Flory Van Donck, Belgium's Greatest Golfer

Flory Van Donck is the greatest golfer in the history of Belgium. He was one of the top golfers in Europe in the 1950s, a man noted for his personal style and a golfer noted for his putting stroke. He won dozens of tournaments on the British and European circuits of the era.

Date of birth: June 23, 1912

Place of birth: Tervuren, Belgium

Date of death: January 14, 1992

Van Donck's Biggest Wins

The most notable of Van Donck's professional tournament victories:
  • 1936 Dutch Open
  • 1937 Dutch Open
  • 1938 Italian Open
  • 1939 Belgian Open
  • 1946 Belgian Open
  • 1946 Dutch Open
  • 1947 Manchester Evening Chronicle Tournament
  • 1947 Belgian Open
  • 1947 Italian Open
  • 1951 Dutch Open
  • 1951 Silver King Tournament
  • 1951 North British-Harrogate Tournament
  • 1952 Southern Professional Championship
  • 1953 Belgian Open
  • 1953 Dutch Open
  • 1953 German Open
  • 1953 Italian Open
  • 1953 Swiss Open
  • 1953 Silver King Tournament
  • 1953 Yorkshire Evening News Tournament
  • 1954 French Open
  • 1954 Uruguayan International Golf Championship
  • 1955 Italian Open
  • 1955 Portuguese Open
  • 1955 Swiss Open
  • 1956 Belgian Open
  • 1956 German Open
  • 1957 French Open
  • 1957 Venezuela Open
  • 1958 French Open
  • 1960 World Cup (individual title)
  • 1962 Lancia d'Oro
In addition, Van Donck won the Belgian Professional Championship 16 times and the Omnium of Belgium tournament six times.

In the British Open

One tournament Flory Van Donck didn't win, however, was the British Open, despite having a very good record in the tournament. He was twice runner-up, to Peter Thomson by three strokes in the 1956 British Open, and to Gary Player by two strokes in the 1959 British Open.

When he was the first-round leader in the 1948 Open Championship, Van Donck became the first Belgian to lead a major after any round — and he was the only one to do it until 2017.

From 1948 through 1959, Van Donck finished outside the Top 10 in the Open only three times, including five consecutive Top 5 finishes in 1955-59.

More About Flory Van Donck

Peter Alliss in his The Who's Who of Golf noted that Van Donck was particularly popular with women spectators, and called Van Donck "courtly and elegant."

"Suave" and "elegant" were two words often applied to Van Donck. "Great putter" were two other words often applied, despite an unorthodox style in which he putted with the toe of his putter angled up off the green.

Alliss said of Van Donck, "his swing was rhythmic and his putting quirky: the toe of the putter was in the air in Aoki style."

The rhythmic swing sometimes led to Van Donck being called "the Sam Snead of Europe."

Van Donck was completely self-taught in golf: He learned by watching pro golfers as a young boy, then emulating their approaches to the game. The Royal Golf Club of Belgium was located in Van Donck's hometown of Tervuren, and after club members left the club's Ravenstein course he would head out to play and practice in the fading light.

It was the beginning of a very long association with the club. In 1931 Van Donck turned pro and became an assistant at Ravenstein. That same year, he shot a course-record 65 at the club, a record that, through at least 2009, had not yet been bettered.

In the years just prior to World War II, Van Donck also spent time as a teacher in Luxembourg and Switzerland. He also became the golf instructor to the Belgian royal family.

And he started winning golf tournaments: The 1936 Dutch Open was his first. He won three more titles before European golf was almost completely shut down by the war. But after the war, in 1946 he picked right up where he left off, winning five times in the late 1940s.

"When you are under pressure, it is of the utmost importance to keep being positive. Never think, 'Stay away from the traps,' but instead, 'Aim for the flag'." — Flory Van Donck

The 1950s were Van Donck's best years, though. After three wins in 1951 and one in 1952, he had a career year in 1953: seven wins on the European/British circuits, plus the Vardon Trophy, awarded to the Order of Merit (a points-based award) winner by the British PGA.

To this day, no golfer has won more European Tour tournaments in one year than the seven Van Donck won in 1953.

Van Donck went on to win another 10 times before the close of the decade. At that point, in his late 40s, Van Donck began cutting back on tournament golf. Even though his Top 5 streak in the British Open stretched until 1959, he never played the Open again after that year.

He also never played in the U.S. Open or American PGA Championship, and played The Masters only once. But Van Donck did win the Belgian Open and Dutch Open five times each, the Italian Open four times, and the French Open, German Open and Swiss Open three times each.

In 1962, the year he turned 50, Van Donck rejoined Ravenstein as the pro and was there for the rest of his life.

Van Donck never got to play the Ryder Cup because Continental Europeans weren't yet part of the competition (Team GB&I sure could have used him). But he played the World Cup of Golf 19 times, representing Belgium every year from 1954 through 1970, again in 1972, and finally, at age 67, in 1979. He was the individual winner in 1960. His appearance at age 67 makes him the oldest-ever to play in the tournament, and his 19 times as a player is fourth-most in World Cup history.

This is a video that includes Van Donck's swing (unfortunately much of the video is low-quality):

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