it in the final round, winning by two.

Using a homemade putter (more on that below), Faulkner was so confident on the greens that during those three days he was heard to boast he'd never miss a short putt again.

Faulkner had only four other Top 10 finishes in the Open, none better than fifth place. He never played any of the other pro majors, not unusual for British golfers of the era given the exorbitant travel costs of the time.

He first played the British Open in 1934 and last played in 1975. Those other Top 10 years were 1949, 1950, 1957 and 1965.

The Quirky Max Faulkner

Years before Doug Sanders was making a nickname for himself (Peacock) by wearing bright, loud attire on the PGA Tour, Max Faulkner was doing the same across Europe. Throughout his pro career, Faulkner was never hard to spot with his bright golf shirts and trousers. He was particularly fond of pink shoes and socks, or of wearing all yellow from head to toe.

He liked to build his own putters and, "the most-renowned one," in Peter Alliss' words, had a head he carved out of driftwood and a shaft made from a pool cue.

Faulkner, Alliss wrote in his The Who's Who of Golf, was "the most talented British player of his era ... also the most eccentric, and seemed to make everything difficult." Alliss continued:

"He never possessed a halfway respectable set of golf clubs ... They were always being influenced by some new theory Max was toying with, so you would find him with a mix of stiff and whippy shafts, perhaps three 1-irons of assorted lengths. And goodness knows what putter he might turn up with on the day."

Faulkner also had what the golf journalist Alister Tait, who knew him well, called a "devil-may-care attitude" on the golf course, even during tournament play. Writing in Golfweek, Tait recalled a match play tournament at Carnoustie in which Faulkner was five-up over Dai Rees — until he decided to walk on his hands from one green to the next tee.

"Of course, I sliced the next shot," Faulkner told Tait. "I hadn't done it for years ... My arms and shoulders ached. I couldn't hit a ball after that. I lost, of course. I'd have won if I hadn't done that, but there I was larking around."

Faulkner was also famous for jumping up on a tabletop to make himself better heard and seen during dinners or other events.

Max Faulkner Biography

Despite those deficiencies or peculiarities, particularly in equipment or practice time, Faulkner had the talent to win golf tournaments against his fellow pros.

Putting was Faulkner's weakness. But he was particularly adept playing long shots — woods and long irons — and at "working" the ball with his short clubs. "I have yet to see his equal at bending shots with lofted irons," Alliss wrote in the 1980s.

He won three tournaments in 1949, two each in 1951, 1952 and 1953, during his peak years. He was a three-time winner at the Spanish Open.

Faulkner's final tour win was the Portuguese Open, when he was 52 years old, in 1968, four years before the formation of today's European Tour. He also won several senior golf championships in the late 1960s/early 1970s, more than two decades before the European Senior Tour was formed.

Faulkner's Early Life and Wartime Service

Faulkner was born into a golf family: His father, Gus Faulkner, was a club professional who had once been an assistant to "Great Triumvirate" member James Braid. Gus won a few regional pro events and play in several British Opens.

Max Faulkner decided, at age 14, that he wanted to follow his father into the golf business. He dropped out of school and became an assistant to his father at Bramley Golf Club in Guildford, England. That was 1930.

Faulkner began playing pro tournaments in his late teens, typically regional events or tournaments specifically for assistant club pros. He and his father entered several team tournaments as partners, too. But he first qualified for the British Open around this time, too, in 1934 when he was 17.

His first victory in such tournaments for British professionals was the 1937 Addington Foursomes. In 1938, Max took over as the pro at Leamington Spa Golf Club in Warwickshire, England.

Faulkner joined the Royal Air Force as Britain entered World War II and served throughout the war. He became a British services boxing champion and athletics instructor during the war.

It was after leaving the RAF that his golf tournament career swung into full gear, with his first significant wins (see list above) happening in 1946.

Faulkner in the Ryder Cup

Faulkner was named to the Great Britain & Ireland Ryder Cup team five times, in 1947, 1949, 1951, 1953 and 1957. In eight career matches, Faulkner won only one point for his side, a foursomes match in 1949.

In singles play, he was 0-4. It's important to remember, though, that during this period in the Cup's history, Team USA's dominance was near-complete. For example, in Faulkner's first Ryder Cup match in 1947, he and his partner had to face the team of Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret.

His Ryder Cup experience is best-remembered for a session in which he didn't even play. The Guardian newspaper's obituary of Faulkner related:

"The 1957 edition was held at Lindrick, near Sheffield, and Faulkner, not playing well, volunteered to the captain, (Dai) Rees, to be left out of the final singles. He then ran round the course, like a man possessed, encouraging his teammates to such good effect that they won a historic victory."

That was the only Ryder Cup won by Team GB&I/Team Europen between 1933 and 1985.

More Max Faulkner Tidbits

In his retirement years, Faulkner was part-owner of West Chiltington Golf Club in West Sussex, England. His co-owner was Brian Barnes, who was also his son-in-law. Barnes was a longtime tour player who won nine times on the European Tour and played in six Ryder Cups.

In 2001, Faulkner was made an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). ... At the time he died in 2005, he was one of only seven British golfers to win the Open Championship in the post-World War II era. And he was the only British Open champion ever at Royal Portrush (the Open didn't return to the Northern Ireland club until 2019). ... Barnes, his son-in-law, also won a (senior) major at Royal Portrush — two of them, in fact, in 1995 and 1996.

Faulkner authored two golf instructional books that are sometimes available through Amazon sellers: Golf Right from the Start, published in 1965; and Play Championship Golf All Your Life from 1973.

Photo credit: Detail from a plaque that stands in Bexhill, England. Dr-Mx [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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