Aside from his extraordinary golfing ability, Bobby Jones was one of the most popular athletes to have ever lived. "Blessed with clean good looks and elegant manners, he was the very image of the all-American boy as gentleman and sports hero. "Our Bobby" drew crowds wherever he went and sent thousands of "duffers" to the public links determined to copy the famous Jones stance," wrote Marc Pachter in Champions of American Sport.
Born into a wealthy Atlanta, Georgia family in 1902, he became both the symbol of the Southern Gentleman and the American Sportsman. "Clifford Roberts has said of him, "We never have had an athlete who came close to matching Bob Jones in popularity." It was this popularity that became the cornerstone of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters golf tournament. It bordered on a kind of sainthood, unofficial but unwavering," Furman Bisher wrote in The Masters: Augusta Revisited in 1976.
According to Benjamin G. Rader in American Sports, Jones became a national and international celebrity. "Jones seemed to embody the traditional Victorian virtues. At the same time that he competed in golf tournaments, he attended college, obtained a law degree, was admitted to the bar, and began the practice of law."
Rader wrote, "Above all, the public loved the fact that Jones, as an amateur, had defeated the best of the professional golfers and taken the measure of the European champions.
By a large strain on the imagination, weekend "duffers" could identify
Jones as one of their own crowd. He, like they, held down a regular job and
presumably played the sport for the sheer fun of the game."
Bisher quoted sportswriter Paul Gallico who had written a book on his disillusionment with sports games and the people he had covered. He said of Bobby Jones, "I have found only one who could stand up in every way as a gentleman and a celebrity, a fine, decent human being, and one who never once since I have known him has let me down in my estimate of him."
Bisher described how in one of the US Opens, Jones had gone into the forest to play an errant drive and emerged to say he was penalizing himself one stroke. "The ball had moved as he was addressing it, and the rule clearly calls for a penalty, whether the player is being witnessed or not. It was a matter of honor with Bob Jones, and he was flabbergasted when the act drew such a wave of admiration.
"Well," he said, "you might as well have praised a man for not robbing a bank.""
According to Bisher, Jones made his first association with golf at the age of six when Fulton Colville, practicing chip shots in front of the boardinghouse where the Joneses had taken summer quarters at East Lake, noticed him sitting on the porch and asked if he wanted to hit some balls.
Bisher wrote, "Fulton Colville drew an old cleek-that's something between a putter and a two iron-from his bag and handed it to him, and so the legendary voyage into golf was launched.
Fulton Colville's role in it was only as a walk-on, but Bob Jones later
said, "Something inspired him to give me that club. I didn't have any
interest in golf before then.""
According to the Bobby Jones Website, Jones never had any formal lessons but learned his golf swing by mimicking East Lake's Scottish professional, Stewart Maiden. Jones would follow Maiden around the course during 18-hole rounds with club members.
Rader wrote, "At the age nine he won the junior golf championship of the Atlanta Athletic Club, defeating a boy seven years older than himself in the final. In 1916, when Jones was but fourteen, he competed in the United States Amateur at the Merion Cricket Club in Philadelphia. He managed to qualify and swept through his first two challengers before succumbing to the defending champion in the third round. Despite defeat, Jones was the sensation of the tournament, hailed by sportswriters as the "kid wonder" and the "child prodigy" of golf. But Jones also exhibited an ungovernable temper; after making a bad shot, he threw his clubs and swore with an abandon that belied his age."
On the Bobby Jones Website it was reported that sportswriter Grantland Rice once said Jones had the "face of an angel and the temper of a timber wolf."
According to Bisher, Jones had "stalked out of a tournament at the holy of holies, St. Andrews. But once reformed, his reformation was as enduring as it was drastic."
It was in 1923 that Bobby Jones won the first of thirteen major golf titles winning the U.S. Open at Inwood on Long Island. According to Pachter he had had seven lean years prior to that and he had even considered retiring.
The Jones' Website reported that later in the year following his disappointing showing at St. Andrews in the 1921 U.S. Open, Jones confided in
O.B. Keeler, an Atlanta newspaperman and close personal friend, ""I wonder if I'll ever win a championship?" Keeler responded, "Bobby, if you
ever get it through your head that whenever you step out on the first tee of any
competition, you are the best golfer in it, then you'll win this championship and a lot of
"When Bobby Jones came home in 1926 with the British Open in his pocket, he got the full tickertape treatment from elated New Yorkers and a reception at City Hall by mayor Jimmy Walker. Bobby hadn't seen anything yet: Four years later, the year of the Grand Slam, New York put on a show that made the other seem like a dirge. A million people turned out to greet the winner of the British Open and Amateur. A trainload of Atlanta fans rolled into the city, many of whom went on to Minneapolis to watch him try for the U.S. Open at Interlachen Country Club," John Durant and Otto Bettmann wrote in Pictorial History of American Sports.
In 1930, Jones' Grand Slam consisted of four championships including both the Open and the Amateur titles in the United States and Great Britain.
Pachter wrote, "A 1927 article described his flawless swing: "They wound up the Mechancial Man of Golf yesterday and sent him clicking around the East Lake Course.""
According to Rader, "from 1923 to 1930, he was the king of world golfers, both
professional and amateur. He collected thirteen national titles-five
United States amateurs, four United States Opens, three British Opens,
and one British Amateur. In the last nine years of his career he competed
in twelve national championships and finished first or second in eleven of
them, a feat Jones considered to be greater than his winning of the Grand
Slam in 1930. He climaxed his short golfing career with the Grand Slam-
the American Open and Amateur and the British Open and Amateur, a
feat not duplicated since. After the Grand Slam in 1930, when he was at the
very peak of his game at the age of twenty-eight, Jones announced his
Radar wrote, "upon retirement from tournament competition, Jones, like the professional golfers, attempted to capitalize upon his
reputation. With his "Boswell" and longtime traveling companion, O.B.
Keeler, Jones did a weekly half-hour radio show recreating the highlights of
his career. He made two series of instructional films for Warner
Brothers, reputedly for a profit of $180,000…"
Jones also worked with A.G. Spalding & Co. to design the first set of matched
golf clubs that could be mass produced in the U.S. and sold as sets.
According to the Bobby Jones website, "After rejecting
over 200 different clubs, Jones finally arrived at a set that satisfied
him. The clubs were made with steel shafts-a design that was quickly replacing
the hickory shafts Jones had used. Each club was also given a number instead
of the old Scottish names used up until that time, an innovation that quickly
became the industry standard and remains in place today. The clubs appeared
in 1932 bearing Jones' name and sold steadily for over 40 years."
It was further reported " Jones' greatest legacy to the game of golf was his design
of Augusta National. Still considered one of the finest golf courses in
the world, Augusta opened in 1933 and is home to the Masters, one of the
four major tournaments played today."
According to Pachtar, "Jones founded the annual Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, in 1934, and he made a yearly appearance at the event. "just walking around watching a match," Ben Hogan commented, "he's still the best attraction in golf."
Later, a rare and degenerative disease of the central nervous system prevented Jones's attendance.
According to Bisher ,"The ailment that invaded his person was a rare one that with a creeping mercilessness took away his ability to manipulate his limbs and eventually
shriveled him to a withered ruin of the Adonis that he had once been.
"Syringomyelia" was its medical name."
Pachtar quoted golf historian Herbert Warren Wind who said of Bobby Jones, "As a young man he was able to stand up to just about the best that life can offer, which isn't easy, and later he stood up with equal grace to just about the worst."
Bobby Jones died when he was 69 on December 18, 1971.
Howard Siner, Editor, 1983
McGraw-Hill Book Company
Benjamin G. Rader, 1983
Champions of American Sport
Edited by Marc Pachter with Amy Henderson, Jeannette Hussey, and Margaret C. S. Christman, 1981
The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution Harry N. Abrams., Inc. New York
Pictorial History of American Sports
John Durant and Otto Bettmannn 1952, 1965
A.S. Barnes and Company
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