April 24, 2024

Vale Frank Phillips OAM: All-Time Great Australian Golfer

Frank Phillips OAM, one of Australia’s greatest-ever Professionals, has passed away aged 90.

Phillips, 90, passed away peacefully overnight at a nursing home in Bowral where he has spent the past few years, not far from where he was born and raised at Moss Vale in the NSW Southern Highlandss.

Frank is survived by his three children; Melissa, Frank Junior and Rodney, and a loving cluster of grandchildren and great grandchildren. His devoted wife Faye passed away in 1991.

Phillips was a Life Member of the PGA since 2002 and was renowned for his devotion to the craft and his drive to succeed.

Chair of Golf NSW, Mr Michael Medway said the organisation was deeply saddened by the loss.

“On behalf of the Golf NSW Board and the Golf family of our state, we send our condolences to the family of Frank,” he said.

“Frank has a long history with the NSW Open, winning the first of his five titles in 1956, defeating another legend of our game, Kel Nagle. 

“Frank served the golf community in Sydney for many years as professional at Ryde Parramatta, Oatlands, and in his latter years, Mount Broughton. There are no doubt thousands of of people who have passed through his tutelage and have benefited from his skill as a professional and coach but also been welcomed into the game.

“He will be remembered as one of the giants of Australian Golf and has a prestigious position in the history of the sport in our great state.”

Phillips won 23 tournaments worldwide including the Australian Open twice (1957 at Kingston Heath and 1961 at Victoria), the NSW Open five times, the Singapore Open and the Hong Kong Open.

The great Norman Von Nida liked his game so much that he took him away overseas. Much of Phillips’ success was in Asia.

“I liked playing in the Far East because I had a wife and three kids and I could get home relatively quickly. It took a very long time to get home from America. Touring was a challenge, but I always enjoyed it,” he said several years ago.

He played in the Masters twice, in the US Open and at the Open Championship, achieving his best major championship finish, 12th at St Andrews in 1964.

Phillips once said: “I practised extremely hard. I would set myself a task of hitting 500 to 1000 practice balls a day, then play a round of golf in the afternoon. Most of the time I managed to do that. It was the love of the game and wanting to do the best I could.”

Frank win

PHOTO: Frank Phillips chaired away after winning an Australian Open (Australian Golf Media)

Frank Phillips fell in love with golf at the age of eight. He and some friends fashioned three golf holes out of the grassy paddock across the street from the family home in Moss Vale. 

“One hole at the top of the hill, one down the bottom and one on the side.  We played those three holes over and over. It was a bit of a hit and giggle at the time, but I gradually improved,” he recalled years ago.

As an enthusiastic 14-year-old, Phillips joined Moss Vale Golf Club, where he trimmed his original 22 handicap down to two in the space of 12 months. Three years on, the Moss Vale PGA Professional Bruce Jackson asked Phillips, then 18, if he wanted to follow him to Concord Golf Club in Sydney and ultimately turn pro. 

“My Dad wasn’t too happy about the idea. I used to help run the family’s radio and television business and I played the trumpet in a little band with Dad, who played the drums. We did some gigs around the place.

“But I thought about it and made up my mind. At 19 I went to live with my Aunty in Randwick, and I travelled a long way to Concord Golf Club to start practising at half past six every morning. I did that for four years, completed my PGA Traineeship at the age of 22 and won my first tournament at Bexley Golf Club, a short course that shouldn’t really have suited my game as a long hitter.”

Phillips went on to win numerous tournaments, mixing with the likes of Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan.

“You watch, you listen and you ask as many questions as you can,” he said.

“I first met Gary Player in England in 1956 and he had possibly the worst golf swing I’d ever seen. But he worked so hard at the game, kept improving, won a couple of tournaments in England and then ended up winning nine majors, which was absolutely amazing. He was a fierce competitor, which inspired me.”

He stopped playing tournament golf in his mid-40s because of back trouble and turned his hand to teaching the game. He took up positions as PGA Professional at Oatlands Golf Club, at Ryde-Parramatta and Mt Broughton.

“I really enjoyed my time as a golf teacher. I just tried to teach the basic principles and not over-complicate things,” he said some years ago. “I feel like I have a strong connection to the clubs I worked at.”

PGA of Australia Chair Rodger Davis also paid tribute to Phillips.

“Frank is one of our greatest players,” said Davis. “His career and mine only just intersected, but I do remember playing with him early, and I recall that he was known as one of the best ball-strikers out on tour.

“He was not only a fine player but a tremendous servant of the game in this country, and we will all miss him greatly.

“The PGA expresses its deepest sympathies to Frank’s three children – Melissa, Frank Junior and Rodney – and the extended family including grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is a loss that will be keenly felt.”

Frank Phillips Career Highlights

1957, 1961 Australian Open Champion
1956, 1960, 1962, 1966, 1970 NSW Open Champion

T2 (alongside Jack Nicklaus) at the 1965 Australian Open behind Gary Player

12th at the 1964 Open Championship

23 Professional wins

17 PGA Tour of Australasia titles

Represented Australia alongside Kel Nagle at the 1958 Canada Cup in Mexico

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